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Archive: Goodbye USSR

Panorama was taken to the Communist party secretariat office in the central committee building in Moscow where the plot was hatched

As Panorama reports on the level of threat Russia now poses to the West, we look back at the 1991 Panorama film, Goodbye USSR, which told the story of the failed coup that hastened the end of the Soviet Union and ultimately helped create the Russia of today.

On 18 August 1991, holidaying Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was imprisoned in his Crimean dacha by a group of hardline Communist party officials.

Their attempt at staging a coup had begun.

The plotters were high-ranking officials opposed to Mr Gorbachev's ambitious programme of reforms that had begun shortly after he assumed power in 1985.

Their concerns reached a head over Mr Gorbachev's plans to create a looser Russian federation with certain powers devolving to Soviet republics like Ukraine.

Mr Gorbachev pushed for Congress to accept the end of the Soviet Union

The plot was devised in the central committee building in Moscow by officials who feared the break-up of the Soviet Union - but ultimately only served to hasten its demise.

As Russian news agency Tass broadcast news of the coup on the morning of 19 August, tanks rolled onto the streets of Moscow.

Defiant opposition

The Russian people reacted badly to the news and came out in their thousands to show their opposition.

The speed of the collapse of the Soviet Union raised concerns and fears for the future

As the struggle played out in front of the White House - the Russian parliament building - in full glare of the world's media, the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, also defiantly opposed the coup.

The image of Mr Yeltsin addressing the crowds from atop a Soviet tank became the coup's defining image.

Without popular support, the coup lost momentum and within three days it was over.

Panorama reported on the events in the immediate aftermath of the attempted coup and took a look at what problems lay ahead for the newly-democratised Soviet Union.

The relationship between the dominant Russia and the fledgling sovereign Soviet states was key, but few foresaw just how quickly the Soviet Union would be dismantled.

Superpower dismantled

In the days that followed the coup, Mr Yeltsin stepped into the void and wasted no time in removing the last vestiges of the Communist party's control of the state - a policy begun by Mr Gorbachev - and devolving central power.

On 25 December 1991, Mr Gorbachev resigned, the Hammer and Sickle flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time and the Soviet Union no longer existed.

At the start of 1992, 15 newly-independent states - including a Russia led by Mr Yeltsin - stood in its place.

That such a hugely authoritarian superpower had been dismantled so swiftly - within seven years of Mr Gorbachev coming to power - and with so little bloodshed stood as perhaps one of the most remarkable events of the late twentieth century.

Panorama: Goodbye USSR - 14 Days Of Revolution was broadcast on 16 September 1991.

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