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Pugo, Boris Karlovich


(19371991), Party official involved in the 1991 coup attempt against Boris Yeltsin.

Born in Latvia, Boris Karlovich Pugo was a Communist Party and state functionary whose career was shaped by Leonid Brezhnev's "mature socialism." This was a time of ossification in the leadership and mounting economic crisis that gave way to attempts to reform the system from within under the direction of Yuri Andropov, former head of the KGB, and then, after a brief interval, to more systemic reforms under Mikhail Gorbachev. Like many leaders of the Brezhnev era, Pugo began his career as an official in the Komsomol. His career was closely connected with Soviet power in his native Latvia, where he served as head of the local KGB and later as first secretary of the Latvian Communist Party.

Pugo came to prominence with the advent of glasnost and perestroika. In 1988 he was appointed chairman of the powerful CPSU Control Commission

in Moscow, a post he held for two years. This was a time of struggle within the Communist Party, for Gorbachev's effort to use it as a vehicle for reform had failed and only managed to split the Party along pro- and anti-reform lines. In the Baltic republics even the local Communist parties were joining in the call for independence by the summer of 1990. In December, Gorbachev appointed Pugo minister of internal affairs.

The appointment came at a time of crisis for perestroika. There were increasing calls for independence in the Baltic republics. Opponents of reform in Moscow, such as the "Black Colonel" Viktor Alksnis, were calling for a crackdown against anti-Soviet elements, especially in the Baltic republics. Hardliners argued that the impending war between the United States and Iraq would distract international opinion from a Soviet crackdown. As one of his first acts as minister of internal affairs, Pugo took a leading role in the attempt to reassert Soviet power in the Baltic republics. The crackdown in Vilnius, poorly organized and indecisive, collapsed in the face of popular resistance in the republics and Gorbachev's failure to support it publicly.

In August 1991 Pugo joined in the desperate attempt by the State Committee for the State of Emergency to remove Gorbachev and prevent the approval of a new union treaty that would bring about a radical shift in power from all-union institutions to the constituent republics, especially the Russian Federation under its popularly elected president, Boris Yeltsin. The so-called putsch in which the committee attempted to seize power was poorly organized and badly prepared. Within a matter of days it collapsed. Boris Pugo committed suicide on August 22, together with his wife, Valentina. His suicide note contained a brief explanation of his actions: "I put too much trust in people. I have lived my life honestly."

See also: august 1991 putsch; soyuz faction


Albats, Yevgeniia. (1994). The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on RussiaPast, Present, and Future. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

Aron, Leon. (2000). Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Lieven, Anatol. (1993). The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Path to Independence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Medevev, Roy. (2002). "Yesteryear: Three Suicides." Moscow News No. 023 (August 21).

Jacob W. Kipp

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