August 18, 1991
BORIS YELTSIN (l.) and
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV (r.)
Shake Hands at Yeltsin's First Inauguration
as Russia's First President
July 10, 1991
Some background to the coup that helped precipitate the breakup of the Soviet Union:
As of June 12, 1991, Russia had a popularly elected president, for the first time in its history. As the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, though, Russia was one part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which had its own president, Mikhail Gorbachev, who, however, had not sought, and did not have, a popular mandate. Gorbachev did attend, and speak at, Yeltsin's inauguration on July 10 (above).
After the election, Yeltsin set about building up his Moscow as a power base and Russia as a sovereign entity, claiming resources the "Center" had hitherto controlled. In August he made a tour of Tyumen', a major oil and gas province of Russia. The day the coup began, Sunday, August 18, he was back in the Moscow region. Gorbachev was vacationing in Foros. It was there that the State Committee for the State of Emergency, or coup plotters, did or did not arrest the head of the Soviet state and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In any event, they announced that Mikhail Sergeyevich (Gorbachev) was ill.