Gorbachev approves the use of troops to protect state, Communist property

October 13, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev approved yesterday the use of troops to prevent confiscation of property, a move apparently aimed at protecting the Communist Party's enormous holdings from seizure by newly elected officials.

The decree came four days after the city of Ternopol in the Ukraine ordered an inventory of Communist Party property as a first step toward a city takeover of party buildings. Earlier this week, authorities in Czechoslovakia ordered Communist Party property nationalized, and a radical parliamentary faction has proposed the same move for the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, a popular television program accused Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov of lying about the real purpose of recent troop movements near Moscow and called for his resignation. The conclusions of the show, "Vzglyad" (Viewpoint), were based on evidence from a young air force officer who said he participated in the troop movements.

Radical members of parliament have claimed that the troop movements, which occurred last month when Mr. Gorbachev was in Finland, may have been preparations for a military coup. General Yazov denied the allegations, saying the troops were practicing for the Nov. 7 Revolution Day parade and helping to pick potatoes.

Journalists have speculated that the movements may have been designed not to carry out an actual coup but to intimidate reformers, including Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin and, perhaps, Mr. Gorbachev.

Both Mr. Gorbachev's decree and the discussions about the troop movements demonstrate the complexities of the transition from totalitarianism to multiparty democracy. Military and KGB officials have bitterly fought attempts to dissolve Communist Party units in their ranks, and so far they have won.

The text of the latest presidential decree said it was prompted by "illegal confiscations of property belonging to state and public institutions and organizations as well as encroachments on the property of individuals." It did not name the Communist Party, but it is the main "public organization" whose right to keep its property has been challenged recently.

The decree ordered Ministry of Internal Affairs troops to "take under protection, if need be, objects of state and collective property in case they are threatened with illegal confiscation."

Internal Affairs troops have already been used to occupy and guard Communist Party buildings in Lithuania and Latvia, where non-Communist regimes have declared independence from the Soviet Union. But the decree formally opens the way to use troops if such conflicts arise in the giant Russian Federation.

During the Communist Party's 70-year monopoly on power, which legally ended last March, there was no clear division between its property and state property. Many buildings and pieces of equipment now claimed by the party were in fact paid for, directly or indirectly, by the state rather than by party dues.

Radicals are particularly looking at the typographical empire built by the Communist Party, which still controls most of the country's printing capacity. Mikhail Poltaranin, the Russian Federation's communications minister, has made it clear he favors a Russian government takeover of many or most of the party's printing facilities.

On the rumors of a coup, the televised evidence of Maj. Mikhail Pustobayev appears likely to set off a furor at the Supreme

Soviet, which may feel deceived by General Yazov's denials.

Major Pustobayev scoffed at General Yazov's claim that the movements were a training exercise. He said troops were told to prepare quickly and given no explanation for the movement, just as before the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

"All the talk among the troops was about how something was wrong in Moscow," Major Pustobayev wrote in a letter to Mr. Gorbachev and to "Vzglyad." "They talked about the possibility of disorders in the capital connected with the opening of parliament" on Sept. 10.

The troop movements in question took place Sept. 9 to Sept. 13. Mr. Gorbachev returned Sept. 9 from Helsinki.

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