The Soviet Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, announced yesterday that troops had been brought into ``a whole series'' of towns in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The two southern Soviet republics are involved in a dispute over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian enclave administered by the predominantly Muslim republic of Azerbaijan.
In a toughly worded article, Pravda once again asserted that tension in Nagorno-Karabakh was being maintained ``artificially and extremely cleverly.''
The comments recalled an article in the same paper in late March which claimed that unrest in Karabakh was being manipulated by foreign anti-Soviet forces. In the past, however, such hard-line statements have tended to aggravate the situation rather than calm it.
``The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has become even tenser,'' Pravda wrote. ``It would have seemed that it couldn't get any worse, but day in and day out, as if under the influence of mass hypnosis, the Armenian population of Stepanakert [Karabakh's capital] turns out for demonstrations and meetings.''
Pravda's tone suggested that the Soviet leadership is becoming increasingly frustrated with its inability to control the Nagorno-Karabakh disturbances.
Unrest first flared up in mid-February, when Karabakh's local government voted to be transferred to Armenia. The disturbances have so far cost at least 35 lives and caused intermittent paralysis of the economy in parts of Armenia as well as most of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The latest strike in Nagorno-Karabakh - which Pravda confirmed was continuing - began May 22.
Armenian sources say the cause of the strike was a strongly worded speech made in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku on May 21 by Yegor Ligachev, the country's second-ranking leader.
Armenian sources reported soon after that some troops were in the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Some Soviet observers in Moscow had believed that turmoil over Nagorno-Karabakh would at least abate after last week's votes by the Armenian and Azerbaijani parliaments. The Armenian parliament had voted to include Karabakh into its territory; Azerbaijan had voted against the idea.
The two votes were contradictory, but it was hoped that they would at least reduce tension temporarily. Pravda's article indicates that this has not happened.
[The Associated Press reports that Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said Wednesday that the annexation request would be taken up by the Presidium of the national Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union's highest legislative body, but that it probably would not be discussed in the near future.]