Gorbachev bars republics from curbing Soviet draft, creating own armies

December 02, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev declared void yesterday republican laws restricting the Soviet military draft or creating republican armies, and he ordered the criminal prosecution of officials who do not comply.

Nationalist resistance to the Soviet army "has a negative effect on the formation of the personnel of the U.S.S.R. armed forces and threatens vitally important defense capability," said the decree signed by Mr. Gorbachev, who is also the Soviet commander in chief.

The order was the latest in a blizzard of similar decrees issued by the Soviet president this year in his legal warfare with the 15 republics. The conflict grows out of the republics' attempts to implement the declarations of independence or sovereignty that nearly all have now passed.

The decree came as representatives of the two sides in the conflict over the union treaty Mr. Gorbachev has proposed to preserve the Soviet Union gathered to plot strategies.

In Vilnius, the three Baltic parliaments held their first joint session to plan a way to leave the Soviet Union. In Moscow, a conservative parliamentary faction met to figure out how to keep them and the other republics in the union.

Mr. Gorbachev's decree was aimed at two developments in the most rebellious republics. The first was republican laws and decrees suspending or restricting the Soviet military draft or absolving draft-dodgers from punishment.

Such laws crippled the draft last spring in the republics of Transcaucasia and Moldova, when a mere 7 percent of those drafted reported for duty in Armenia, for example. A high-ranking army officer told Soviet television Friday that this autumn's draft was shaping up as the worst in Soviet history.

The second trend targeted by Mr. Gorbachev was attempts to organize national republican armies. While no serious, organized, large-scale republican armed force yet exists, nationalists have created armed bands in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova, and there has been talk of forming such units in the Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Today, in most of the non-Russian republics, the Soviet army itself is seen as the biggest potential military threat to the local population. Soviet soldiers are seen not as defenders but as occupying forces.

That was the point of one of several appeals adopted by yesterday's joint session of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian parliaments. It said Soviet troops are part of a "legacy of aggression" and should not interfere in Baltic internal affairs.

The Baltic representatives also appealed to the parliaments of the world to press the Soviet Union to open serious negotiations on independence. In a separate appeal to the fourth Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, opening in two weeks, the Baltic republics said they would not sign the union treaty but were ready for full economic cooperation with all Soviet republics.

In Moscow, the Soyuz (Union) bloc in the Soviet parliament, which claims the support of 468 of the 2,250 deputies, demanded that Mr. Gorbachev move decisively to prevent secession and punish nationalism.

"We have to act," said Yuri V. Blokhin, a Russian from Moldova and one of the leaders of Soyuz. "We cannot wait. We cannot permit the further disintegration of our state."

The most active members of Soyuz are Russians from non-Russian republics, who feel discrimination from local nationalists and fear that they will suddenly find their homes outside the Soviet Union. They are joined by Communist traditionalists and military officers who want the Soviet Union to remain intact as a superpower.

Over the past week, since the unveiling of Mr. Gorbachev's draft treaty for a renewed Soviet Union, the government has begun a news media campaign to promote the treaty, condemn separatists and scare disobedient republics with the army.

Mr. Gorbachev appears sincerely to believe that the secession of even one republic could result in anarchy and bloodshed, but he also recognizes that he cannot force republics to join the new union.

Thus he seems to be brandishing the potential threat from the Soviet military in the hopes that cowed republics will voluntarily give up independence demands.

Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov went on television last Tuesday at Mr. Gorbachev's request and said the army would put its troops wherever it pleased, defend monuments to Soviet heroes, destroy monuments to fascists and open fire if threatened with violence.

Soviet television followed up with a series of man-on-the-street interviews in the tradition of the pre-Gorbachev era, in which civilians and soldiers said how pleased they were with General Yazov's speech. One segment of the national news program "Vremya" (Time) showed residents of Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital and a hotbed of the independence movement, expressing their backing for General Yazov.

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