The 1.8 million readers of the arch-conservative daily Sovietskaya Rossiya opened their newspapers Wednesday to a gripping and detailed, if completely outlandish, version of how the war was going in the Persian Gulf:
“Here are the latest reports from the front: Iraqi forces continue their fierce battles with the enemy,” the paper said.
It continued: “Iraqi fighters have courageously taken the first mighty blow, remained standing and in turn, units and detachments of the 3rd Corps under Gen. Salakh Abbud have counterattacked. . . . The Iraqi army has shown its steadfastness, courage and valor.”
Such, at any rate, was the dispatch filed by army Maj. Gen. Viktor I. Filatov, editor-in-chief of the Soviet Defense Ministry’s Military-Historical Magazine, who was sent to Baghdad last week as a special correspondent for Sovietskaya Rossiya, the organ of the ultra-conservative Russian Communist Party.
It was a report that seemed hallucinatory when compared to what other Soviet newspapers and television are saying, but that was quite understandable in the current political context here. The 55-year-old military journalist painted a glowing picture of Iraqi confidence and bravery under fire, contrasted with American blood lust and killer technology run wild.
“From reliable sources, it’s become known to me that the allied attack has bogged down,” Filatov wrote. “If there are five attacking columns, as the Americans boast, they are not really advancing but marking time on the territory of Saudi Arabia.”
Allied soldiers who dare crawl out of their trenches are immediately pinned down by Iraqi infantrymen, he reported.
“Today we went to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry,” Filatov wrote. “I saw beaming faces. People were discussing the latest events. There is not such an ambience in a country’s Foreign Ministry when it stands on the brink of catastrophe.”
Sovietskaya Rossiya, on sale in Moscow news kiosks as Kuwaiti troops were rehoisting the flag in their liberated capital, did not say when Filatov had sent in his dispatch, but that may have been irrelevant anyway. The message both the newspaper and the general apparently seemed to want to get across to readers was the continued imperialistic bent of the United States, despite Kremlin attempts at perestroika in superpower relations.
“In my time, I was in Korea and Vietnam,” Filatov wrote. “I saw what the Americans did there with their B-52s and napalm, their chemical and bacteriological weapons. And now I’m here, in an Iraq at war. I see what the Americans are doing here. And I can say that nothing has changed in the thinking or acts of the GIs since the times of brigandage in Korea and Vietnam.
“I don’t know what else could be bombed--everything is wrecked, damaged and eradicated,” Filatov said of Baghdad. “ ‘Barbarians of the 20th Century.’ Under that headline I once wrote a report from Saigon. Recently, I thought I’d never have to write anything like that again. I thought the Americans, after that war of piracy, had changed. But no!”
Filatov’s article was just the latest example of how the Persian Gulf War has been seized upon by both Communist hard-liners and reformers and coverted into a domestic political cause celebre.
For Soviet progressives, now very much on the defensive, joint U.S.-Soviet opposition to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein at the United Nations has pointed the way to a safer post-Cold War world and to a budding superpower partnership. For the right, in contrast, the conflict has bared very real differences in superpower interests and the neo-colonialist streak they discern in U.S. foreign policy.
“The language of guns and death-dealing B-52 bombers is something we have been familiar with a long time. It has nothing in common with the ‘new thinking’ which the Americans applauded warmly, but did little concrete to support,” Marshal Viktor G. Kulikov, one-time commander in chief of the Warsaw Pact, said in a recent interview with the Communist Party daily Rabochaya Tribuna.
The Soviet press Wednesday also offered an intriguing glimpse of Hussein the leader and the man, as President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s personal envoy to the Persian Gulf described in Pravda the dealings he had with Hussein back in October.
Even then, only two months after he sent his tanks and troops rolling into Kuwait, Hussein acknowledged that he might have to abandon the emirate “under certain conditions,” Yevgeny M. Primakov wrote in Pravda. But Hussein expressed fear about the wrath of his people if he did so, he said.
“After I gave up all the results of the eight-year war with Iran on Aug. 15 and returned the situation to the way it was before the start of hostilities, the Iraqi people will not forgive me for unconditional withdrawal of the troops from Kuwait,” Primakov quoted Hussein as saying.
“ ‘What about an outlet to the sea?’ the people will ask me,” Hussein reportedly said. He told the Soviet envoy that “other problems” in the region, clearly meaning the future of the Palestinians, would also have to be solved.
“If all I have is a dilemma of whether to sink on my knees and capitulate, or fight, then I choose the second option,” Hussein declared.
Primakov recalled asking the Iraqi leader whether he hadn’t developed a “Masada complex,” referring to the band of Jewish Zealots who chose to die rather than surrender their fortress to the Roman legions.
Hussein, Primakov said, “nodded in the affirmative.”