MOSCOW, SEPT. 26 -- Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov declared today that recent rumors and news stories suggesting that the military may be planning a coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev are "an invention."
"No one is preparing paratroopers for actions against the people," Yazov told the Soviet legislature, or Supreme Soviet, and he asserted that army units seen gathering in the vicinity of Moscow were there on routine, peaceful assignments.
Rumors of a military coup attempt have been rife in recent weeks as public anger has intensified over the government's failure to agree on a comprehensive program to restructure the nation's collapsing economy. Indeed, ever since Gorbachev began his democratizing drive in 1985, many reform advocates here have feared that the army and KGB security police might at some point demand a return to authoritarian rule.
Yazov's denial came just hours after the Communist Party youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published what it described as a detailed account of "suspicious troop movements" near Moscow earlier this month. On Monday, Supreme Soviet member Sergei Byelozertsev told the legislature that elements of four paratroop divisions and two other army units had been seen around the capital, and he demanded a public explanation from the military.
Yazov told the lawmakers that 23,000 troops from the Ryazan region southeast of Moscow and elsewhere were in the capital to help with the potato harvest and that two additional regiments were in the city to rehearse for the traditional Nov. 7 parade marking the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Supreme Soviet Chairman Anatoly Lukyanov also tried to dispel the rumors, asserting that they appeared to be the work of some unknown forces "trying to aggravate the situation by talking about a coup or a putsch." KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov also has publicly denied knowledge of any coup attempt or conspiracy.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda article quotes Col. Sergei Kudinov, commander of the Ryazan Airborne Academy's political section, as telling a group of legislators that the troop movements began Sept. 9 in response to a threat of insurrection. Kudinov is reported to have said that this came in the form of intercepted information by Ryazan Communist Party officials that "democratic forces acting under the aegis" of the legislature of the Soviet Russian republic were planning armed seizures of television and radio stations, railroads, airports, bridges and other installations controlled by the central government and the party.
Kudinov is quoted as saying the Ryazan airborne regiment and military units in nearby Tula were put on alert and given ammunition, then began moving out toward Moscow the next day "crushing cars standing in their way." Kudinov reportedly said four servicemen, including an officer, "were killed in the commotion."
On Sept. 11, six Russian legislators who had heard about the troop movements attempted to speak with soldiers at the Ryazan barracks but were turned away, according to the newspaper account. The next day, the newspaper said, the Ryazan contingent arrived near Moscow's Polezhaevskaya subway station.
The article provided few other details, except to say the troops have since left Moscow. It demanded identification of whoever ordered the troop movements and declared: "The sooner we get the answer, the sounder our sleep will be."