"Alpha" And "Vympel" on the Blade of the Civil War

While living in the Soviet Union, we took the notion of "civil war" in an abstract way. We read much about it (the Civil War of 1918-1921) in books, seen in movies. Naturally, in the way it was presented by this or that writer or director, as it was played by the actors. But to see firsthand, to look into its eyes - we never thought about that.

The events of the Moscow "hot autumn" of 1993 allowed, albeit to a small extent, to understand what disaster civil war is for the country and the people. Cruel and bloody quarrel. Road "to nowhere".

Hand on heart, I can say, as in a confession: the decision taken by the senior officers of Group "A" ("Alpha") on October 4, 1993, turned out to be the only true in that exceptionally difficult, dramatic situation. We went literally on the razor's edge.

If Alpha and Vimpel carried out the order of Boris Yeltsin - we would receive not only a charred White House (House of Soviets, Parlament), which was shot by direct fire from tanks, but hundreds of dead, including parliament deputies and leading Russian politicians. The consequences for our country would be fatal and unpredictable.

If Alpha and Vimpel carried out the order of Boris Yeltsin - we would receive not only a charred White House (House of Soviets, Parlament), which was shot by direct fire from tanks, but hundreds of dead, including parliament deputies and leading Russian politicians. The consequences for our country would be fatal and unpredictable.

In the fate, probably, each of us has a fork, when under the pressure of circumstances it is necessary to make the main, fundamental choice, perhaps, of the whole life. Years, and it happens, decades can be lived without revealing its deep essence - and only at moments of critical testing it suddenly becomes very clear what kind of person one really is. What kind of person, or a team, or a country.

In that terrible October, some Russian citizens killed others on the streets of Moscow. Let me remind you that in August President Yeltsin threatened to organize a "hot autumn" for the opposition - and it turned out really the same as it was promised. Later, fierce clashes with demonstrators and armed clashes will be called "local civil war". A beautiful "book" definition, true in its essence.

Later, the historian will write, the political scientist will write so. But those who happened to be direct participants in these events will always remember the high human price paid by the country for the unwillingness of "real" politicians to solve the matter by peace.

The president's order, I want to stress this, was fulfilled, but in our own way. They wanted the blood of the opposition from us, but we did not become punitive. True, there were also dissatisfied even among the defenders of the House of Soviets, who said: "Alpha did not have the courage to stand on the side of the people. Thanks that Alpha did not become their executioners..." This, of course, is an extreme point of view.

In the very Russian society that survived the collapse of the Union, and then the shock therapy of Yegor Gaidar and his liberal team, there was no unity: some activists were tearing their throats at rallies for Boris Yeltsin, others were defending the vice-president Alexander Rutskoi.

So what about the people? At that time our people adhered to the eternal life principle: my hut at the edge, I know nothing. I do not want to condemn or justify anyone... Perhaps, it was such a wait-and-see attitude, in fact, that saved us from a full-scale civil war and the collapse of the country into "red" and "white" regions.

Then, in a deadly battle, two forces clashed, each of which claimed to define the vector of the development of the State in its own way. As usual, ordinary citizens suffered at the same time, not claiming anything, but by the will of fate or by fulfilling their official duty, which turned out to be on opposite sides of the barricade.

And still, after twenty years, various numbers of victims are named: from 150 people to almost three thousand, however in any case, it is about our compatriots who have become hostages of irresponsible and criminal actions of politicians. Eternal memory to the dead.

Night Invitation to Yeltsin

The attitude of the personnel of the Ministry of Security (former KGB of USSR, now FSB of Russia, among them were oficers of Alpha and Vimpel - editor) was such that the officers did not want to participate in the operation against supporters of the Russian Parliament. So it was not long to wait for a call about this. At 4:30 am there was an order -  urgently the commanders of Alpha and Vympel, up to the heads of departments inclusive to arrive at the President of Russia.

About how events unfolded in Yeltsin's immediate circle, and what, in fact, was the reason for this hasty challenge, I learned a year later from the book "Notes of the President."

