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Doc Type: 
Historical Study
Knight, Amy
Full Title: 
Spies without Cloaks
Language Type: 
Princeton University Press
Pub City: 
Princeton, New Jersey

Summary by Dana Leigh Geraghty, Harriman Institute, Columbia University

               In her book Spies without Cloaks Amy Knight devotes a chapter to discussing the events of the August 1991 coup. Knight takes a radically different approach to analyzing and discussing the coup events. Her analysis is in direct contrast to both Yeltsin and especially Gorbachev’s accounts of the events. Knight entitles the chapter “The KGB and the Myth of the August Coup.” Indeed, she argues that the traditional story of the events of the August coup is a myth perpetuated by hindsight and the accounts of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Knight argues that the myth paints the coup events as a battle between good and evil, between KGB leaders and a victorious democratic Yeltsin standing proudly on top of a tank. Knight challenges this perception of the August 1991 coup events, citing the investigation and inquiry records, days of court testimony, eye witness accounts, and proceedings after the coup failed. Knight argues that Gorbachev was not an innocent victim of the coup plotters but instead was the mastermind behind the whole event. She cites the accounts of the accused, discrepancies in Gorbachev’s story, and the fact that all 14 coup plotters were given amnesty as evidence.

               After the immediate glow in the aftermath of the coup had subsided, Knight argues that people’s perceptions of the coup and its outcome had changed. Three years after the coup, a poll revealed that only a small proportion of Muscovites favored the outcome. Knight states that this poll is a reflection of the fact that most Russians sympathized with the coup plotters from the very beginning because they approved of the motivations of the coup—namely, preventing the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the break-down of the center in favor of the republics.

               In her book, Knight argues that the 1991 coup did not represent a revolutionary turning point or a decisive break with the Soviet system of the past. Instead, she argues that the system had begun to unravel well before and has yet to be destroyed. Knight then tries to analyze what the significance of the August coup attempt was, in light of this position. She looks at the role of the KGB and examines the relationship between it and the political leadership before, during, and after the coup.