A major dispute within the Soviet Communist Party over “who lost Eastern Europe” broke into the open Tuesday with Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze and Defense Minister Dmitri T. Yazov facing off in pungent newspaper interviews in advance of a crucial party congress scheduled for next week.
In scathing terms rarely used in political debate here, Shevardnadze denounced those, particularly in the Soviet armed forces, who have complained that the “new political thinking” instituted by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has resulted in repeated concessions to the West and thus diminished Soviet security.
Recalling the political witch hunts in the United States during the McCarthy era over “who lost China” after the 1949 Communist victory there, Shevardnadze told the Communist Party newspaper Pravda: “Oddly enough, we now have the same kind of accusers.
“The impression is created that someone would dearly love to stage an investigation of ‘who lost Eastern Europe,’ ” Shevardnadze said. He was referring to the sharp conservative criticism at a Communist Party conference last week of the country’s foreign policy and the multiplying calls from an alliance of party conservatives and military commanders that those responsible be held to account.
Putting military spending, arms control and foreign policy all before the party congress as major political issues for the first time in Soviet history, Shevardnadze rejected as dangerous war-mongering the recent critical comments by Yazov, fellow Politburo member Yegor K. Ligachev and others in a widening rift between liberals and conservatives in the country’s top leadership.
“Those who champion big-power politics must, in my opinion, address themselves not to state bodies but to those lads who would have to patrol, to their mothers and to the nation that would find itself thrown into a war,” Shevardnadze told Pravda. “It is time to understand that neither socialism nor friendship, neither respect nor good relations can rest on bayonets, tanks or bloodshed.”
But Yazov, discussing the same issues in an interview with the newspaper Workers’ Tribune, declared, “My concerns do not diminish.”
NATO does not intend to reduce its forces, although the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact is transforming itself into a political, rather than a military alliance, Yazov warned, noting that NATO would be further strengthened by the unification of Germany.
Reductions in the Soviet armed forces have not been matched by the West, he continued, implying that recent arms agreements have been one-sided and unfair to Moscow.
“Unfortunately, I can state that, despite all the superficial changes toward better relations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, certain forces in the West still cling to their old positions, perceiving the Soviet Union as the enemy of Western nations,” Yazov said. “Doesn’t such a state of affairs increase a Soviet defense minister’s concerns?”
Although Yazov has grown increasingly critical of Gorbachev’s foreign policy initiatives, notably the deep cuts in the Soviet arsenal, his comments to Workers’ Tribune so strongly echoed the attacks during a party conference last week that they clearly aligned him with the conservatives in advance of the congress.
This open debate, on issues still widely thought to be too sensitive for public discussion, showed how deep the divisions in the Soviet leadership have become and how vulnerable Gorbachev and his backers are to criticism that they have weakened the “defense of the motherland,” an accusation that virtually implies treason.
Gorbachev, speaking to graduates of the country’s military academies in the Kremlin on Tuesday, sought to strike a balanced position in what has turned into a Politburo feud. He stressed the need for further cutbacks in both nuclear and conventional armaments but called upon NATO to respond to the unilateral reductions of the Warsaw Pact.
“The world public has every reason to expect and demand a reciprocal process for the North Atlantic alliance,” Gorbachev said. “A radical change in the military doctrine and NATO activities in general is needed for a real advance towards a new all-European security system.”
The issue that is the hottest by far, judging from Shevardnadze’s angry defense, is the adoption, unopposed by Moscow, of Western capitalism and parliamentary democracy by most of the Soviet Union’s one-time allies in Eastern Europe as their model for economic and political development.
“I feel pain and bitterness when I see people whose statements suggest that the Soviet army did not liberate some European countries but, rather, took them as war trophies,” Shevardnadze continued. “I find it my moral duty to apologize to the peoples of Eastern Europe for such offensive and impermissible comments by my countrymen.
“What can I tell those who ask why we allowed the changes in Eastern Europe, why we agreed to pull out our troops? This suggests the unuttered thought: Why didn’t we use our tanks to ‘restore order’?
“Can anyone seriously think that a problem can be resolved this way today? Have we learned anything from the lessons of Afghanistan? Have we forgotten 1956 (the Hungarian uprising) and 1968 (the invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring)? Perhaps we have had enough of death notices and disabled veterans.”
Of equal sensitivity is the unification of Germany, and Shevardnadze sought to justify to critics here Moscow’s efforts to find a compromise that will protect Soviet security interests while restoring German unity and sovereignty.
“For how long could the split between the two German states continue?” he asked. “Years, decades, eternity? For how long would our soldiers have to patrol the Elbe River? Years, decades, eternity?
“Even if we disregard the moral factors, where would the risks be greater--in the preservation of the split between parts of a great nation, which would strive for reunification, or in the context of the general settlement in Europe?
“We have a stake in what military and political status the future Germany will assume. But the issue will have to be resolved within the future developments in Europe.”
Shevardnadze took direct aim in his blistering counterattack at Oleg D. Baklanov, a party secretary in charge of the munitions industry, who in an interview with Workers’ Tribune last week warned that the Soviet Union was being lured, much like a mouse hungry for cheese, into the trap of unilateral disarmament.
“I would have welcomed an article in which the readers of Workers’ Tribune would learn how much cheese could, in fact, be bought for the money that is spent on unnecessary and obsolete military hardware,” Shevardnadze said, challenging the military to an open debate on the country’s defense needs.
Justifying the still controversial Soviet-American treaty abolishing intermediate-range nuclear arms, Shevardnadze described it as a victory for the Soviet Union despite the much larger cutback required here.
“An exchange of three SS-20 missiles for one Pershing is a profitable exercise,” he said. “The Pershing would have hit our General Staff without fail, whereas the SS-20 would not even reach the Pentagon. Don’t the ‘specialists’ who keep comparing the trade-offs of the INF treaty know this?”
He denounced the Soviet defense industry for the huge stockpiles of chemical weapons it manufactured when “no one else was doing this.”
And he denied allegations from conservatives and army officers that the Soviet military was excluded from arms reduction negotiations with the West and was not consulted about the decision to withdraw Soviet forces from most of Eastern Europe.
Challenging the conservatives, particularly those in the military and the defense industry, to justify the huge share it takes of the country’s wealth, estimated at 16% to as much 25% of the country’s gross national product, Shevardnadze called for a full debate on foreign policy and defense.
“Is it not time to have a more open discussion about national security?” he asked. “The Soviet taxpayers have the right to know what kind of ‘security’ they get for their money.”