Yanayev, left, took advantage of the absence of Gorbachev, right, to declare a state of emergency in 1991 [AFP]

The Russian Communist Party has confirmed the death of Gennady Yanayev, the former Soviet vice-president, who led the failed 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, the then president.

Yanayev, 72, had been suffering from a "long and painful illness", a medical source was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying on Friday.

Yanayev was one of the coup plotters, or "putchists," who declared a state of emergency on August 19, 1991 while Gorbachev was on vacation in the Crimea, Ukraine.

He, along 11 other ringleaders were arrested after the failure of the coup, but was pardoned by the Russian parliament in 1994 during his trial.

In a sign that old wounds have yet to heal, Vladimir Polyakov, a spokesman for Gorbachev, commented on Yanayev's death, saying: "He is a person who betrayed."

Before the attempted coup, Yanayev had been a longtime Soviet state official who worked with youth and labour unions before his appointment as vice-president in 1990.

Yanayev maintained a low profile following the failed coup.

Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist party leader, expressed regret at Yanayev's death and said firmer action by the coup plotters would have saved the Soviet Union."

If they had acted much more decisively, our unified country would have been preserved," Zyuganov said in a statement on the Communist Party website.

Source: Agencies