“August Syndrome” strikes new Kremlin chief
Over the past two decades, coups, wars, floods, economic collapse and air disasters have blighted the eighth month of the year, when government and business largely shut down for the long school summer holidays, fixing the “August Syndrome” in the popular psyche.
He sent in Russian tanks and troops this month to crush Georgia’s attempt to retake the province and recognised the pro-Moscow region and another secessionist province as independent states on Tuesday, sparking a major crisis in relations with the West.
But the syndrome itself dates back to August 1991, when Communist hardliners tried to depose Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in a botched putsch which set the pattern for much of the ensuing post-Soviet period.
In August 1993 Gorbachev’s successor in the Kremlin, Boris Yeltsin, locked horns with the Soviet-era parliament, a showdown that saw him dissolve the legislature the following month and eventually shell deputies into submission with tanks.
In August of 1996, separatists in Chechnya took the capital Grozny by storm from Russian troops, a humiliation which resulted in a truce that gave the rebel province de facto independence.
Two years later, a combined domestic debt default and effective rouble devaluation in August ripped the heart out of Russia’s financial system and led to a prolonged economic crisis.
Insurgents attacked the southern Russian republic of Dagestan from neighbouring Chechnya in August of 1999, leading to a Russian clampdown in the separatist republic that heralded the start of the second Chechen war which saw Moscow eventually reimpose its rule.
Putin fell victim to the syndrome in his first year as president and was roundly criticised for his slow response to the August 2000 sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine with all 118 crew.
Fate gave Russia a break in 2001, only to come back with a vengence 12 months later. August floods in the southern Novorossiik region killed 60 people, a gas leak destroyed a Moscow block of flats, killing nine more, and 90 soldiers died when their helicopter transporter was apparently shot down by Chechen militants.
In the same month the following year, 20 people, most of them local officials, died in the Far East region of Sakhalin in a plane crash and two air disasters in August 2004 left 90 people dead.
This extraordinary litany of summer disasters would have sorely tested any nation and perhaps it says something about this enormous country, spread over 11 time zones, that it can absorb these body blows. Perhaps the fact that this unhappy sequence of events has a name, somehow helps…