MOSCOW -- In a move denounced by republican officials and human rights activists as a major step toward martial law, Soviet authorities have ordered joint army-police patrols organized in all major cities beginning Feb. 1.
The joint order of Minister of Defense Dmitry T. Yazov and Minister of Internal Affairs Boris K. Pugo calls for the patrols to be specially trained,
well-armed and to use armored vehicles when necessary.
It says they are "a response to demands of the Soviet people to strengthen law and order in the country and to ensure the safety of Soviet people." A statement by the two ministries last night declared ominously that "only those who pursue shady aims can spread rumors concerning these measures."
The remark clearly was directed at democratic parliamentarians and activists, who were in shock yesterday when they saw Order It was signed Dec. 29 but kept virtually secret until yesterday, when word of the order leaked so widely that officials were forced to make it public.
The timing of its signing raises the question of whether the order might have been under discussion in the Soviet leadership as early as Dec. 20, when Eduard A. Shevardnadze dramatically resigned as foreign minister, warning that "dictatorship is on the offensive."
In light of the disclosure, recent army and Internal Affairs Ministry violence in Lithuania and Latvia that cost 19 lives seems to have been a dress rehearsal for a similar use of force in the entire Soviet Union. It is certain to meet resistance from the republics, including the giant Russian Federation, potentially detonating serious civil conflict.
The order shows that "a military dictatorship really is in full swing," Lithuanian Deputy Prime Minister Zigmas Voisoila told reporters in Vilnius. Lithuania's President Vytautas Landsbergis said later that the order would be resisted, although he did not say how.
"It means martial law, or at least half martial law," said Mikhail M. Molostkov, a Russian legislator and former political prisoner. "It's a very, very dangerous order. Even if this order were given to an occupying army in an occupied country, it would be alarming. After Vilnius [where 14 died Jan. 13], [President Mikhail S.] Gorbachev said he gave no order. Yazov said he gave no order. Pugo said he gave no order. Now we find out there was an order, after all."
Crime is increasing the U.S.S.R. and causing great alarm because it's being reported publicly and sensationally for the first time in Soviet history. But only in a few categories, notably murder, do Soviet crime rates begin approach those in the United States.
The assertion that the troops will prevent trouble seems questionable. In the Baltic republics, despite more than two years of bitter, internal debate over independence and the rights of Slavic minorities, there had been no deaths associated with the political conflict until the troops with tanks and automatic weapons attacked demonstrators this month.
Moreover, the new order speaks less of street crime than of attacks and insults directed at the Soviet military and the need to protect graves and monuments of Soviet soldiers. In the Baltic republics, Transcaucasia, Moldova and the Western Ukraine, nationalist resentment of the Soviet army has produced all those developments. Any attempt by mainly Russian troops to enforce a ban is likely to be perceived as both a political and interethnic conflict.
As has been the case with dozens of moves over the past several weeks that have contributed to the perceived hard-line turn, personal responsibility for the Yazov-Pugo order was not immediately clear.
It appeared inconceivable that the order was not approved -- if not initiated -- by Mr. Gorbachev. Yet in talks Thursday between Soviet Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov and Estonian Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar, Mr. Pavlov said he knew nothing of the order, according to the Estonian.
In the economic chaos and political turmoil of the current era, a substantial minority of the people have been telling pollsters they want the army to take control -- 28 percent in a recent Russian Federation survey, for instance. Even some intellectuals speak of the need for a "Russian Pinochet," referring to the Chilean dictator, who is seen as providing the order necessary to fix the economy.
Most reformers, however, note that the Soviet army, supplied by and dependent on the planned, state-run economy, is politically hostile to a market economy. They say the yearning for "order" is producing dangerous illusions.
"We've already seen that 'order' in this country," Mr. Molostkov said. "It's an attempt to return to the old command system. That system worked -- but it worked on fear, blood and lies."