"About five in the morning," Yeltsin recalled, "the chiefs of the Main Guard Directorate Mikhail Barsukov, and his first deputy, the head of the president's security Alexander Korzhakov came to me and asked me to meet with the officers of the special force units Alpha and Vympel. According to their tone, I realized that something is wrong. But he did not specify anything, he immediately said: I do not have time to meet with them, they have a specific task before them, let them do it. Barsukov nodded. They went out. It took about half an hour, and Mikhail Ivanovich (Barsukov) again asked permission to come to me. Entering the office, he said: "Boris Nikolaevich, I beg you very much, we must meet with them, let us not with the whole teams, but at least with the unit commanders, senior officers. The guys are worring, such ambiguous an assignment. They are sent to the White House for the second time... "

(On August 20, 1991, during the coup, the chairman of the KGB gave the commander of Group A (Hero of the Soviet Union Viktor Karpukhin) an oral order: "To seize the White House, to intern the government and the leadership of Russia." To do this, he was given a group of "Vympel" and the forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It was impossible to take the White House without large human casualties among civilians. This was the main reason for the refusal of senior officers of Group A to participate in the assault. - Editor)

The Kremlin was like a ragged anthill. As always in such cases, there were some problems: when we were going to the First Corps, we were met by the heads of departments and their deputies from the Kremlin guard who were pulled off the places and demanded to Yeltsin.

- We were raised in vain. You have to go there," - said one of the returning officers.

Early on the morning of October 4, we were led to a meeting room: an oval table (no one was sitting behind him), rows of chairs along the walls on which the commanders of the "force" departments were stationed, a total of thirty people. The people were nervous, exhausted by a long, meaningless waiting. Nobody talked to each other, confining themselves to monosyllabic remarks.

I sat down on the edge and prepared to wait. A few minutes passed. Barsukov and Korzhakov proceeded through the hall to the President's reception room. On the move, Barsukov threw to the commander of "Vympel":

- Dmitry Mikhailovich (Gerasimov), you will report to the President.

Ten minutes passed. There was a heavy silence. Finally, the President appeared on the threshold of the waiting room. It was a different person than the one that came to the field base of Group "A" in the summer of 1992. Tired, gray. Terse. It was felt that he was closed and alert.

After all, it was not only the destiny of the State that was decided, but also his fate.

"Comrade President!" Officers of "Vympel" and "Alpha" are collected on your orders, - Gerasimov clearly reported.

Yeltsin sat down at the table. He did not speak very long.

- There is a complicated, tense situation in the country. You must finish with this. The White House was occupied by a gang that intends to carry out a coup d'état. We must release the White House. It is necessary to release it from these people. I decided to clean the White House by force. Your units should take part in this. Will you obey the President's orders?

The answer was, as he recalls, "the silence, the terrible, inexplicable silence of the elite Presidential military formation".

Yeltsin paused for a moment and asked the question differently, with the pressure:

- Good. Then I'll ask you differently: do you refuse to obey the President's order?

In response, silence again...

As I noted at the beginning, we often have to make choices in our lives. Ultimately, life is a constant (though not always explicit) choice between Good and Evil, conscience and meanness. I'm not a politician, and I never tried to be. The order for me, however, as for any military man who swore an oath, has the force of law. It is not discussed, it is carried out. But to kill people, deputies and ordinary compatriots - if you drop all the verbal husks, then this is exactly what they were instructed to do, - the officers of Alpha and Vympel could not do it. If we were talking about a "simple" operation to neutralize terrorists, then on our side there would not have been any questions, no objections. Now it was quite another matter.

Later, Yeltsin recalled: "I looked around them all - huge, strong, beautiful. Not saying goodbye, I went to the door, telling Barsukov and Zaitsev, the commander of Alpha, that the order must be executed."

"The Group does not Want to Go on an Assault"

In the once sensational book of Alexander Korzhakov "Boris Yeltsin: from dawn to dusk" the position of "Alpha" and "Vympel" is presented in a deliberately biased form. Some facts are perverted or turned inside out. Here, for example, is reported in the book of the former head of the President's Guard Service.

"Alarmed Barsukov rang in the morning"

"Listen, Alexander, the commanders from Alpha came to me. They say that the Group does not want to go on an assault. The officers are confused, some believe that everything that is happening is unconstitutional. They need to execute the order of the Constitutional Court (...)

Barsukov and I decided to gather the commanders of Alpha units in the Security Council Chamber - let the President speak to them personally.

