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The August Syndrome


Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev returns to Moscow from the Crimea on August 22, 1991 after a hardline coup failed.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev returns to Moscow from the Crimea on August 22, 1991 after a hardline coup failed.

Brace yourselves, Russia watchers. August is upon us.

For most of the world, the eighth month of the year is a time to relax, kick back, and go on vacation.

But in post-Soviet Russia, it has been a time of coup attempts, debilitating economic crises, financial meltdowns, bombings, and wars.

The trend, of course, started on August 19, 1991, when Communist hard-liners attempted to oust Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev -- but instead precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ever since then, Russia has been plagued by what RIA-Novosti dubbed "The Black August Syndrome."

Being familiar with Russian affairs, readers of this blog will know the really big crises that have come down in August: the debt default and currency collapse on August 17, 1998; the invasion of Daghestan by Chechen fighters on August 7, 1999 that sparked the second Chechen conflict, and last summer's five-day war between Russia and Georgia that began on August 7.

But there's more:

  1. The war in Abkhazia, in which Moscow-backed separatists battled Georgian forces began on August 14, 1992
  2. The infamous MMM pyramid scheme collapsed in August 1994, depriving millions of Russians of their life savings
  3. A bomb exploded in the pedestrian underpass near the Pushkin Square metro station in downtown Moscow on August 8, 2000, killing 13 people
  4. The Russian nuclear submarine "Kursk" sank in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000, killing all 118 sailors on board
  5. On August 1, 2003, a suicide bomber attacked a military hospital in Mozdok, in North Ossetia, killing over 50 people
  6. And on August 31, 2004 -- one day before the Beslan school siege -- a suicide bomber blew herself up outside Moscow's Rizhskaya metrostation, killing 10 people

Take a look at the RIA-Novosti story for a more complete list.

August sometimes figured large in the Soviet Union as well. It was on August 20-21, 1968 that Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia, putting an end to the Prague Spring and "Socialism With A Human Face."

And as my co-Power Verticalist Robert Coalson has pointed out, Russia's current political era began in August. It was on the morning of August 9, 1999 when President Boris Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin prime minister and anointed him as his chosen successor.

So what awaits us in the next 31 days? I don't pretend to know. Maybe this August will be uncharacteristically quiet. But I will certainly hold off on taking my vacation until September.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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