SOVIET military leaders yesterday marked the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany with stern warnings against any attempt by rebellious republics to leave the Soviet Union. ``Today the ambitious, nationalist and separatist forces are doing their utmost to ruin the union,'' Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov wrote in the Communist Party daily Pravda.
``Only a strong and single union of sovereign Soviet republics can act on the world arena as a superpower,'' Marshal Yazov declared. ``That is exactly what the war proved to the world.''
Yazov's statements were echoed by other military leaders whose remarks were carried in the official and Communist Party-controlled news media. Retired Air force commander Marshal Ivan Kozhedub linked the nationalist political leaders to the fascists defeated in World War II. The military was once again prepared to fulfill its responsibilities, he wrote in Rabochaya Tribuna, to block ``the ambitious leaders who are playing the role of undertakers of the superpower.''
Yazov also called on the Soviet people to remain on guard against the West. Military parity should be maintained because ``there is no guarantee that positive processes ... are irreversible,'' he wrote. With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, he continued, ``the military-political situation in Europe is changing radically, but not in our favor.''
One lesson of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Yazov said, is that ``we shouldn't, even for the sake of peace, disarm ourselves irresponsibly, lose vigilance.'' He pointed to the Gulf war as evidence that ``the military threat, the attempts to set up a new world order relying on force, is an objective reality.''
These warnings occur against a backdrop of heightening tensions in the Caucasus between the nationalist government of Armenia and Soviet security forces. For the first time, Soviet Army troops are directly involved in operations against what they claim are armed and illegal Armenian groups. The conflict is the outgrowth of a dispute between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan over the Armenian-populated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan.
Yuri Shatalin, the commander of the Soviet Interior Ministry troops, told the government daily Izvestia on Wednesday that the Army had taken responsibility for control of the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
GENERAL Shatalin claimed that this ``redeployment'' had ``alarmed some people,'' and had triggered firing on military units. In the past, the military tried to avoid involvement in conflicts with the population, but now, Shatalin said, they have been ordered to return fire.
Reports from the Armenian government and Western correspondents on the scene, however, tell a different tale. Armenian officials charge the Soviet government with ``declaring war'' on their republic for its decision to seek independence from the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan is being backed, they charge, as a reward for its decision to stay in the union.
A Reuters dispatch from the border region yesterday described an Army assault in which 200 troops, in helicopters and armored vehicles, swept into the mountain village of Shurnukh and seized 25 prisoners. The account said the troops opened fire, taking aim at Armenian policemen.
Soviet Security Council member Vadim Bakatin, commenting on the war anniversary in an interview in the Army daily Red Star, struck a more balanced tone on these events.
``The union is necessary, we can even say it is inevitable,'' said Mr. Bakatin, one of the few remaining prominent liberals among President Mikhail Gorbachev's advisers. ``But in the modern world, union is possible only by voluntary union.''
Bakatin warned that ``all the attempts, even with the best intentions, to forcefully preserve the union, only destroy it.'' Bakatin was forced out as interior minister last December.