Soviet diplomat defends role during coup, backs Gorbachev

August 23, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Soviet ambassador to Washington Viktor Komplektov yesterday defended his hand-delivery of messages from the Moscow coup leaders to the White House and State Department earlier this week, and declared his loyalty to President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Mr. Komplektov also said he did not become suspicious of the coup until Monday night when its leaders failed to produce promised evidence that Mr. Gorbachev was too ill to carry out his presidential functions.

Mr. Komplektov revealed that Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh, who told a Moscow press conference that he was too ill to work during the coup or to speak out against it, sent a directive from the Foreign Ministry to major Soviet embassies Monday, saying Kremlin foreign policy would not change.

The ambassador said he received one message from Mr. Bessmertnykh Monday, informing him it should be business as usual at the embassy. He tried to call Mr. Bessmertnykh Tuesday in his office, but was told he was sick.

Mr. Bessmertnykh's public silence during the coup has been widely questioned, but the ambassador said: "Mr. Bessmertnykh a man of high principles. Mr. Bessmertnykh is loyal to the president. He is loyal to our national interest."

Mr. Komplektov, appointed ambassador in March, said that the embassy staff decided Monday it would not "deviate from the major policy course" set by the Gorbachev administration.

Asked if anyone at the embassy had publicly disagreed with the coup, he said: "Well, we didn't have any manifestations or public discussions. . . . I would say, . . . we had to stick to our professional and political duties, and that's what we did."

Later Monday, Mr. Komplektov received "routine instructions" from Moscow to deliver a message from coup leader Gennady I. Yanayev to the White House and State Department. In handing the message over to Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger and Deputy National Security Adviser Robert M. Gates, Mr. Komplektov said he "personally went far beyond these instructions."

He added: "I just emphasized and underscored that in no circumstances will we deviate from the general foreign course we have adopted. These were my personal remarks."

The ambassador called for resumption of economic and technical aid to the Soviets, and for "a substantial political signal" from the Bush administration to U.S. businesses to invest in the Soviet Union.

He also said post-coup developments could "facilitate" Soviet acceptance of independence for the Baltic States. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have declared their independence, but the Kremlin has rejected the moves as unconstitutional. The United States has never accepted the takeover of the three states and has encouraged their pursuit of independence, but it has not recognized their declarations of the status.

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