Soviets cautioned about crackdown

December 18, 1990|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday that the Soviet Union would court "unintended consequences" if it responded to internal chaos by strengthening the hands of its military and secret police.

"The short-term question the Soviet leadership faces now is not so much whether reform can succeed, but whether anarchy and chaos can be prevented," Mr. Baker told fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium. A text was released here.

"There is the danger that any effort to respond to chaos by strengthening those sectors of Soviet society that are more committed to centralized, command-style solutions -- especially the military and KGB -- could have unintended consequences."

He said that accelerated political and economic reform is the only way for the Soviets to ensure long-term stability.

"It would be disastrous, for example, for Moscow to crack down on the cooperatives and informal markets that are springing up," Mr. Baker said. "That could have a chilling effect on economic and political reform, exacerbating the problems Moscow faces."

Mr. Baker appeared to be urging Western countries that are sending food and other aid -- to help the Soviets through winter -- to confine their assistance to short-term needs and not interfere with development of market forces over the long term -- and to make that intent clear to the Soviets.

Speaking to reporters aboard his plane Sunday, Mr. Baker said that U.S. officials had made clear to the Soviet leadership that "we do not want to see a resort to repression and the use of force. . . . We made clear our view that some of what is happening on the economic front represents the mergence of rudimentary markets. And that it would be extremely unfortunate if those rudimentary markets were snuffed out."

Meanwhile, the NATO ministers warned the Soviet Union that Western assistance depended on continued democratic and economic reforms and aid may not be forthcoming if there is a return to iron rule.

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