JOHN BIERMAN May 28 1990


JOHN BIERMAN May 28 1990



Nobody ever said that it was going to be easy. Washington and Moscow first tried to reach agreement on a mutual 50-per-cent reduction in long-range nuclear weapons in time for the Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev summit in Moscow in May, 1988. When they failed to meet that deadline, hopes turned to the December, 1989, Gorbachev-George Bush summit in Malta. And when no agreement emerged there, expectations were redirected towards the Bush-Gorbachev summit in Washington beginning next week, on May 30. During a long and difficult winter for Gorbachev, prospects for a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) appeared to dim. While the Soviet negotiating position stiffened markedly, the Americans began to seem less anxious for a rapid agreement. But last week, as U.S. Secretary of State James Baker completed four days of pre-summit


talks with Soviet leaders in Moscow, the two sides were again expressing optimism. “On START,” said Baker, “our goal has been to reach agreement on the major substantive issues by the time of the summit. We are in a position now, I think, to do so.”

Looking tired at a news conference on Saturday, Baker said that disagreements over seaand air-launched missiles had been resolved, but that other issues remained to be worked out. The treaty was originally intended to reduce the two sides’ strategic nuclear arsenals by 50 per cent, but qualifications have been added that would make the cuts closer to 35 per cent. Baker also said that a “trailblazing agreement” to ban superpower production of chemical weapons would be signed at the summit. In Houston, however, Bush struck a more cautious note, saying that the Kremlin must make more concessions in order to conclude a START treaty in time for the Washington meeting. “We want the Gorbachev summit to be a successful one,” he told reporters. “It is going to take some give on the Soviet side, in my view.”

Gorbachev’s trip to Washington will follow

a 29-hour visit to Ottawa, where he will meet with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney—and is expected to encounter vocal protests by members of the Canadian Baltic community. Last week, however, coinciding with the apparent progress on arms reduction, there were signs of a slight lowering of the political temperature in the Soviet Baltic region, where the republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are seeking to break away from Moscow.

Baker had made it clear on arrival that failure by the Kremlin to open a dialogue with the Balts, and specifically the Lithuanians, who are under an economic blockade to make them rescind their March 11 declaration of independence, could adversely affect a broad range of Soviet-U.S. issues. Gorbachev, reversing his earlier refusal to meet any of the republic’s leaders, held exploratory talks last week with Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene. And some kind of compromise seemed to be possible. “We made a lot of progress,” said Prunskiene, adding that Gorbachev himself had remarked that they had taken “a big step forward.”

Early in the week, however, the Kremlin’s tough tactics on Baltic independence and its harder negotiating stance on arms control

had combined to create an unsettling start for Baker’s visit. On Wednesday, Baker said that it was “not encouraging to us to see an absence of dialogue” on Lithuania. Then, facing Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze across the negotiating table, he reportedly accused the Soviets of backing away from arms agreements reached in principle last February. When Baker emerged from that first, four-hour session, he said sombrely that there had been “not a lot” of change in the Soviet position. On the Soviet side, foreign ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov said that there would have to be some “rad-

ical shifts” if the two delegations were to conclude an agreement by the Washington summit.

By Friday, however, the atmosphere had apparently improved and, by Saturday, the two sides were talking hopefully of a deal. The issue concerned two classes of nuclear weapons: seaand air-launched cruise missiles, known by the respective acronyms SLCMs (Slickums) and ALCMs (Alcums). The Soviets, clearly concerned about the U.S. technological edge in weapons systems, were demanding a legally binding and verifiable limit on the number of Slickums. Washington’s position was that, at the present, a simple declaration of intent was sufficient, and that a binding limit would be

impossible to verify. At the final session in Moscow, however, U.S. negotiators appeared to have made a concession in agreeing to a binding limit. Concerning Alcums, the difference was over the range of missiles to be covered by the agreement. The Soviets argued for including missiles with a range of 375 miles and up. The Americans were holding out for a 500-mile lower limit. Baker gave no details on the Alcums formula, saying only that it “equitably meets the needs on both sides.”

