Gorbachev says Bush warned him of '91 coup

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Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Monday that former US president George H.W. Bush had warned him about his safety a few weeks before Communist hardliners staged the August 1991 coup.

The ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner said, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the failed plot, that Bush had relayed the message in a telephone conversation amid signs of Communist Party discontent with liberal reforms.

"Bush called me. He was citing information from Moscow mayor Gavriil Popov," Gorbachev said in an interview with official Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

But Gorbachev said he did not believe Bush because "you have to be an idiot" to decide to seize power by force amid signs of fundamental changes within the Soviet Union.

"Unfortunately, they really were idiots," said Gorbachev.

The senior Communist Party revolt against Gorbachev included the head of the KGB and his own vice president.

The group of veteran party members imposed house arrest on Gorbachev while he was vacationing on the Black Sea and pronounced themselves in charge and the era of liberalisation effectively over in an August 19 televised message.

"I should not have taken that vacation," Gorbachev admitted. "That was a mistake."

The coup attempt lasted three days and saw Gorbachev's rival Boris Yeltsin ultimately grab power in Russia and then dissolve the Soviet Union a few months later.

Gorbachev says he never intended to bury the Soviet Union when launching his reforms and has remained strongly critical of Yeltsin for making the break-up official in December 1991.

"He had such a thirst for power," Gorbachev said of Yeltsin. "I should have sent him to a banana republic as an ambassador."

Bush was seen during his 1989-93 presidency as one of the closest Western leaders to Gorbachev who was slow to recognise Yeltsin's drive for an independent Russia.

© 2011 AFP

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