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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Death of Boris Yeltsin and events of 1991

Boris Yeltsin died yesterday, aged 76.

I was reminded of the events of August 1991 - the coup attempt against Gorbachev which projected Yeltsin onto the world stage. Yeltsin on a tank in Moscow, defying the coup, is one of the key images of the 20th Century.

The coup attempt happened when I was on a train from Leningrad (as it then was) to Tallin, Estonia. I was based in Estonia that summer on a mission/hospital ship. We arrived at Tallin unaware of events to find everyone very tense. In the Winter of that year, the Estonians had seen off a show of force from the Russians by blockading their Parliament and TV/Radio buildings. During our stay, we had seen the concrete blocks by the side of the road. Now, those concrete blocks were being lifted back into place as rumours abounded of Soviet troop movements nearby. The TV/radio building was surrounded by Estonian lorries and tractors to defend it from attack.

The Estonians we met were pretty sanguine about the whole affair. Our ship was effectively blockaded by Soviet naval vessels. I remember sitting on deck listening to the radio broadcast from those organising the coup. After a delay of one or two days, we were allowed to leave. Not surprising since there were people from around 30 nations aboard ship.

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