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'GoldenEye' and the Soviet Coup of 1991


There are at least two big historical events that nurture the story of the 17th James Bond film GOLDENEYE. The British betrayal of the Lienz Cossacks in 1945 directly motivates Alec Trevelyan's revenge plan, and there is also the setting of a new world order after the dissolution of the Soviet Union which serves as a backdrop as the story moves along through nine years.


However, there is a historical event most people overlook, and it is the one that directly provoked the fall of the Soviet Union. But don't worry, don't blame yourself if you didn't catch it. After all, Ourumov's electronic dossier at M's office appears onscreen for less than a second. This is an event that began on August 18, 1991, and culminated exactly 30 years ago, on August 21, 1991. This was an ill-fated attempt to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev's government to reinstate a radicalized Soviet government in a USSR that was beginning to embrace glasnost (openness) policies towards the West.


What happened back then? To cut a long story short, members of Gorbachev's government along with high ranking officials of the KGB and Red Army were worried about the imminent "Westernization" of the USSR. While the president went on holiday to his dacha in Crimea, these people placed him under an informal "house arrest" by isolating him: telephone landlines were cut off and he was forced to declare a State of Emergency or to resign, naming his Vice-president Gennady Yanayev, the leader of the conspiracy, as acting president so that "order could be reinstated" in the country. Gorbachev refused, so they ordered that he remained confined in his dacha as these people formed State Committee led by Yanayev and declared the State of Emergency under the pretext that the premier was ill and unable to perform his duties. The Committee cut off the air radio stations that opposed the Soviet ideology and the KGB issued arrest orders for Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian SFSR, and his allies. Missing an opportunity to arrest Yeltsin as he returned to the country from Khazakstan on 17 August would prove fatal to their plans, as he organized a countermove with some of his allies issuing a declaration "To The Citizens of Russia" condemning the actions of this Committee and urging them to let Gorbachev address the people. On August 21, Riots ensued near the White House in Moscow and the citizens confronted the Soviet Army and their armoured vehicles, which resulted in the death of three young civilians and the coup was brought to a halt. Gorbachev returned from Crimea, explained the situation, and was quickly reinstated in power. The conspirators were arrested and tried, three of them committed suicide: Minister of Interior Boris Pugo, Administrator of Affairs of the Central Committee Nikolay Kruchina and Gorbachev's Military Advisor Sergei Akhromeyev. The consequences of these three violent days led to the ban of the Communist Party, Gorbachev's resignation and dissolution of the Soviet Union by the end of December 1991, with Boris Yeltsin assuming as the president of the Russian Federation.


What we can read in Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov's dossier is that the Colonel -"made" a General by 1995, James Bond observes- was given command of the Space Division by Gorbachev in 1987, right after the events of the pre-credits sequence where Ourumov was in command of the Arkangel Chemical Weapons Facility destroyed by Bond. The dossier notes that, despite this, Ourumov was among the 1991 conspirators which attempted to depose Gorbachev, but enquires were dropped after the suicide of a co-conspirator. Nothing goes further than that in GOLDENEYE, although in John Gardner's novelization Bond interpellates Defence Minister Dimitri Mishkin regarding the conspirators that died "supposedly by their own hand", so it leaves pretty much everything else to guesswork.


Possibilities are endless, but chances are that Ourumov had a connection to Akhromeyev if we juxtapose these real-life events to the fictional events of GOLDENEYE. Judging by Bond's comment in Gardner's book, it could have happened that a less-known conspirator of the group was silenced for good before he could relate the General to these events. The fact that he went against Gorbachev despite being benefited by him shows that Ourumov is indeed a fervent supporter of the Communist cause and strongly disapproved of the openness policies, to the point he felt he had to take action. Also, he sees himself as the next "Iron Man" of Russia, which underlines his political ambition and desire to achieve what his people couldn't do in 1991. Positioning himself with the Janus Crime Syndicate would give him the budget and power he lacks in the new democratic Russia, where he has to tolerate a civilian oversight by people like Mishkin from time to time, particularly after the theft of the GoldenEye weapon. In the GoldenEye And Betrayal chapter of THE WORLD OF GOLDENEYE you can read a little more on the subject, primarily how Ourumov double-crosses his country under the presumption that strangers have taken over it, and Bond uses this Soviet zeal he has against him to get the upper hand over him during the train scene.


Why it is important to address this? Simply because it is a pity that we didn't know much about Ourumov's background in the movie outside this blink-and-you'll-miss-it frame. No complaints about this as GOLDENEYE is a perfect film and the pacing is handled brilliantly by director Martin Campbell, and dealing way too much with the past of secondary characters would have made the film a bit dense and perhaps even forced. But it is interesting to note how the 17th James Bond film doesn't just revolve about the passing of an era as a simple backdrop to the story, most of their characters represent it too. Just like Alec Trevelyan was part of the Lienz Cossack betrayal, Ourumov was part of an attempt to recover the Soviet Union which -unfortunately for them- backfired and accelerated its demise.




The author has written The World of GoldenEye and

For England, James: Notes on the Visual Impact of GoldenEye

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