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Russia reflects on collapse of USSR

On August 19, 1991 Yeltsin climbed aboard a tank outside the Russian parliament and defied the hard-liners coup
On August 19, 1991 Yeltsin climbed aboard a tank outside the Russian parliament and defied the hard-liners coup  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russians are gatherering to reflect on the 10 years since a failed coup dealt a mortal blow to the Soviet Union.

The largest assembly is likely to be outside the Russian White House on Sunday, where an anxious crowd watched Boris Yeltsin climb onto a tank to denounce the coup.

His actions came a few hours after state media announced that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was ill and incapable of carrying on his duties as Russia's premier.

Gorbachev had been detained at his summer house by hardliners opposed to his reform attempts.

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 Soviet Uprising: Collapse of a Coup
Special Program on CNN International TV
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At that time, Yeltsin was President of the Russian Federation, one of the USSR's 15 republics.

By the time the sun set on August 19, 1991, tens of thousands of people had answered his call to resistance, building barricades around the building where the Russian parliament met.

Two days later, the tanks withdrew, the coup plotters fled and Gorbachev returned to Moscow.

But although he retained his office, his political and moral authority had dissolved. The Soviet republics, already straining at the leash of Kremlin control, pushed harder for independence.

On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev signed the Soviet Union out of existence.

Message Board: Russia  

Another rally is expected at Pushkin Square, but this one will honour the coup plotters.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist who is to speak at the square, says he wishes the coup had succeeded but welcomes the collapse of communism.

Russian woman with bottle
For many Russians, freedom has brought poverty and uncertainty  

"One should have gotten rid of the Communist Party, given up the unproductive Communist ideology, but preserved the country's territory, its army and the KGB," he told the Interfax news agency.

Observers say the collapse of the Soviet Union was an exhilarating and wrenching experience for its 290 million people.

Some have thrived with the new opportunities, but others saw their jobs disappear, their savings become near-worthless in economic crises and their pensions and salaries go unpaid for months.

Few commemorations of the coup are planned outside Moscow.

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