WASHINGTON -- The White House strongly protested yesterday the Kremlin's decision to send troops into seven rebellious republics to enforce a military draft and urged the Soviet Union to "cease attempts at intimidation."
In its harshest criticism of Soviet internal policies since Lithuania touched off the secessionist movement last spring, the White House called the deployment of troops to track down draft dodgers in the Soviet republics "provocative and counterproductive."
The statement by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater expressed special alarm about the treatment of the three Baltic states -- Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia -- which have never been officially recognized by the United States as as part of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Fitzwater also noted that the Bush administration was carefully monitoring military actions in the Soviet republics of Moldova, the Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia.
On Monday, the Soviet Defense Ministry said it would send paratroopers to the four republics and Baltic states to compel compliance with the Red Army draft.
"This action represents a serious step toward escalation of tension within the U.S.S.R. and makes the peaceful evolution of relations among the peoples of the Soviet Union more difficult," Mr. Fitzwater said.
This latest evidence of growing influence within the Kremlin of conservatives and military hard-liners has helped harden the case against Mr. Bush's attendance at a summit in Moscow with Mikhail S. Gorbachev, scheduled for Feb. 11-13.
The White House said earlier this week that Mr. Bush would probably have to postpone the meeting if tensions remained high in the Persian Gulf.
But other factors are being considered in the decision, including the potential of a military crackdown against the Soviet republics, many of which have passed laws restricting the national draft law.
Mr. Fitzwater also indicated that U.S. economic aid to the Soviet Union could be withdrawn if there was military crackdown.
The United States allocated yesterday $900 million in short-term credit guarantees to the Soviet Union for purchase of U.S. agricultural commodities this year. The allocation was part of the $1 billion in credit guarantees announced on Dec. 13 to help the Soviet Union through "tough times, difficult times" in its food supply.