Gorbachev warns world of 'showdown' he faces

April 18, 1991|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- The Soviet Union faces "civil showdown" and the "chaos from which dictatorship emerges," President Mikhail S. Gorbachev warned yesterday, and he asked the advanced world to accept the "resolve" he must show to save his country.

Seizing the opportunity presented by his first public speech outside the Soviet Union since last fall, when he began a series of widely criticized and sometimes bloody steps against opponents, Mr. Gorbachev was unsparing in the dire picture he painted of political and economic conditions at home.

Addressing a joint session of both houses of the Diet, Japan's parliament, he spoke of "disintegration of the national economy" and "mounting social instabilities."

"A bitter political struggle has got under way," he said, and opponents on both his right and his left have adopted an approach of "no holds barred."

In a morning summit talk with Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, the Soviet leader went still further, directly issuing what a Japanese Foreign Ministry briefer later called "a plea for understanding on the part of the international community" if even stronger measures are needed to head off collapse.

In exchange for that understanding, he promised in his Diet speech that he would continue pressing for "fundamental transformation" of the Soviet economy and society and stick to the "cooperation and even partnership" with the United States that has characterized his foreign policy through such crises as the end of the Berlin Wall and the Persian Gulf war.

Before coming to Japan, Mr. Gorbachev unveiled in Moscow a one-year, "anti-crisis program" of special powers.

The proposal is designed to help him deal with relentlessly spreading strikes that threaten to cripple an already crumbling economy, with republics that are demanding independence from the central government, and with political challengers such as Boris N. Yeltsin, leader of the Russian Federation.

Those proposed powers -- and the often-bloody steps that preceded the proposal -- have induced ever-greater caution among Western countries that seemed poised last summer to pour in billions of dollars in assistance to help keep Mr. Gorbachev in power and his reforms on track.

Without speaking directly about the economic aid the Soviet Union will need, Mr. Gorbachev urged the world to understand that he needs decisive powers because his country has fallen into a state that demands strong leadership.

To Mr. Kaifu, the Soviet leader lavished praise on President Bush that the chief Soviet spokesman said was unprecedented. Vitaly N. Ignatenko, Mr. Gorbachev's spokesman, told reporters that Mr. Gorbachev called the U.S. leader "very highly reliable" and "a very big-scale thinker."

Mr. Bush's administration has frequently warned the Soviet authorities not to use undue force against demonstrators, but some of those warnings have been tempered with acceptance of a need to maintain public order.

Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Kaifu spent two hours yesterday afternoon searching for a solution to territorial claims over four tiny islands in the Kurile chain. The status of the islands, seized by the Red Army at the end of World War II, have stunted Soviet-Japanese relations for four decades.

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