It was necessary ... to wake up Boris Nikolaevich (Yeltsin). I asked him to shave and look fresher - the night was hard. Having entrusted the adjutant to lead the President to the hall, I myself came there in advance.

About forty officers had gathered. I've met many of them before. Always such smiling, hospitable, now these muscular guys looked at me sullenly and wary. I knew that those officers were overwhelmed with doubts, but everyone was afraid to say them out aloud.

Soon the President came to the hall. The commander of Alpha ordered:

"Comrades officers!"

Yeltsin rounded up those around him with an inquisitive glance:

"Comrades officers, please sit down."

Barsukov in advance warned Yeltsin about the mood of the Group. Boris Nikolaevich made a short speech. But before this stern voice asked commanders:

- Will you obey the President's order?

In response - a frightening silence.

The essence of Yeltsin's three-minute speech was as follows:

"You must obey orders." And do not torment yourself with doubts. No one will be subjected to repression.

After a short monologue, the President left the room. His mood deteriorated (...)

Then, rewarding the participants of the events of 1993, Yeltsin did not mention General Barsukov - he believed that it was Alpha that behaved insecurely because of bad leadership. Although there was no fault of Mikhail Ivanovich in this. The special force unit was subordinate to him for several months, and Barsukov did not have time to change the psychological climate among the officers (...)

The tough tone of the President's speech did not add enthusiasm to the officers. They did not inflame confidence in Boris Nikolayevich and sat with stone faces (...)

Zaitsev greatly upset me in this situation ... "

What was for Korzhakov's "a bad psychological climate" was the essence of the unit, its moral orientation, which did not allow the officers of Group "A" to become the executioners of their people.

By the way, to be precise to the end, in the end, "Alpha" was not disbanded thanks to General Barsukov. Nobody ever wrote about it, but he opposed the disbandment of the unit and when, at some point, his arguments were not accepted by Yeltsin. Barsukov even wrote a report on his resignation.

Alpha Offers Negotiations

Near the House of Soviets, General Barsukov gave me the order to build the personnel of Group "A" only. I built officers in a square. That was on Konyushkovskaya street. Mikhail Ivanovich appeared before us, and said what I expected from him:

"Now we need to help the President, we need to help him solve this problem," he urged us.

The boys were silent, the line was not moving.

"I ask everyone to understand my words," Mikhail Ivanovich said then. "Either you go inside the White House and follow the order, or I'll have to sign an order to disband and disarm the unit."

At me, the truth, the thought flashed: And who will disarm the unit now?

Barsukov said that three BTR (armored troop carriers) will soon arive.

- Prepare, who is ready to go on them for reconnaissance to the White House?

Ther were found volunteers on all three combat vehicles. We stepped forward. And before that, the Chief of Staff of the Dzerzhinsky Division, Colonel Victor Vasilievich Rakitin, approached me, we were acquainted, and gave the radio station:

- Gennady Nikolaevich, it is tuned to the frequency of the headquarters of the whole operation.

He called my callsign - "128", as well as our BMP (Infantry fighting vehicles) numbers.

Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Keleksaev went to one BMP. With a group of officers he came from the central entrance of the White House, from the side of the hotel "Ukraine" and carried out his task. The second BMP with Igor Finogenov, Yuri Torshin and Gennady Sergeyev went to the rear of the White House and began to inspect the positions. Around the distance of somewhere around 50-100 meters, everything was blocked by Internal Troops and by soldiers of the Ministry of Defense.

After some time Gennady Sergeyev was shot by a sniper. Then later a pathologist conducting the autopsy, he wondered how it was possible to live with such a serious wound for as long as seven minutes. Whether it was an aim shot or a fatal ricochet, it remains unknown.

There is a version that someone tried to provoke the assault with all the ensuing consequences, but the officers of Alpha did not fail, they did not go on about emotions. I am deeply convinced: the shot was not made from the House of Soviets, the sniper was outside its walls.

After some time Gennady Sergeyev was shot by a sniper. There is a version that someone tried to provoke the assault with all the ensuing consequences, but the officers of Alpha did not fail, they did not go on about emotions. I am deeply convinced: the shot was not made from the House of Soviets, the sniper was outside its walls.

