Following the referendum on the union held last March, President Mikhail Gorbachev and his supporters claimed that the outcome demonstrated that a majority of the people in the Soviet Union wanted to maintain the union. Putting aside the ambiguity in the wording of the referendum itself, by invoking the principle of majority rule to support his claim to authority over the six republics seeking independence, Gorbachev triggered a process of questioning that failed to produce the solutions he intended.
Confronted by the obvious practical fact that his claim was not accepted by the people in the republics asserting their right to secession and independence, Gorbachev soon turned to the more realistic and appropriate process of negotiations among the nine republics favorable to maintaining the union. The union treaty resulting from these negotiations was to be open for signature on August 20....
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