Gorbachev says Bush warned him of `91 coup

Bush relayed the message via telephone conversation amidst the signs of Communist Party discontent with liberal reforms.

Moscow: Mikhail Gorbachev, last Soviet leader, on Tuesday said that former US president George W Bush warned him about his safety a few weeks before Communist hardliners staged their August 1991 coup.

The ex-Soviet president and Nobel Peace Prize winner on the eve of the failed plot`s 20th anniversary said that Bush had relayed the entire message through a telephone conversation amidst the signs of Communist Party discontent with liberal reforms.

The revelation came in a wide-ranging newspaper interview in which the 80-year-old Gorbachev again lamented his helplessness to save the Soviet empire from disintegration that in turn blasted his democratic rival Boris Yeltsin.

"Bush called me. He was citing information from Moscow mayor Gavriil Popov," Gorbachev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta with reference to the August 19, 1991 coup that witnessed the hardliners attempt to derail his liberal reforms.

But Gorbachev said he didn’t believe then US president because "you have to be an idiot" to decide to seize power by force amid signs of fundamental changes within the Soviet Union.

"Unfortunately, they really were idiots," Gorbachev added. The senior Communist Party revolt against Gorbachev even included the head of the KGB and his own vice president along with the Soviet Union`s defence and interior ministers.

The group of veteran party members imposed house arrest on Gorbachev, while he was vacationing on the Black Sea and pronounced themselves in charge of the era of liberalisation
effectively over.

"I should not have taken that vacation," Gorbachev admitted. "That was a mistake." The coup attempt lasted three days, which saw Gorbachev`s younger rival Yeltsin ultimately grabbing the power in Russia and dissolving the Soviet Union a few months later.

Gorbachev indicates that he never intended to bury the Soviet Union, when launching his unprecedented programmes and has remained strongly critical of Yeltsin for making the breakup official in December 1991.

"He had such a thirst for power," Gorbachev said of Yeltsin. "I should have sent him to a banana republic as an ambassador so he could smoke a hookah where it`s nice and quiet."

Bush was seen during his 1989-93 presidency as one of the closest Western leaders to Gorbachev and was a slow to voice public support for Yeltsin`s drive seeking an independent Russia.

The Soviet and US presidents signed a non-aggression pact in November 1990 proclaiming an end to the Cold War, which has been since frequently appearing at events marking the historic era`s anniversaries.

Bureau Report

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