MALCOLM GRAY August 12 1991



MALCOLM GRAY August 12 1991




There was the tinkle of wine glasses in Moscow last week as former ideological enemies toasted each other at glittering state dinners. Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush dined on watercress soup and beef tenderloin, but the centre of attention at the summit table was a nuclear arms treaty that, for the first time, cuts the missile arsenals of the old Cold War antagonists instead of just limiting their growth. True to form in a summit resplendent with symbolism, the Soviet president accompanied the American President on a visit to the studio of sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, who used parts of missiles scrapped under a previous arms pact to create St. George Destroying Pershing and ss-20 Missiles, an imposing work erected recently in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The next day, the two leaders used pens made from melted-down fragments of other missiles to sign the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in St. Vladimir’s Hall in the Kremlin. Still, although the signing of the START pact was the ceremonial focus of the two-day summit, it seemed almost anachronistic in the post-Cold War era of superpower relations. And Bush and Gorbachev devoted most of their time to the dramatic upheavals that the new era has brought to the Soviet Union.

In their fourth summit meeting—“the first post-Cold War summit,” as spokesmen for Gorbachev and Bush insisted on calling the encounter—the two presidents were clearly eager to demonstrate that they could reach common ground beyond an arms treaty. And in the spirit of co-operation that linked Washington and Moscow during the Persian Gulf War, Bush and Gorbachev announced that they would sponsor a Middle East peace conference in October. That development was accompanied by the prompt dispatch of U.S. Secretary

of State James Baker to Jerusalem, where he swiftly secured a conditional promise from reluctant Israeli officials to attend (page 18). Meanwhile, Baker’s counterpart, Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, announced that he would make a separate trip to Israel soon to resume diplomatic relations, which Moscow broke off during the 1967 ArabIsraeli Six Day War.

That progress obscured the fact that the Moscow summit produced little in the way of superpower consensus on other regional conflicts. Bush and Gorbachev were publicly silent on the lingering wars in Afghanistan and Cambodia, and beyond deploring the violence they offered no solutions to the increasingly bloody

dissolution of Yugoslavia. As well, despite their attention to the Soviet Union’s economic problems, Bush largely maintained his policy of proceeding slowly on financial aid until there is more evidence of economic reform. He did, however, promise most-favored-nation trade status to Gorbachev, saying he would ask Congress to reduce tariffs on the small quantity of Soviet exports to the United States.

Still, Bush’s summit itinerary underscored the passing of an era when the Kremlin en-ѡ gaged the White House in a worldwide struggle for power and influence. In recognition of the growing power of the 15 republics, Bush shuttled between Soviet and republican leaders, visiting Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, and meet-

ing separately with Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian republic, who quit the Communist party in July, 1990. That agenda, and a violent incident in independence-minded Lithuania that left six people dead, provided Bush with a stark reminder of how complicated and volatile Soviet politics have become.

The first reminder occurred when Yeltsin bluntly spumed a last-minute Gorbachev invitation to attend some of the summit discussions with Bush. According to Yeltsin, that practice dated to a time when Soviet leaders appeared

at public meetings flanked by masses of silent retainers. Said Yeltsin in a TV interview: “I do not think I fit into a voiceless mass audience.” He added: “I do not feel obliged to be part of the negotiations between Gorbachev and foreign leaders because those leaders also meet with me.”

Yeltsin’s highly public rejection of Gorbachev’s invitation guaranteed him a place in the summit spotlight in the same week that he also played a key role in shaping a new Soviet Union. That agreement will shift power from the Kremlin to at least nine republics that have agreed to remain in a new form of federation. In a lengthy meeting that ended at 3 a.m. on July 30, Yeltsin, Gorbachev and the president of the republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, overcame the last major obstacle.

Under their agreement, the republics gained the exclusive right to levy taxes, with the Kremlin settling for a fixed, undisclosed percentage of the funds collected.

Fresh from that triumph, Yeltsin had a private, largely ceremonial meeting with Bush at the Russian leader’s Kremlin office. The two men talked for 40 minutes and Yeltsin aides later confirmed that he had pressed Bush to establish more direct links with the Russian republic. But Bush demurred, stressing that although he wanted to have good relations with republican leaders he did not want to undermine Washington’s relations with the Kremlin. In fact, in a pre-summit interview with Soviet journalists in Washington, Bush declared: “I do not want to suggest that we have a three-sided triangle, where I deal with Yeltsin on the same basis as I deal with Gorbachev.”

