BUDAPEST, 1956. Prague, 1968. Vilnius, 1991. Each time Soviet tanks were sent to crush subject peoples who had become bold enough to resist Moscow's rule. Each time the brutal crackdowns were accompanied by similarly unbelievable claims.
The independence movements that the Red Army extinguished in Hungary and Czechoslovakia were condemned as "counter-revolutionary," a designation that automatically put them beyond the pale of Soviet tolerance and made military force obligatory.
The harsh and unmistakable message of the military takeover in Lithuania won't be misheard in those other republics that have also declared their sovereignty. Whatever reforms Gorbachev intends to pursue in the time left to him are feasible only if the territorial integrity of the Soviet state can be maintained. If that requires using tanks and troops to coerce order and obedience, then, as events in Vilnius have made clear, tanks and troops will be used.