The military, too, was disturbed both by his disarmament initiatives and by the growing independence movement in the various republics – which they saw as weakening the security of the Soviet Union. New legislation designed to spur private enterprise has been deeply loathed by officials fearful of losing their power and privileges – and even their jobs.
Overwhelmed by criticism from all sides, Gorbachev seems undecided on the direction in which he wants to go. In March 1990, at the request of his radical advisers, Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution – which had granted the Communist Party the leading position in the state and social organizations – was abandoned.
Three months later, at the 28th Party Congress, the Politburo was restructured and emasculated, the Central Committee was reduced in size and limited to those who held party positions or ordinary party members. Yet in October Gorbachev backed his radical Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov whose five-year plan for 1991-95 had returned to the concept of strong central planning and moved away from privatization and price and market reforms. .
Other worrying signs followed. In December 1990, Gorbachev’s old friend and ally, Eduard Shevardnadze, the architect of his reformist foreign policy, tendered his resignation, and the Soviet leader subsequently lost other former close supporters such as Aleksandr Yakovlev. Gorbachev then deepened the breach with the radical camp by having the reactionary Gennady Yanayev elected as its vice president – the position originally created for Shevardnadze.
Shevardnadze had resigned with a dramatic warning to Kremlin reformers about an impending dictatorship. Two months later, his words were tragically confirmed when Soviet tanks burst into Vilnius in Lithuania and, in the ensuing melee, killed 20 people.
The crackdown in the Baltic states forced even Western leaders to downplay their support for the Soviet leader, who just months earlier had won the Nobel Peace Prize. When Gorbachev tried to deny responsibility for the atrocities, everyone wanted to believe him – and, in a sense, they could. On paper, he had amassed more power than any of his predecessors; but his authority was in tatters.
If there had been free elections in 1989, Gorbachev might well have succeeded in getting himself elected Soviet president. But in 1991, it was too late and he was forced to accept the election of Boris Yeltsin as President of Russia after doing everything to prevent him from coming to power.
March 28, the day he sanctioned the dispatch of 50,000 troops to the streets of Moscow to stop a pro-Yeltsin demonstration, marked the final straw in his deteriorating relationship with the people, while his inability to prevent the demonstration from taking place angered the extremists. Gennady Yanayev, the man Gorbachev had made vice president about six months earlier, was a key leader in the coup attempt that year.
Few people could blame the so-called putschists when they declared: “A mortal danger hangs over our great fatherland! The reform policy initiated by MS Gorbachev is, for a number of reasons, at an impasse. The country has indeed become ungovernable.