..Talking about the last hours of the existence of the Supreme Council (As the Parlament was named - editor), I will give the testimony of our officer Sergey Kuzmin, how he remembered those events:

- On the eve of the dramatic events in Moscow, I and several of my comrades were singled out by the commanders for work on organized crime. The team was headed by Lt. Col. Vladimir Ilyich Keleksaev. Given the complexity of the situation, knowing full well what our comrades would have to do, we, on our own initiative, left together with the unit to the White House.

Among the other volunteers, we went on the orders of the commander to the parliament building for reconnaissance. I remember that later, when we went to the ramp in front of the White House, we had a member of Vympel among us. Some people shouted from the windows: "Do not come near, get out of here".

We went together to the entrance, Keleksaev and I. We made an impromptu white flag ... At the entrance there was a sergeant of militia Sorokin. We explained to him who we are. He turned to the defenders through a megaphone: "The Alpha Group is going on!". And he suggested that someone come out to meet us.

First Albert Makashov appeared in his famous beret. In the foyer of the first floor Cossacks from Transnistria crowded together. They led themselves, I must say, defiantly and defiantly. We turned to the general to call his subordinates to order. He replied that this freeman does not obey him. "These are "Makhnovists"," Makashov explained, leaning towards us.

(Makhnovists - the rebel army of Ukraine during the civil war of 1918-1921, which was led by the ataman Makhno. The name became a household name for semi-bandit armed units subordinate to noone. -  Editor)

At that moment, the assault of the White House resumed from the Krasnopresnenskaya metro station. We were asked by defenders to do everything to stop it. To find out the situation I went on the corridors of the building to the direction from which the most intense shooting was conducted. But it was difficult to understand what happened. However, when I returned, the storm made an impression on the Makhnovists, - they calmed down.

Makashov took us to the meeting room of the Council of Nationalities, where deputies and other different people were. We introduced ourselves: we are officers of the special force unit "Alpha". We voiced the task set before us - to take the White House. Also said that we were authorized to negotiate the withdrawal of people from the building under our guarantees.

After that, we were taken to the third floor, where Rutskoi and Khasbulatovin were in one of the rooms. There were men in black uniforms. By the way they behaved, it was clear: they were real professionals in military affairs.

We went into the office, greeted Rutskoi. A little later came Khasbulatov, he practically did not participate in the conversation. We again introduced ourselves, explained the task assigned to the unit. Rutskoi disagreed with our arguments. He said that some military units loyal to him were approaching... And at the end he asked if we could provide him and Khasbulatov with a trip to the US embassy. We answered to this that we can not take an independent decision on this issue - we must report to the commander.

We broke up on this. When we descended to the first floor, the spetsnaz officers already took deputies out of the building. I joined the guys and took part in the "sweeping" of the building, and Vladimir Ilyich (Kelekhsaev) went to a report to our leadership," - concludes Kuzmin.

The One Who Thinks Differently is not the Enemy!

It still seems to me that the political solution to the crisis of the fall of 1993 was never fully used. There was not, I stress. Including the initiative of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, who acted as an intermediary on behalf of the Church. Perhaps it was here that the "fork" took place, and these negotiations, under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church, turned out to be a "missed opportunity" - an exit that politicians did not take advantage of.

By the way, the Patriarch officially made a statement then that the first one who sheds blood will be anathema. And who was the "first"? Come on, figure it out! The blame was, I stress, both sides of the conflict: some - more, others - less. And their lives were put by dozens of ordinary people who came to parliament to defend their sense of civic dignity. How many young lives have been ruined, how many fates have been warped...

The Patriarch officially made a statement that the first one who sheds blood will be anathema.

Hard, difficult negotiations were going on in the walls of the St. Daniel Monastery. And where, it is asked, was the President of the country at that time? In the Kremlin... And why should not Boris Nikolaevich get involved in the negotiation process? After all, the fate of hundreds of people - our fellow citizens - was decided. To be or not to be, to live or not to live. And God knows how it would turn. Perhaps, the breakdown of negotiations. Failure, final failure. But then the head of State would have the full moral right to say: "I did everything I could."

On October 4, 1993, Sergei Ilyich Fedorov, a Group "A" officer and his comrades removed nearly 400 people from the House of Soviets at the side of the Gorbaty Bridge.

