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West May Tie Economic Aid to Cuts in Soviet Nuclear Forces : Diplomacy: The plan is an effort to secure stability from the tumult of the nation’s breakup. Bush indicates that the United States will recognize the Baltic states on Monday.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The United States and its major Western allies are considering a plan to require Moscow and breakaway Soviet republics to make deep cuts in their nuclear forces as a condition of future economic assistance, according to Administration officials Saturday.

The new push to link arms control and aid reflects an effort to seize what officials believe is a crucial opportunity to secure stability from the tumult surrounding the breakup of the Soviet Union.

A top Administration policy-maker said that the United States hopes to begin pursuing discussions on arms control with Moscow and possibly the breakaway republics “as soon as we find somebody to discuss it with.”

U.S. officials said that the linkage might not be formal. At a minimum, however, the West would make clear to Russia and other republics with nuclear weapons that arms reduction--along with domestic economic reforms--would make the West more inclined to provide more aid.

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Administration officials said the United States also plans to use the promise of aid as a lever to persuade Moscow to tighten existing controls over its nuclear arsenal to help reduce the danger that the weapons might be fired by dissident elements.

Separately, President Bush hinted more strongly than ever that the United States will move Monday to formally recognize the independence of the three Baltic states--a gesture that officials have been suggesting for days is likely to come soon.

But top Bush advisers cautioned that recognition will apply only to the Baltics. Fearful that the move could further accelerate a Soviet unraveling, they said that other breakaway republics should not expect the same treatment any time soon.

The emerging Western efforts to seek increased security for nuclear arms came as U.S. officials raised new fears that the continuing turmoil in the Soviet Union could pave the way for a takeover by a “Napoleon figure” capitalizing on a “nostalgia for order.”

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They also hinted that U.S. policy-makers are wary about the current president of the Russian Federation, Boris N. Yeltsin. One senior official said the Administration does not feel certain whether his “powerful instincts will be used for good or for ill.”

And, in a further mark of concern about the drift toward chaos in the Soviet Union, the officials raised the possibility that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev might not continue in his post very much longer.

The experts said it is not likely that Gorbachev might again be removed from office, but they said that it is uncertain how long he may be willing to tolerate continued humiliation at the hands of Yeltsin and the usurpation of his presidential powers.

One senior Administration official said that Gorbachev is “a very solid political figure,” but he added that the Soviet president is now “fighting for his political life.”

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“We just don’t know what his limits are,” he added.

The new Western strategy of tying aid to arms-reduction comes at a somewhat awkward time for arms control.

After the agreement by the United States and Soviet Union to a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty early this summer, Moscow pushed for new negotiations on further cuts, only to be rebuffed by Washington.

The shift of power from Moscow to the republics has been so stunning that U.S. officials and outside experts say it may prove difficult to win Senate approval even of that START treaty, signed just five weeks ago.

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“Even assuming that it gets ratified, there will probably be disputes because of the uncertainty about who is in charge,” said Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former staff member of the National Security Council, now a scholar at the Brookings Institution.

But Bush Administration officials are said to believe that the very uncertainty over who may control Soviet nuclear weapons in the future has added urgency to efforts to restrict their numbers.

Officials argue that because the Soviets have already agreed to reduce defense spending as a condition for aid, it would require only a small further step for the West to ask Moscow to focus its cuts on nuclear weapons.

One senior official acknowledged that the ongoing disintegration of the Soviet empire--and the still-unanswered questions of who will take charge of Moscow’s scattered stockpile of 27,000 nuclear warheads--makes it “probably premature” to seek such nuclear reductions immediately.

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But he left no doubt that such cuts remain high on the Administration’s agenda. “I think the dust needs to settle just a little more,” he said.

Sonnenfeldt and other experts said they believe the effort to seek further arms cuts is a prudent response to the Soviet collapse.

But others questioned whether it is appropriate to link the two issues--and whether, if the West does decide to do so, it would be wise to make the connection explicit.

“Making that kind of linkage will essentially scare the pants off everybody,” said Francois Heisbourg, director of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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Western governments generally have balked at providing massive cash aid to the Soviet Union, contending that the money would only be wasted unless Moscow first adopts legislation needed to pave the way for a transfer to a free-market economic system--measures, for example, such as laws providing for effective ownership of private property.

Late last month, President Bush indicated that the United States would agree to provide emergency food aid if Moscow needs it this coming winter. Western powers still have not agreed to send substantial amounts of broader economic assistance, but some analysts say that they could change their minds if economic reforms and further arms-reduction conditions are met.

In the meantime, other sources said, the Western powers will try to persuade the government in Moscow to bring more weapons under central control.

Among the steps the United States is now likely to suggest to the Soviets is the transfer of at least some long-range nuclear missiles from silos in seceding republics to similar facilities within the Russian Federation, according to a senior Administration official.

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“Any time you have this instability, there’s a possibility of losing control,” the official said. But he said that the United States had not yet communicated its concerns directly to the Soviet Union. And he described the discussions now being considered as highly delicate.

“You don’t just sit down and ask about the control of nuclear weapons,” the official noted. “That’s talking about the family jewels.”

In outlining the U.S. quest for security, those involved in planning for the effort nevertheless took pains to assert that the government has not yet seen any cause for alarm.

Indeed, the senior Administration official said he is confident that even as the Soviet Union continues to splinter, its nuclear forces are likely to remain under some sort of central authority.

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“You could still have control without much of a central government,” the policy-maker said.

But in an interview broadcast on Cable News Network, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft said it is possible that the Soviet Union will completely break up into separate republics--"a kind of a loose federation with bilateral arrangements among them and maybe not even any kind of structure which coordinates it overall.”

Such misgivings about the pace and scope of the Soviet breakup were apparent even as Bush and Scowcroft effectively made clear that the United States will extend formal recognition Monday to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia whether or not the Soviet Union has acted to do so by then.

Bush told reporters on a golf course near his vacation home here that he had told Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis by telephone that a planned White House announcement Monday “would be of great interest to the people there.”

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However, even though the United States has delayed its move and urged the Soviet Union to take the step first, a senior Administration official warned that the U.S. move, when it is made, will provoke “an immediate hue and cry” from the Ukraine and other republics demanding recognition of their new declarations of independence.

“We maintain and believe that the Baltics are unique,” the official said. But he warned that further turmoil resulting from the rush toward independence opens the “ever-present” possibility that the democratic surge could be halted by counterrevolution.

“What scares me most,” the Administration expert added, “is the potential for the seizure of power by an individual, small group, a Napoleon or whatever . . . some guy saying, ‘Hey, I’ll resolve it all. I’ll get the trains running on time.’ ”

Times staff writer Norman Kempster, in Washington, contributed to this report.

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