"The changes in the socialist countries are as unavoidable today as they are desirable," Dobrokhotov argued.
But Moscow has been very concerned that the transformations proceed as smoothly as possible.
For Moscow, the changes in Eastern Europe have wide ramifications. The empire of satellite states that dictator Josef Stalin so painfully assembled is gone, but Gorbachev appears happy to be relieved of what had become a politically expensive burden. Moscow's authority, Soviet analysts believe, has even been enhanced by Gorbachev's adherence to his U.N. commitment to "freedom of choice." And the Kremlin's attention, Soviet observers say, can now turn to the country's most critical problem--rebuilding the economy.
The most immediate Soviet concern, however, is the reunification of East and West Germany. Not only is East Germany a strategic ally--the Soviet Union has 380,000 troops stationed there--but, in Moscow's view, it is the key to balance of power between East and West. While leaving to "history" the possibility of eventual reunification of the two German states, Moscow has strongly opposed a Bonn plan to speed up the process.
Another serious worry is the possibility that some members of the Warsaw Pact, perhaps Hungary or Poland, will decide to quit, upsetting the military balance between East and West.
What Moscow wants most of all to see emerge from Eastern Europe's transformation, Gorbachev has said repeatedly, is a commonwealth of European countries--some socialist, some capitalist and many in between--that ends the post-World War II division of the Continent.
In all this, there is what one Soviet commentator calls "the big what-if": What if Gorbachev fails at home and is replaced by a conservative?
The answer, worked out by those Soviet think tanks that have advised Gorbachev for years, is that the changes in Eastern Europe will soon be irreversible, at least from outside.
But there is a deeper worry here--a real fear, in fact--that the changes in Eastern Europe and Gorbachev's declared commitment to "freedom of choice" could bring the disintegration of the Soviet Union as some of its constituent republics exercise that freedom and break away.
The political movements developing in the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania stem from the same heritage as those in Eastern Europe.
Some nationalists in Armenia, Georgia and the Ukraine, as well as the Baltics, are demanding full independence from Moscow; others want acknowledgement of their sovereignty in return for what is really autonomy within a new federal system.