THE plot was hatched at a bathhouse in downtown Moscow. At midmorning on Saturday, Aug. 17, 1991, the head of the K.G.B., Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, summoned five senior Soviet officials for a highly secretive meeting that he told them would be vital for the future of the U.S.S.R.
The highly decorated general sat opposite his commander in chief and explained the problems his army faced fighting in the hills around Kabul: “There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” he said. “Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize.