The Rise and Fall of National Security Decisionmaking in the Former USSR

Implications for Russia and the Commonwealth

by Harry Gelman


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This report examines the Soviet political-military mechanisms used in the Gorbachev era for national security decisionmaking and explains how the struggle over control of those mechanisms contributed to the events that led to the failed August 1991 coup. The report argues that during the months leading up to the August coup, the leaders of the military-industrial complex discovered that the centrifugal process in the USSR steadily whittled away at their traditional ability to use central institutions to carry out unilateral decisions affecting the republics, and that a prominent motive for the coup was the hope of halting that process by preventing the imminent signing of a union treaty that would formalize a vast further reduction in the degree of influence those leaders enjoyed. The critical issue of the ideological leanings of the actors involved in whatever new supreme institutions for national security coordinating and decisionmaking eventually reemerge in Russia was underscored in the spring of 1992 by disturbing signs that Yeltsin was coming under increasing pressure to make concessions to the traditionally dominant forces in the military institution.

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