MOSCOW — Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri T. Yazov assured his nation and the world Tuesday that nuclear weapons will never get into the hands of the country's increasingly militant nationalists as more powers are given to local authorities.
In a televised speech delivered on orders from President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Yazov pledged the military's loyalty to Gorbachev and to his reform agenda, an evident attempt to spike persistent rumors of preparations for a coup.
The 4-million-member Soviet armed forces, undergoing intense change because of Gorbachev's policies, "have been, are and will be true to the course of perestroika that is being carried out under the direction of the president of the U.S.S.R," Yazov said.
If supplies and utilities are cut off by local authorities, Yazov said, army and navy commanders have now been given orders to seize local "life support systems" and put them under guard.
Earlier in the day, the president told reporters he had signed an order that will allow military units to use their firearms if they or their posts are attacked by armed nationalist bands, as has happened frequently in the Caucasus.