Is deposed Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev being held incommunicado under house arrest at his summer dacha on the Black Sea with all access by land, sea and air cut off? Was he seized by KGB agents at a Crimean airport as he tried to return to Moscow on his private jet?
Two full days after right-wing hard-liners ousted the charismatic superpower leader, mystery and intrigue still shroud Gorbachev’s whereabouts. He has not been seen in public since Sunday’s coup. Even President Bush has not been able to reach him by telephone despite repeated attempts.
“The situation concerning President Gorbachev’s status is still unclear,” Bush told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.
But reports of possible sightings of Gorbachev circulated furiously in Moscow on Tuesday--some more credible than others, all in firm contradiction to the official version that the Soviet leader is recovering from illness and fatigue.
In the scenario that has emerged, armed KGB agents who on Monday arrested Gorbachev at a Crimean airfield are said to be swarming around the deposed president’s summer home in the Black Sea resort of Phoros. Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, are confined within. A military patrol vessel blocks the port; access roads have been cut off. Large tractors are parked on a nearby runway, rendering it unusable.
Some less likely reports had Gorbachev being whisked to Moscow and cloistered in a building on the outskirts of the city. Others said loyal secret agents from the nearby Black Sea city of Yalta tried--but failed--to liberate him.
“We were told by his household staff that that attempt failed and he is still under house arrest, being taken care of in his dacha in the Crimea,” a Moscow correspondent for ABC News said after contacting members of Gorbachev’s staff in Phoros, where the president had been vacationing.
Citing the same sources, ABC reported that Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev lunched together Tuesday in their makeshift prison. Nine Gorbachev aides, meanwhile, had been detained and taken away from the house, ABC said.
Similar reports came from Russian Federation officials in Moscow, who oppose the coup.
Moscow’s Deputy Mayor Sergei Stankevich, citing his own sources in the military, said Gorbachev was arrested on Monday in the Crimea as he tried to board a presidential airliner to return to Moscow. Arrested with him were aides Gen. Vladimir T. Medvedev, his chief of security, diplomatic adviser Anatoly S. Chernyayev and another longtime adviser, Georgy Shakhnazarov.
At 4 a.m. Sunday, the day of the coup, the Soviet air force commander, Col. Gen. Igor M. Maltsev, ordered two tractors parked on the runway of the Crimean airfield to prevent Gorbachev’s TU-134 airliner from leaving, Stankevich said.
On Monday, Stankevich said, Gorbachev’s skeleton staff and his high-tech communications gear were flown out on the TU-134, and a helicopter was dispatched to an air base in southern Russia, leaving the deposed president isolated. KGB security forces took full control, sealing off land and sea approaches to the coastal region.
Maltsev, the air force commander, then issued orders to prevent any other attempts to contact the former president, Stankevich said.
“There were attempts by former aides to Gorbachev to reach him,” Stankevich said. But under Maltsev’s order, he said, “in case of any more attempts, these people must be detained and handed over to the KGB.”
Another account, which apparently originated among Estonian officials, said Gorbachev had flown from the Crimea to Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport and was arrested there after he refused to sign a decree relinquishing power to coup leader Gennady I. Yanayev. The reports that placed Gorbachev back in Moscow appeared to have stemmed from the return of Gorbachev’s airliner to Moscow.
Bush was among a handful of world leaders demanding more information about Gorbachev’s whereabouts and well-being. He said he had tried to telephone him twice Tuesday and Monday, to no avail. British Prime Minister John Major and Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin had similar luck.
“Mr. Yeltsin told me that he tried to send emissaries to see Mr. Gorbachev, that those emissaries were unsuccessful because Mr. Gorbachev is being prevented from seeing people,” Bush said.
A Look at Gorbachev’s Career
The major events that shaped the life and career of Mikhail S. Gorbachev:
March 2, 1931: Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is born in Privolnoye, a rural town in the Stavropol region of southern Russia.
1950: Enrolls at Moscow State University to study law.
1952: Becomes a full member of the Communist Party, active in the Communist Youth League.
1954: Marries fellow student, Raisa Maximovna Titorenko.
1955: Returns to city of Stavropol and begins full-time work in Communist Youth League.
1960: Appointed first secretary of Stavropol regional youth league.
1966: Promoted to head the party organization in Stavropol. Three years later, elevated to full membership in national Communist Party Central Committee.
1971: Becomes deputy of the nation’s nominal Parliament, the Supreme Soviet.
1978: Appointed Central Committee secretary in charge of agriculture and moves to Moscow.
1979: Named candidate, or non-voting member, of the ruling Politburo headed by President Leonid I. Brezhnev. Becomes a full member a year later.
March 11, 1985: Named Communist Party general secretary after the death of Konstantin U. Chernenko.
Source: Associated Press