MOSCOW -- Ignoring a chorus of protests against plans for military patrols in Soviet cities, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev personally reaffirmed yesterday the order of his ministers of defense and internal affairs to begin such patrols Friday.
By invoking his sweeping powers and issuing a presidential decree establishing the patrols, Mr. Gorbachev sent a clear political message: The new, hard-line policy of the Soviet leadership is not just that of generals and police officers. It is first and foremost the policy of Mr. Gorbachev himself.
The decree came the day after postponement of a U.S.-Soviet summit that had been set for Moscow in February, officially because of the Persian Gulf war but coming in the wake of U.S. criticism of Soviet troops' recent violence in the Baltic republics. It underscored Mr. Gorbachev's insistence that domestic Soviet policy will not be controlled by Western pressure.
However, last night in Washington Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh revealed a Soviet plan to lessen tension in the Baltics. The Soviets promised to remove some troops from the Baltic republics and to renew negotiations with nationalist leaders there.
The day's earlier decree puts Mr. Gorbachev -- not for the first time -- on a collision course with the giant Russian Federation led by Boris N. Yeltsin, with the leaders of Moscow and Leningrad, and with officials of several other republics. All have attacked the original order of Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov and Internal Affairs Minister Boris K. Pugo as unconstitutional and ill-
In Georgia, to take one example, parliament voted unanimously yesterday to declare the patrol order void in the republic. Parliament also voted to create a republican army to replace the Soviet army.
From Lithuania came the latest of almost daily incidents involving Soviet army patrols, already active in the republic. Troops shot a 20-year-old man in the head, saying he was a draft-dodger who tried to flee while being questioned. Doctors said he had little chance of surviving.
In a separate decree, Mr. Gorbachev set up a new presidential committee on law and order and named a conservative Siberian lawyer, Yuri V. Golik, 38, to head it. The committee will coordinate the work of law enforcement bodies, which now include the army, police and the KGB and which increasingly form the basis of Mr. Gorbachev's policies.
A new Moscow poll, whose results were obtained by The Sun yesterday, portrays a divided public that is increasingly disillusioned with the first results of democratic rule.
The poll shows that Mr. Gorbachev's popularity is hitting rock bottom. For the first time in two years of similar polls, he heads the list of least-respected Soviet politicians.
Mr. Yeltsin remains more popular than Mr. Gorbachev by most measures, but his rating has dropped precipitously over the past two months. A question about who would make a better president ended in a dead heat.
Moreover, backing for a get-tough policy of the kind Mr. Gorbachev is pursuing is substantial and growing. Of the 908 Muscovites polled, 51 percent said they wanted the country to continue on the path of democracy and glasnost (open debate in the press). But 39 percent said they wanted order restored and democracy and glasnost suspended.
In polls the past two years, support for democratic policies in Moscow held steady at 60 percent to 70 percent, said Leonty Byzov, a sociologist who directed the poll.
"Considering that Moscow is the focus of the democratic movement, we think that in Russia as a whole there would probably be a majority for 'order' over 'democracy,' " Mr. Byzov said.
"It's a serious crisis in democratic orientation," he said, reflected in the falling popularity of all politicians, a drop in interest in new political parties, a --ing of hopes that democratic elections would improve living standards, and a turning away from democratic and Western values.
Mr. Byzov said the crisis seemed to have begun last summer with the beginning of a dramatic worsening in the economy, especially in the supplies of food and consumer goods.
"People are giving up hope," he said. He called the current moment "a dangerous time" because many Russians were "waiting for a new messiah."
Following a recent meeting, Mr. Yeltsin quoted Mr. Gorbachev as saying that he was moving to the right because the country was moving to the right. Mr. Yeltsin said he replied that the Soviet president was making a mistake and that the country was moving to the left.
The new poll suggests they may both be correct. "There's a polarization of society, in which Yeltsin is the leader of the left and Gorbachev is the leader of the right," Mr. Byzov said.