Dmitry Yazov, anti-Gorbachev coup plotter, ex-Soviet defense minister, dies

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Dmitry Yazov, a former Soviet defense minister who took part in an unsuccessful coup against leader Mikhail Gorbachev, died on Tuesday at the age of 95, the Russian Defence Ministry said.

FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (back) is seen with former Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Dmitry Yazov after decorating him with the Service to the Fatherland order of the fourth grade during an award ceremony in Moscow's Kremlin, November 2, 2009. REUTERS/Ivan Sekretarev/Pool/File Photo

Yazov was the last Marshal of the Soviet Union and one of eight senior officials who tried and failed to remove Gorbachev from power in August 1991, a move widely seen as hastening the collapse of the Soviet Union that same year.

He spent 18 months in jail for his role in the coup before being given an amnesty by then President Boris Yeltsin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Yazov “an outstanding military leader,” after the Defence Ministry announced his death after a long illness.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who earlier this month bestowed him with a state award, called Yazov a legendary figure.

Yazov, a Siberian-born veteran of World War Two, held the post of Soviet defense minister from May 1987 until August 1991.

During a career that spanned half a century, he was posted to Cuba during the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis with the United States, commanded Soviet forces in then Czechoslovakia in 1979-80, and carried out missions in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Lithuania last year found Yazov guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in a 1991 crackdown against the Baltic state’s pro-independence movement, which killed 14 civilians and wounded more than 700 others.

Russia refused to cooperate with the trial, calling it illegal and Gorbachev declined to testify.

A Lithuanian court sentenced Yazov to 10 years in prison in absentia, in a judgment Russia condemned as an unfriendly and provocative act.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Susan Fenton