August 19, 1991 was a shocking and ominous day for just about everyone, particularly if you were living in Moscow. A coup was underway; orchestrated by hardliners and some Military leaders who saw the Glasnost and Perestroika policies of Mikhail Gorbachev detrimental to Soviet ideology, and sought to stop it.
In a move reminiscent of the ouster of Nikita Khruschev two decades earlier, Radio Moscow reported that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had been taken ill and had asked to step down; a replacement from the hardline ranks was appointed and the Army had been called to calm fears.
In 1964 it worked, but in 1991 it was quickly learned that Gorbachev had, in reality, been put under house arrest and the move only brought people out of their homes and into the streets in droves, protesting what was believed to be a coup and a reversion to hardline policies. With tastes of Glasnost and Perestroika on their tongues, they weren’t about to go back to the “good old days”, and a vigorous protest was underway, spearheaded by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
A tense situation ensued – communication to the rest of the world was suddenly dodgy – phone communications were interrupted and rumors were the predominate form of getting the word out, at least for a while.
So while the rest of the world was in limbo, trying to figure out just what was happening in Moscow on this day, speculating, guessing and shreds of information were all that we could go on over the next several hours, and we would have to rely on whatever reports could be filed, as events were unfolding and the fate of a nation was in the balance over the next few days.
Here is one of those bulletins as given by CBS Radio News on August 19, 1991. More was to come, and the day would be filled with fascinating uncertainty.