MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, having failed in a dead-of-night attempt to delay the allied Persian Gulf offensive and talk Saddam Hussein out of war, had a toughly worded message delivered yesterday to the Iraqi leadership in a Baghdad bunker.
The "firm and unequivocal" demand that Iraq pull out of Kuwait was delivered to Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz by Soviet Ambassador Viktor Posovalyuk, the Soviet Foreign Ministry said. Soviet officials said they recognized the probable futility of yet another such message, but the action dramatically confirmed East-West unity in the face of the Iraqi aggression.
"The tragic turn of events was provoked by the Iraq leadership's refusal to comply with the demand of the world community and pull its troops out of Kuwait," Mr. Gorbachev said in a four-minute television address that interrupted regular programming.
"Being aware of the grave consequences to Arab peoples, the American people and the entire international situation that a war involving enormous masses of troops and modern combat hardware is fraught with, we express most profound regret that it has not proved possible to avoid a military clash," Mr. Gorbachev said.
He looked fatigued. Having been tipped off ahead of time by the United States of the impending assault, he asked President Bush for a delay to make a final appeal to Iraq's President Hussein. But war began before any message could be passed on.
Mr. Gorbachev then summoned virtually the entire leadership, including Vice President Gennady I. Yanayev, Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov and KGB chief Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, for brainstorming.
In his statements, Mr. Gorbachev balanced the Soviet Union's consistent support for the U.S. demand for an Iraqi withdrawal with emphasis on Moscow's role as would-be peacemaker, thus distancing the Soviet Union from the crushing blow being delivered to its old ally, Iraq.
Most of the weapons being used against allied troops were sold to Iraq by the Soviet Union during a long and close relationship. Officials said the Soviet military would seek to determine for their own purposes why Soviet-provided anti-aircraft weapons were so ineffective against the initial allied air assault.
While reaffirming the decision not to send its troops to the war, the Soviet Union still watched nervously the conflict unfolding a few hundred miles from its southern border.
Officials said troops were placed on alert in the regions closest to Iraq.
After a week in which Mr. Gorbachev stunned Soviet liberals and the West with his retreat from reform, his words about the importance of restoring the independence of Kuwait had an ironic ring. Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis and other Baltic officials have compared their position as once-free states occupied by Red Army troops in 1940 to that of Kuwait under Iraqi rule.
An hour before the bombing was to begin, Secretary of State James A. Baker III telephoned Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh to tip off the Soviet Union.
Mr. Gorbachev, informed of the imminent bombardment, instructed Mr. Bessmertnykh to ask the United States for a delay to give him time to reach Mr. Hussein and give him a last chance to announce a pullout.
But by the time, about an hour later, that the United States called back to authorize the attempt, the first bombs and missiles were already hitting their targets.
"We naturally pay tribute to the fact that we were informed by the American side beforehand," said Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander M. Belonogov at a news conference.
"But it would have been better and easier for us if it had come a little bit earlier. It is clear we needed an extra hour."
This mild complaint was the only noticeable note of discord in the coordinated positions of the United States and the Soviet Union in the moment of crisis.