Sunday, November 22, 2020

Troops Loyal to Rutskoy Attempt to Seize Ostankino Tower - October 3, 1993

 Editor's Note:  It has been a few years since I, for the most part, stopped writing.  Due to the state of our democracy and at the encouragement of my wife, I will more regularly participate in the public discussion.  For some reason, she thinks that my point of view is unique and understandable.  So as I begin this venture again, I think that it is very appropriate and timely to discuss my time in Moscow in 1993 in continuation of a series from years ago.  Such story is timely in that power hungry leaders use crisis in order to attain or solidify power.  We must always beware of such people and, by looking beyond their words, analyze carefully their motivations.  In any event, I believe that we left off on October 1, 1993

While we (my roommate Paul and I) were enjoying a beautiful weekend in Nizhni Novgorod, Moscow remained in a constitutional crisis and slipped into chaos.  By way of background, I have reprinted below a brief explanation from Wikipedia in connection with the 1993 Constitutional Crisis in Russia.

"The constitutional crisis of 1993 was a political stand-off between the Russian president and the Russian parliament that was resolved by using military force. The relations between the president and the parliament had been deteriorating for some time. The constitutional crisis reached a tipping point on September 21, 1993, when President Boris Yeltsin purported to dissolve the country's legislature (the Congress of People's Deputies and its Supreme Soviet), although the president did not have the power to dissolve the parliament according to the then-current constitution. Yeltsin used the results of the referendum of April 1993 to justify his actions. In response, the parliament declared that the president's decision was null and void, impeached Yeltsin and proclaimed vice president Aleksandr Rutskoy to be acting president."

"The situation deteriorated at the beginning of October. On October 3rd, demonstrators removed police cordons around the parliament and, urged by their leaders, took over the Mayor's offices and tried to storm the Ostankino television centre. The army, which had initially declared its neutrality, by Yeltsin's orders stormed the Supreme Soviet building in the early morning hours of October 4th, and arrested the leaders of the resistance."

"The ten-day conflict became the deadliest single event of street fighting in Moscow's history since the October Revolution of 1917. According to government estimates, 187 people were killed and 437 wounded, while sources close to Russian communists put the death toll at as high as 2,000."

In the morning of Sunday, October 3, 1993, Paul and I left Nizhni Novgorod by train headed back to Moscow.  Prior to Nizhni Novgorod and despite arriving in Russia in July of 1993, I had been so busy working that I had not been able to leave Moscow.  Our trip to Nizhni Novgorod was my first trip out of the city.  Unlike our travels a few days prior to Nizhni Novgorod which was the night train, we were taking the day train today.  Again and similar to the previous Sunday when Paul and I listened to speeches at the Moscow mayor's office, it was a beautiful autumn day.  The yellow leaves of the aspen trees littered the forest between the small, drab, Soviet-looking towns where we occasionally stopped to transfer passengers and at which we would buy a couple of Twix bars and some soda. 

To me, this autumn day is noteworthy.  You must remember that I grew up on the south-side of Chicago, the son of a steelworker, and grandson to West Virginia hillbillies.  Prior to this time in my life when I was 23 years old, I had never traveled abroad.  As a matter of fact, I had barely traveled at all.  I was 21 years old when I flew on my first commercial flight so hopping on a plane and traveling and working in the former Soviet Union a short two years later was an extreme culture shock to me.  Not only was Russia a foreign country, it was the former Soviet Union - our Cold War adversary.  We were always nervous that we would encounter some Russian citizens that did not take too kindly to Americans, so we usually attempted to blend in as much as possible.  And there was always the fear that things in Russia could go sideways and we'd be stuck.  Yet, here we are jumping out of the train in Vladimir to buy some Twix.  As with most of my time in Russia, it was surreal.

In any event, we arrived in the evening at Kursky Train Station in Moscow's center.  We lived on the Garden Ring between Kursky Train Station and the Taganskaya metro station but closer to Kursky.  We walked out of the train station and literally onto the Garden Ring.  In order to understand that the Garden Ring is a very large road, please see the picture below.

From Wikipedia
The Garden Ring is one of the busiest roads in all of Moscow.  There were cars on the Garden Ring all night long every night, but on this early autumn evening, there were no cars on the Garden Ring.  Zero.  Paul and I wondered aloud to each other what was going on, as neither of us were aware that a riot and a small scale civil war started early in the day in Moscow.

We walked to our flat which was only a couple blocks south of Kursky Train Station and near the residence where Andrei Sakharov had lived.  After traveling all day on the train, I felt pretty dirty, so I decided to take a bath before relaxing a little.  Before I could get in the tub, Paul laughingly summoned me to our living room and to the television.  I came around the corner to see on the television an army truck driving up a ton of stairs and ramming into the doors of a building.  Not having seen any good movies in a couple months, I excitedly asked Paul if the scene was an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.  Paul told me no and that this scene was happening right now.  I curiously asked where this craziness was happening, and he turned around and looked at me and said that it was "here."  I laughed and said where in Russia, and he looked back and said "Moscow dude."  Once I realized that the truck and the troops were at Ostankino Television Tower and that they were loyalists to Aleksandr Rutskoy, I instantly stopped laughing.  

From Wikipedia
At that moment and not knowing what had transpired earlier in the day in Moscow, it became readily apparent to both of us that Rutskoy was attempting to seize the national lines of communication in further of a coup d'etat.  In that moment, my fears were realized.  We were in Moscow.  All hell is breaking loose around us, and we are stuck there.

We watched a little more on television and nervously went to bed early.  Tomorrow was Monday, and it was supposed to be time to go back to work.  Needless to say, we did not go to work.  Instead and like young men who believe that they are immortal, we went to where the fighting was happening.

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