THE Kremlin has escalated the pressure on unruly republics by ordering the deployment of paratroop units to enforce draft calls. The Defense Ministry announced the move on the evening of Jan. 7, claiming that authorities in the three Baltic republics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), Moldavia, Armenia, Georgia, and parts of the Ukraine were refusing to implement Soviet draft orders. The troops are to be used ``to ensure the draft, and search for and return soldiers absent with official leave,'' the ministry said.
``It's another attempt to bring out provocations,'' comments Rita Dapkus, spokesperson for the Lithuanian parliament. She compared it to the economic blockade imposed last spring. ``It is a repeat of that, except in this case more military than psychological. The military forces mean business.''
Negotiations are under way to try to avoid conflict, Baltic officials report. Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene flew to Moscow Jan. 8, at the request of the Lithuanian government, for talks with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Latvian authorities say the Baltic Military District commander agreed Jan. 7 not to carry out any forcible induction until Jan. 13.
By the afternoon of Jan. 8, there were no confirmed reports of actual arrival of new paratroop units in any of the republics. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense in Moscow denied Soviet press reports that at least several airborne divisions were being sent. Only smaller units, up to battalion level, are involved, the official said. And most of the forces used in enforcing the draft will come from forces already in those regions.
Lithuania reports military action
Lithuanian officials report that more than 100 military vehicles rolled under the windows of the Lithuanian Supreme Council around 4:30 a.m on Jan. 8, heading into the main military base in the center of the capital of Vilnius. Tensions rose further when some 5,000 mostly Russian demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament building to protest price rises clashed with police. In response to a television and radio call by Lithuanian President Vytautus Landsbergis, about 5,000 counterdemonstrators came to defend the parliament.
Tensions were also high in Georgia, where Soviet Interior Ministry troops intervened in a conflict between the nationalist government and a small ethnic minority region. Officials of the Georgian government, reached by telephone in Tblisi, say they expect Soviet paratroop units to arrive shortly.
The Kremlin's motives in taking this step are far from clear. If this is simply an attempt slowly to raise the pressure level on nationalist governments, it is being done in a manner calculated to raise the possibility of serious clashes, even bloodshed. And it is a step that has already raised tensions with nervous Western governments, particularly after warnings issued by Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze of the danger of such crackdowns leading to ``dictatorship.''
``Why proclaim to the world that you are going to bring the military to the Baltics and to other republics, especially after the US and other Western countries said this may ruin relations if it is done,'' asks Ms. Dapkus in Lithuania.
Soviet relations with West
Speculation about a deterioration in Soviet relations with the West, including a shift in Soviet support for the Western stance on the Gulf conflict, has been intense since Mr. Shevardnadze's Dec. 20 resignation. Soviet officials have gone out of their way to deny such reports, pointing to the resolution on Gulf policy passed by a recently concluded session of the Congress of People's Deputies.
Soviet officials were also quick to try to dampen reports coming out of Washington that the summit meeting between President Bush and Mr. Gorbachev, scheduled for next month, might be canceled. Presidential spokesman Vitaly Ignatenko told reporters Jan. 8 that ``we were not the source of such information.''
Mr. Ignatenko also backed the meeting Jan. 9 in Geneva between US Secretary of State James Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz as a last effort peacefully to end the Gulf conflict. ``The only chance to resolve this problem is the understanding on the part of the president of Iraq that the threat of military activities is quite real,'' he said.