Russians, too, remember living under constant threat of nuclear holocaust

January 04, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Three generations of Russians who survived th Cold War paused yesterday to recall their fears of instant annihilation and express relief at the biggest arms reduction treaty ever between the world's supreme nuclear powers.

"It is great that they have agreed to exterminate those terrible nukes," Helena V. Babundina, an 18-year-old seamstress, exclaimed after Presidents Bush and Boris Yeltsin signed the second Strategic Arms Reduction Talks treaty in the Kremlin.

The treaty obliges the United States and Russia to cut their arsenals deeply.

It would eliminate all land-based missiles equipped with multiple nuclear warheads -- weapons the rival superpowers were pointing at each other before Ms. Babundina was born.

"They kept telling us about imminent nuclear war," she said, standing in a snow flurry outside Moscow's Central Market and remembering. "At school, at home, everywhere. I was scared of watching television at the time. . . . I am grateful to Bush and Yeltsin for crushing our childhood nightmares."

Yulia Borisova, walking along the same street, thought back to the year 1954, when she was 18.

"The Cold War had just started and my sister was pregnant and we were consumed with grave fears that the baby would be born into a world torn apart by a nuclear war," said Ms. Borisova, an economist.

"This recollection still gives me the creeps. . . . Now, at last, we shall live in a peaceful world," she said.

Despite an overtone of indifference toward the hastily called summit, which fell during the New Year holiday weekend, Muscovites interviewed at random expressed similar opinions that its result would make their lives safer, if not more prosperous.

The Rev. Gleb Yakunin, a Yeltsin ally in the Supreme Soviet, Russia's legislature, joined the president in predicting that overwhelming public support would ensure the treaty's ratification, despite noisy opposition by right-wing nationalists and unrepentant communists who accuse Mr. Yeltsin of a sellout.

But Iona I. Andronov, the independent vice chairman of the legislature's Foreign Affairs Committee, said that ratification was no means certain.

He said that the treaty appeared to weaken Russia's defense capability, leaving it "vulnerable to all kinds of political pressure," and must be carefully studied with help from military experts before a vote.

More than 100 treaty opponents rallied yesterday outside the Kremlin in Red Square, where an elderly woman held up a sign demanding, "Get that Satan Bush out of Russia."

The rest of Moscow, though attentive to news of the summit, had other things to do. Parents took their children to the circus or the puppet theater.

Holiday gatherings continued indoors. Street vendors hawked chocolate Santa Clauses.

Some were worried about a different kind of survival.

"At this stage, my head is filled with totally different things -- how to survive in the present period," said off-duty policeman Vladimir A. Smetanin, 32, shrugging off questions about the treaty.

"Life is so tough we cannot afford to pay attention to politics."

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