Gorbachev names liberal official, denounces Yeltsin

January 16, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev moved to ease Western fears for the future of the Soviet Union's foreign policy yesterday by naming liberal Americanologist Alexander Bessmertnykh as foreign minister.

At the same time he continued his intermittent war against Boris N. Yeltsin by condemning the Russian Federation leader for proposing the creation of a Russian army, separate from the Soviet army.

"I think it's a gross violation of the constitution of the U.S.S.R. -- just the very fact of the proposal," an angry Mr. Gorbachev told the Soviet parliament. He suggested that Mr. Yeltsin was "losing his reason" and demanded that he retract the idea.

Mr. Bessmertnykh replaces Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who resigned to protest what he called "dictatorship on the offensive" in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Bessmertnykh, 57, is a career diplomat who has spent 11 years serving in the United States at the United Nations and in Washington, the last seven months as ambassador to the United States.

The appointment of Mr. Bessmertnykh, who was easily confirmed by the Supreme Soviet, was seen as a sign that Mr. Gorbachev is serious about maintaining his flexible and benign approach to relations with the West.

Mr. Yeltsin raised the possibility of a Russian army in the aftermath of Sunday's assault by Soviet army troops using tanks, submachine guns and grenades on demonstrators at two Lithuanian broadcast facilities, leaving 15 people dead and 163 injured.

He said that if the Soviet army was prepared to ignore republican sovereignty and kill unarmed civilians, the Russian Federation would have to raise its own army to defend its sovereignty.

The political rivalry between Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin appears to be taking on an increasingly explosive character.

It is dictated by their incompatible views of the future of the Soviet Union: Communist Party chief Gorbachev sees it as a single, federal country encompassing all the 15 republics; ex-Communist Yeltsin sees it as a far looser, voluntary alliance of sovereign states without those republics that insist on full independence.

Behind the Soviet president's rage at Mr. Yeltsin is undoubtedly their clash over how to handle the Baltic crisis.

Mr. Gorbachev approved the troops' action in Vilnius this week as backing his demand that the elected leadership of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia renounce their independence demands or be removed from power. He appeared hardly to take notice of the storm in the West caused by the bloodshed.

Mr. Yeltsin denounced the army violence, called on Russian draftees not to turn their weapons on civilians and recognized the independence of the three Baltic states.

Then he followed up those moves by saying Monday that maybe Russia ought to have its own army.

Mr. Gorbachev declared: "It's not only a challenge to the highest organs of power of the U.S.S.R., but adds to this tense situation in the country material for confrontation. . . .

"We'll hope that reason has not abandoned him once and for all."

Because of the violence in Vilnius and Mr. Gorbachev's failure to condemn it, further attacks by the Soviet army are expected by leaders in all three Baltic capitals: Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn.

In each of the three republics, conservative local forces, including military officers and hard-line Communists, are demanding the dissolution of the first freely elected parliaments in a half-century and replacement with direct presidential rule.

In Lithuania and Latvia, ominous-sounding National Salvation Committees, loyal to Moscow and possibly created by Moscow, have been organized and have declared their aim of seizing power. Similar organizations appeared whenever Soviet troops have overthrown a regime, including in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Yesterday in Riga, Soviet Internal Affairs Ministry troops seized a police training academy and seized the weapons it found there. No one was reported injured, and the ministry said it took the action to prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of Latvian nationalist units.

Supporters of the republic's elected leadership have blocked roads leading to the Latvian parliament and continued to rally there almost around the clock, reporters said. Several times, republican leaders have announced that tanks are on their way to seize the parliament, only to be proven wrong.

In Tallinn, opponents of Estonian independence, mostly Russian, staged a massive rally outside parliament and threatened to strike unless the republic's government resigned. Some speakers denounced Mr. Yeltsin as a traitor to the Russian people.

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