PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev appears close to securing a long-sought summit meeting with United States President Bush, but the Soviet military first had to make a key concession to resolve a dispute over the conventional forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Resolution of the CFE problem, followed by progress on strategic arms reduction (START) talks, had been made a summit precondition by the US.
The linkage has aroused anger in Soviet military circles, says Vladimir Nazarenko, a military analyst for the Novosti press agency. But in the end, Mr. Gorbachev's desire for the meeting outweighed the military's reluctance to back down on the CFE dispute.
"The United States exploits the existing chaos in the Soviet Union to apply pressure on the Soviet side," Mr. Nazarenko says. "They linked one treaty [CFE] to another [START], when there was no reason to do this."
The CFE treaty was signed in November by 22 leaders from NATO and then-Warsaw Pact nations. The treaty places limits on the number of tanks, artillery pieces, and armored personnel carriers based from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains, eliminating a significant Soviet advantage in those areas.
The treaty provisions were never implemented, however, because of several disputes, mainly over the classification of Soviet naval infantry units. Hard-liners calling the shots in the Kremlin had insisted the treaty covered only ground-based forces. This meant naval units with their 1,129 weapons, including 126 tanks, should not be included in CFE totals. The West, led by the US, disagreed.
'Major concessions' made
The breakthrough came during a meeting between US Secretary of State James Baker III and Alexander Bessmertnykh, his Soviet counterpart, in Portugal last Saturday. Negotiators in Moscow will try to finalize the agreement.
"We made a major concession," said Nazarenko, a retired colonel. Western sources, according to Agence France Presse, say the Soviets agreed to freeze the equipment of four naval infantry divisions and to count this equipment in ceilings set down by the CFE treaty.
With CFE cleared up, arms negotiators now turn to completing the START treaty. Among the details to be worked out is an unambiguous definition of a ballistic missile, and whether a limit will be introduced on the number of nuclear warheads both sides can possess, Nazarenko said. The warhead question, especially, could throw up a last-minute roadblock to an agreement, he added.
"We proposed to establish a ceiling for nuclear warheads," Nazarenko said. "The US side has said there is no need to do this."
Despite potential problems, Nazarenko predicted the treaty would be ready for signing at a Bush-Gorbachev meeting that would take place before the gathering of the Group of Seven industrialized nations scheduled for mid-July in London.
"There are still several weeks to go. That is enough time to resolve the problems," he says.
Some reports have the summit in Moscow taking place June 25-27, but a spokesman for Gorbachev refused to confirm the dates.
Bush and Gorbachev were scheduled to meet in February, but a postponement was announced following the Soviet military's crackdown in the republic of Lithuania in January, in which at least 20 people died. Among the official reasons given for the delay were the outbreak of the Gulf war and a lack of progress in the arms talks, but the trouble in the Baltic republics also played a role.
With the Soviet economy in trouble and his personal political fortunes sagging, Gorbachev needs the summit badly, some Moscow observers say. To woo the US, Gorbachev of late has signaled a greater willingness to carry out lasting reforms in return for economic aid from the West.
Gorbachev watches Yeltsin
"Gorbachev wants to use the summit to bolster his domestic position," says Igor Drobyshev, a political analyst for the Novosti press agency.
"Soon Boris Yeltsin [the Russian leader and Gorbachev's political arch rival] will probably win election as president of Russia, putting him virtually on the same footing as Gorbachev," continues Mr. Drobyshev. "Gorbachev is looking for any way to maintain his political advantage."
Recent Army activity in Lithuania, including the setting up of checkpoints Monday night, could be a show of dissatisfaction by the military with Gorbachev's swing away from conservatives, some Western diplomats say.
Nevertheless, the Soviet side can be counted on to adhere to the CFE and START treaties once they are finalized, Nazarenko says. "The military always argues up to the point the decision is taken, but when it's made, they implement it," he says. "Verification procedures are so detailed that they're hard to evade."