Gorby's black berets

William Safire

January 15, 1991|By William Safire

PHOENIX, ARIZ. — THE WINNER of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, the politician who entranced a gullible world with talk of reform and glasnost, the supplicant we have just given a billion dollars in food aid to help keep in office, the Soviet leader supposedly working behind the scenes to cut a deal in the Persian Gulf -- has just ordered his tanks into Lithuania to roll over the bodies of patriots resisting his dictatorship.

The timing of the brutal and bloody crackdown is no accident; he knows the focus of world attention is far from the scene of the crime he has long planned. Under cover of the U.N. deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, Mikhail Gorbachev is using his new Stalinesque power to perform a Stalinist act: to use the Red Army -- and its elite "black berets," this generation's brownshirts -- to force freedom-yearning people asserting their legitimate independence to submit to communist rule.

The parallel to Hungary 1956 is inescapable. People filled with hope; an international crisis elsewhere, and the Red Army tanks roll in to crush the freedom fighters. In this case, patriots armed only with sticks barricaded the doors of their television tower with furniture; a column of 30 tanks and armored vehicles crashed through with ease, rolling over brave bodies in the name order and annexation.

The elected president of Lithuania desperately tried to reach Gorbachev by telephone; only a few days before, the Soviet leader falsely assured the republics that a peaceful solution would be found. The dictator in Moscow would not take the call.

So much for the apology, sure to be advanced now as it was in Georgia two years ago, that the murder of peaceful protesters took place without Gorbachev's knowledge. His hands, we will be assured, are clean; blame those mean Red Army colonels acting without orders, or that rogue KGB, or the tank-backed quislings who call themselves a "salvation front."

The Soviet media will not show the crushed bodies; glasnost is finished, having served this regimes's purpose. But the free-world media will not treat the story as secondary news in light of the gulf crisis; we are able to cover two wars and chew gum at the same time.

As President Landsbergis urged us to recognize, "This is war." It is one-sided war, tanks against sticks, but it is not some "internal matter" of the Soviet Union's, fit only for our our cluck-clucking.

The United States has never recognized the Russian occupation of the Baltic states as legal. The war raging now is not an uprising, not punishment for separatism; it is aggression against an independent nation asserting its sovereignty by refusing to -- allow its occupiers to impress its young men into the Soviet army.

No moral difference exists between "naked aggression" in Kuwait and brutal aggression clothed in a 50-year illegal occupation of Lithuania. There is this practical difference, however: we cannot stop this superpower aggression by force of arms.

That does not mean the world is helpless, or we should discourage underground resistance by Lithuanian patriots. Is the Bush administration so detent-ified or so gulf-blindered to limit reaction to the president's perfunctory condemnation or John Sununu's appeasing call for yet more useless "incentives toward liberalization"?

What Moscow's dictator needs are big disincentives in a hurry. Calling off a summit meeting to avoid shaking a bloody hand, or only cutting off free food aid, is nothing.

Step one for the U.S. is to introduce a resolution condemning this aggression in the U.N. Security Council. Let the Soviets veto it; the Soviet peoples and the Balts will know where the world stands.

Step two is for Eastern and Central European nations -- that includes Germany -- to call for a special meeting of the CSCE to condemn the Soviet threat to the peace of Europe. What's that outfit for, if not this?

Step three is to reaffirm our recognition of the three Baltic nations, to invite ambassadors and to seek diplomatic embassies in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn. Gorbachev will say no; we can wait. So can arms talks.

Will this interfere with the New World Order? His action requires response. The Soviet Union's further "support" in the gulf is unnecessary; its U.N. vote is irrevocable, and it is already shipping arms to Iraq to use against our soldiers.

These steps will not free the captive nations, but will heap world disgrace on the Gorbachev regime and give heart to the men, women and children who have shown they are willing to lay down their lives for the right to be free.

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