Crackdown in Lithuania

January 15, 1991|By Newsday

THE SOVIET ARMY'S brutal attack on unarmed demonstrators in Lithuania raises troubling questions about the future of East-West relations in the post-Cold War era and about who is in control in the Kremlin.

No matter what the reasons for the crackdown, the political reality is that this attack is going to put a serious chill on relations with the West. It also calls into question whether Gorbachev is really in charge and whether the crackdown that has begun will end in a triumph of hard-liners who not only want to roll back the independence movements inside the Soviet Union, but also staunch the diminution of Soviet power around the world.

The breakup of the Soviet Union is not in the West's interest. Chaos in the other nuclear superpower would make the world more dangerous. The hope has been that Gorbachev would differentiate between republics such as those in the Baltics, which could become free without damaging the security interests of the larger union, from those, like the Ukraine, whose freedom would bring chaos and even civil war. Now it appears that Gorbachev, or whoever gave the order, believes that only by stopping the independence movement in Lithuania can the other independence movements be stopped. That could be a tragically wrong decision for both the Soviet Union and the rest of the world.

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