The Soviet Union is now entering the most dangerous period in recent memory. As the tanks roam the streets of Moscow and Leningrad, a gathering storm threatens to plunge the world's largest country into civil war and throw the continent into chaos.
The elements for disaster are in place. The economy is on the edge of disintegration; food and fuel shortages are rife while workers prepare to strike. Ethnic conflict smoulders in republics from the Baltic Sea to the Bering Sea, many of which continue to press their claims for independence. The armed forces - their loyalties divided by region and race, their fingers on the nuclear button - are worried and confused.
On the day after, a people newly endowed with democracy consider the world after Gorbachev. Familiar with the tools of protest, they are now filling the streets. They are rushing to their regional parliaments, the new citadels of democracy, and protecting their new sentries, like Boris Yeltsin. As the tension mounts, Red Square threatens to become Tiananmen Square.
The world watches with anxiety. In the deluge of sad, flickering images from Moscow, there are memories of Hungary in 1956, Prague in 1968, Beijing in 1989. A country which has seen revolution, civil war, collectivization, communism, depression, famine and foreign occupation now stares into the abyss again.
The echoes of history are deafening. Again, a leader claimed and a leader crowned. Again, the official cries, lies, and laments. Again, the ramrod, colorless, uniformed figures, earnestly claiming the legitimacy of their coup and the urgency of their action.
So, what is the world to do? What can it do? The U.S., the European Community, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have offered firm but measured responses. Canada, for its part, has refused to recognize the new regime and suspended $150 million in food aid which Mulroney had offered Gorbachev at the Group of Seven summit in June.
In a sense, the world is doing all it can do. It can rage at the injustice, it can deny aid, it can support opposition. Still, its influence remains limited. The fear is that the Soviets may be no more receptive than the Chinese, whose leadership ordered soldiers to fire on their own people. After all, the generals who deposed Gorbachev knew a coup would kill new promises of aid and trade. They knew it would freeze its applications for membership in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They knew it would end foreign investment. But they staged a coup nonetheless.
The sad reality is that the new regime is beyond fear or favor, frozen in the ice of ideology, governed by the politics of force, prisoners of paranoia. The West could do business with Mikhail Gorbachev, and did, but it cannot, and should not, with Gennady Yanayev and his confederates.
The best the world can now do is to support the centres of opposition in the Soviet Union - in Russia, the Ukraine and elsewhere. It may even have to reconsider its reluctance to recognize the Baltic Republics. And it can hope economic pressure will be more effective than it was in China, however unlikely that prospect.
No doubt there is a dilemma for the West in dealing with the Soviet Union, as there was in dealing with China in 1989. On one hand, it does not want to isolate the Soviet Union lest that drive its leaders to the barricades and allow them to raise the prospect of an external threat. On the other hand, the West can say that the Soviet Union isolated itself, and the civilized world must show its repulsion for the coup.
In the end, the West should exercise prudence but move quickly to lend support to dissenters to strengthen their hand against this fraudulent regime.
For the West, it risks provoking a new Cold War, but that is the best chance it has to restore reason to the Soviet Union.
|This information is provided by the Financial Post.|
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Revised: June 3, 1995
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