Bush faced a similar delicate balancing act during his six-hour visit to Kiev last Thursday. There, he visited the Babi Yar—a memorial to the scores of thousands of Ukrainians slaughtered by the Nazis during the Second World War. But independence leaders in Ukraine have criticized Bush for his open support of Gorbachev and have accused him of ignoring their suffering under the Kremlin’s domination. And during his trip to the republic’s capital, his motorcade passed several hundred nationalists chanting “freedom for Ukraine.” In an address to the republic’s legislature, Bush said that he wanted improved relations with all of the republics. But he pointedly praised Gorbachev’s reform programs and warned that Washington would not support “suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.”

Regional nationalism, however, is an increasingly powerful force in the Soviet Union. In fact, on July 29, the day before the summit began, Yeltsin signed a pact with Lithuania that recognizes that republic’s independence. On the following day, he endorsed Bush’s call for the Kremlin to allow Lithuania and the other two Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, to secede from the union. During the early-morning hours of July 31, unknown assailants attacked a customs post on the Byelorussian border—one of the visible symbols of Lithuania’s independence drive. The attackers forced eight young Lithuanian customs guards and policemen to lie on the floor of the small trailer, which served as the customs post. Then, they shot the men with automatic rifles, killing six and seriously wounding the two others.

In the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, government representatives voiced their suspicions that Soviet militia units known as OMON, or black berets, were responsible for the most violent incident in the Baltics since a Soviet military crackdown last January. According to Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, the Soviet interior ministry had done nothing to prevent black beret forces from staging more than 20 attacks on the republic’s border posts during the past two months. But interior ministry officials maintained that all the OMON units under their jurisdiction were in their barracks when last week’s attack occurred. Said one Soviet spokesman: “The attack was a dirty and

bloody intrigue of forces not interested in the improvement of Soviet-American relations.”

In any event, the shadowy assailants failed to drive a wedge between Gorbachev and Bush. Both leaders condemned the attack, and Gorbachev ordered an investigation of the incident. In a comment directed at domestic foes who oppose his efforts to forge closer ties with the West,

Gorbachev declared: “We find that the more productive the dialogue, the more frequent the attempts to disrupt it.” In another grim instance of internal violence in the Soviet Union, 15 passengers died on July 31 when a mysterious bomb blast shattered a train bound from Moscow to the Azerbaijani capital of Baku.

It was in stark contrast to those violent and still-unexplained events that the two leaders took part in the solemn signing ceremony to mark an agreement to reduce their weapons of mass destruction. The treaty, 750 pages of highly technical material, requires the Soviet Union to reduce its strategic nuclear stockpile to about 7,000 warheads from 11,000, a 35-per-cent cut. The U.S. military must cut about 25 per cent of its nuclear arsenal during the agreement’s sevenyear implementation period, leaving about 9,000 warheads. The treaty also imposes deep cuts on such Soviet weapons as land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching U.S. targets in about 35 minutes. And the pact includes such safeguards as surprise inspections.

Still, START leaves both countries with enough nuclear firepower to destroy each other many times over. And the limits it imposes on the number of warheads only cuts back nuclear weapon stockpiles to approximately the level that they had reached when the START talks began in Geneva in 1982. In addition, the

treaty will allow U.S. and Soviet forces to continue making new and improved submarines, bombers, cruise missiles and other delivery systems that are capable of carrying increasingly accurate nuclear warheads.

Many Soviet analysts have remarked on the financial savings inherent in the START agreement. Soviet citizens are familiar with the consequences of a decades-long policy to funnel a disproportionate share of the nation’s financial resources to the huge military-industrial

establishment: cosmonauts routinely travel to the space station Mir in capsules propelled by military rockets, but workers have to wait an average of 10 years to purchase a car.

Still, Soviet citizens voiced only modest expectations that a halt in the arms race, or last week’s summit meeting, would lead to massive Western economic aid. Even Gorbachev seemed satisfied with having simply involved Bush more closely in the Soviet Union’s painful transition to a market system. And although the Soviet news agency Novosti welcomed Bush’s promise to seek removal of U.S. tariffs on vodka and other Soviet imports, it added: “The United States has granted most-favored-nation status to more than 100 countries and far from all of them ascended to economic paradise right away.”

For Bush, the dominant g partner in the evolving relationship between the two I countries, the summit k required a careful balancing of the rival demands of Kremlin and republican leaders. But Gorbachev and Yeltsin did deliver one strikingly similar message to their American guest: after spending 74 years in a failed attempt to build a socialist paradise, the Soviet Union now needs help to transform itself. Waiting until the country collapses into the ruins of the old system, they added, will only make that reconstruction more expensive and painful—for Soviet citizens and outsiders alike.