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On Aug. 19, 1991, a group of eight senior hard-line Communist leaders, including the KGB chairman, had seized power from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, declaring that Gorbachev was unable to continue as head of the party due to illness.It set in motion the dissolution of the Soviet Union and provided a moment of glory for Boris Yeltsin, at the time the president of the Russian constituent republic within the USSR, who is remembered for climbing atop a tank to defy the coup. Overshadowing Gorbachev as the man of the moment, Yeltsin emerged the indisputable leader of a new Russia and eventually became its first democratically elected president.Today's president, Vladimir Putin, who succeeded Yeltsin in 1999, owes his position to the failed coup, but he would come to mourn the Soviet Empire's collapse that followed as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century.We were asked to obey absolutely unlawful orders that could have led to a civil war in Russia".Within two days, it was clear that headquarters employees were not obeying their boss, the KGB chairman Kryuchkov. Yeltsin received a phone call from the plotters, who said they were calling off the troops and sending for Gorbachev.Kryuchkov was arrested, along with six other coup plotters, but all were amnestied in 1994 and some later returned to government service.
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