People were afraid that they would be opened fire. And then Fedorov left the entrance and removed the armored helmet from his head:

"If someone will be shooted, it's me, and not you, unarmed."

It seems to me that Sergei Fedorov answered the way that Group "A" officers could answered  with their inner spiritual core, choosing the only way to walk along the razor's edge and not to break into bloody bacchanalia.

Representatives of the Group "A" tried to agree with the leaders of the Supreme Council on a peaceful surrender, promising security for the defenders - they fulfilled their promise!

In a long-standing interview with our newspaper, "Speetsnaz of Russia," Sergey Fedorov said: "Then good men got together in the Group - everyone with a strong character. A sense of dignity, professionalism, courage - with an understanding of who they are and what they are. We were allowed a lot, we had extensive information. When we carried out the combat mission, the police and the army stood in our cordon. We often worked with the top officials of the State - was it possible for us to make average demands, at least to give slack in anything?

In general, I believe that the operation in the White House is one of the most difficult after the storming of the palace of Amin, Beslan, Nord-Ost, Budennovsk and Pervomaisky. It showed the whole world that the special forces are not thugs who are ready to comply with any order of any government. And the death of Genady Sergeev was a high price for the fact that many and many did not die then. After all, we could have taken the White House by storm. But human blood is not a water... "

In the most difficult situation, when it seemed that there was no choice, the officers of Group "A" were able to save people (I remind, this is our main purpose, for this purpose the Group "A" was created by Yuri Andropov) and save their face. Some politicians did not like that this face is a human face.

I believe that the operation in the White House is one of the most difficult after the storming of the palace of Amin, Beslan, Nord-Ost, Budennovsk and Pervomaisky. It showed that the special forces are not thugs who are ready to comply with any order of any government. And the death of Genady Sergeev was a high price for the fact that many and many did not die then.

An exceptionally positive role in the resolving of the October 4 crisis was played by senior officers of Group "A" Alexander Ivanovich Miroshnichenko, my deputy, now a colonel-general; Vladimir Ilyich Keleksaev, Mikhail Petrovich Maksimov, Anatoly Ivanovich Grechishnikov, Yury Viktorovich Demin, Vitaliy Nikolaevich Demidkin and Igor Feliksovich Finogenov.

In 1994, the Prosecutor General Alexei Kazannik, who decided to amnesty leaders and active participants in the defense of the House of Soviets, explained on the pages of the newspaper "Delovoy Mir": "After interviewing a thousand servicemen, we received the following evidence: there were no peace negotiations between the events of the 3rd and 4th of October, there was an order to immediate assault... In a pause between what happened on the 3rd and what happened on the 4th of October, no one warned the people remaining in the White House, about the beginning of the shelling and assault, that is mean no evidence of conducting any negotiations there. Consequently, the events of October 4 should be qualified as a crime committed on the basis of revenge, in a way dangerous to the lives of many, from low-minded motivations. "

After the defeat of the parliament, the "small victorious war" in the North Caucasus seemed to Yeltsin and his entourage an easy decision, the best way to raise the fallen rating. So from the October Moscow of 1993, the tanks entered Grozny on New Year's night on December 31, 1994. From that "hot autumn" we are living in a country at war.

If we talk about the fundamental consequences of the shooting of the House of Soviets, then the state control system has changed significantly. Russia became a presidential republic, in which the role of parliament was devalued. In addition, forces opposed to the so-called "shock therapy" - accelerated "reforms" that later led to a collapse in the standard of living of the population, the economic crisis, the surrender of a number of geopolitical positions and many other negative consequences that have been felt so far, were defeated.

In the last telecast in the summer of 1994, historian Mikhail Gefter, in a conversation with the critic Lev Annensky, said: "Align with the group "Alpha". On people who saw October as a double insignia: they, like nobody, wore the knowledge of death, they also refused to carry out the order to kill. Align with the group "Alpha"! This sums up and makes historical the experience of those who, by their choice of action, by their officer refusal to kill, opened the entrance to the central problem of Russian consciousness, closed by fuss and politicking: The one who thinks differently is not the enemy to be destroyed, he is fellow citizen and brother."

With these words, I want to finish the story about the events of October 1993.


Translated by Stanislav Stankevich