Gorbachev calls for halting 'dangerous' escalation WAR IN THE GULF

January 23, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON — MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev warned yesterday that the Persian Gulf war was in serious danger of spreading out of control and called for stepping up international efforts to limit it and bring it to an end.

"The events taking place in the Persian Gulf region have a tendency -- the signs are obvious -- to further escalation," Mr. Gorbachev told reporters at an evening news conference. "This is very dangerous. We should do everything we can not to permit the extension of the conflict. That's our common responsibility."

At the same time, a member of the Soviet general staff, speaking to the Interfax news service, said U.S. and allied military officials had greatly exaggerated the success rate of their air strikes.

"Ninety percent of the strikes have not hit any targets," Interfax quoted the general as saying. U.S. officials have said that 80 percent of their aircraft have released their munitions at their targets.

He said that most Iraqi air bases and aircraft had not been damaged in the massive allied bombardment. "Air bases in Iraq are very well-camouflaged and extremely hard to detect," he said.

The officer said that 11 anti-aircraft units had been destroyed but that about 30 remained intact.

The general said the allied forces paused in their air raids to review their tactics after five planes were downed in one day. He said the official reason cited for the break -- poor weather -- was a pretext.

The general said that while the U.S.-built Patriot missiles had been successful in knocking down Iraqi missiles, they also were very expensive. So far, he said, it has required four to five Patriots for every incoming missile.

Interfax did not identify the general nor give his source of information, though presumably it came from Soviet intelligence.

At least in part, his remarks may represent sour grapes. Most of Iraq's military hardware was purchased from the Soviet Union, and the Soviet military and defense industry heard a lot of scathing remarks when the initial allied bombing raids were reported to have been so effective.

A radical member of the Russian parliament, Gleb P. Yakunin, said Monday that the failure of Soviet-built defensive and offensive systems in Iraq was so complete that the generals and plant directors should resign.

"It's scrap metal," he said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh also remarked on the apparent ineffectiveness of Soviet-made anti-aircraft facilities after the war began. But he blamed poorly trained Iraqi personnel for the problems.

In his remarks, Mr. Gorbachev tried to maintain the balanced position held by the Soviet Union since before the fighting began. It has strongly backed U.N. Security Council demands for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait while stressing an urgent need for dialogue to halt the battle.

Apart from the fact that the conflict is unfolding near the Soviet Union's southern border, Mr. Gorbachev undoubtedly is concerned about the effect of a long, bloody war on the Soviet Union's 70-million-strong Muslim population.

Yesterday, Mr. Gorbachev seemed most concerned about a spreading conflict, large civilian casualties and the potential response. He appeared to have Israel in mind in particular, though he did not name it.

"We should not permit the spread of this military action to a phase when it will cause loss of lives of American soldiers, Iraqi soldiers and especially the peaceful population," Mr. Gorbachev said.

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