Previously, some observers had attributed the recent hardening of the Soviet armscontrol position to increased pressure on Gorbachev by the Soviet military. With disarmament, the Soviet armed forces’ role and prestige have been visibly declining. But Gorbachev is increasingly dependent on their support as his domestic economic and ethnic problems grow. And many Kremlinologists speculate that, to placate his military, Gorbachev has felt compelled to strike tougher attitudes on arms control.

The START negotations have been complicated by rising tensions in the Baltics. Last Monday, Gorbachev pronounced null and void the declared intentions of Latvia and Estonia to follow Lithuania’s lead and seek full independence. Plainly emboldened by

Gorbachev’s statement,

members of Latvia’s and Estonia’s ethnic-Russian minorities besieged the parliaments of both republics. In Tallinn, Estonian Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar broadcast an emergency appeal for his countrymen to converge on the parliament and drive off the Russians. And in Riga, Latvian riot police forced back off-duty Soviet army officers and other ranks who tried to push their way into the parliament. 35 Faced with the clear dan| ger that the Baltic situation £ might get out of hand, pro2 viding grounds for Soviet military intervention, the Lithuanian government

made a conciliatory gesture. While insisting that its declaration of independence remained non-negotiable, the republic’s government offered on Wednesday to suspend laws, including the repeal of the Soviet military draft, that its parliament has enacted since March 11. On Thursday, Gorbachev responded by agreeing to meet with Prunskiene. Afterward, while reporting some progress, Prunskiene said that Gorbachev had threatened even tighter sanctions if the republic did not rescind its declaration. At week’s end, the Lithuanian parliament was meeting to discuss what concessions it could offer to try to draw Soviet leaders into independence talks.

The Baltics are also likely to be a prime

topic of discussion when Gorbachev meets Mulroney in Ottawa. The visit came in response to an open invitation by Mulroney during his trip to Moscow last November. Although the agenda had not been made final last week, the two leaders are also expected to discuss such global issues as German unification and the future of NATO, as well as bilateral trade and investment. Leaders of the Baltic Federation in Canada, which represents about 100,000 Canadians of Estonian, Lithuanian and Latvian descent, said that they planned to hold protests on Parliament Hill on May 29 and 30.

If the Soviets can succeed in calming the Baltic waters, they may be rewarded by Washington. Bush has promised most-favored-nation trading status for the Soviets, which would allow them entry to the lucrative U.S. market at the lowest possible tariff rates. The stumbling Soviet economy badly needs concessions of that kind, and Bush has made it clear that he is eager to help Gorbachev survive the open attacks of his critics at home. But Bush cannot deliver on his trade promise without congressional approval, and many congressmen have indicated that they would not approve a waiver of trade restrictions unless Gorbachev softens his line against the Balts.

Faced with such complex and pressing problems, Baker, taking a break from official business in Moscow, found time to see more of the country than just the inside of government buildings. On his arrival Tuesday night, he took an informal walk through a shopping district to see for himself the proverbial empty shelves in Soviet stores. On Thursday, he made a brief visit to a monastery and then to the village of Radonezh, about 60 km north of the capital. He had said that he wanted to see how Soviet villagers lived and, in Radonezh, he encountered a traditional Russian scene: a tiny hamlet of about 20 logand-shingle houses with small garden plots and, dominating the village, an ornate, oniondomed Orthodox church.

As Baker strolled through the tiny main street, accompanied by Shevardnadze, a 76year-old woman accosted them to complain that the church was not open for worship and that her husband’s pension was not enough to live on. Prompted by an official, the woman invited the two statesmen to see the tulips in her garden. There, she told Baker, “If I’d known you were coming, I’d have brought out the samovar,” referring to the traditional Russian tea urn. Shevardnadze, meanwhile, promised that the woman’s husband’s pension would increase and that the church would be reopened. Arms treaties require a good deal more than a politician’s unverified promises. But, at week’s end, the prospects for a START agreement were looking significantly brighter than they had for many months.