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Gorbachev Says Soviet Reforms Will Continue : Policy: He disclaims responsibility for Baltic deaths and disdains right-wing aspirations of a power grab.

January 23, 1991|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, sharply criticized at home and abroad over the Baltic crisis, declared on Tuesday that his reform policies would continue and that he would not tolerate attempts by right-wing groups to usurp power with the backing of military commanders.

"Neither domestic nor foreign policy has undergone changes," Gorbachev said, rejecting charges that he had abandoned the reforms under mounting conservative pressure. "All remains intact as it was formulated in the documents and official statements of the Soviet leadership."

But Gorbachev, balancing his criticism of the right with that of the left, said that the independence campaigns of the nationalist governments of the country's three Baltic republics were responsible for the recent bloodshed there.

"The root of the tragedies," he told a news conference, "lies in the trampling of the (Soviet) constitution, the crude violation of civil rights, discrimination against people of another nationality, irresponsible behavior toward the army."

Clearly tired and burdened, Gorbachev said that the recent violence in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where 14 people were killed 10 days ago, and in Riga, the Latvian capital, where six have died in the past week, had plunged the country even deeper into crisis, raising tensions across the whole nation.

Reversing his earlier defense of the military commander whose troops had killed unarmed Lithuanian nationalists in seizing the Vilnius television broadcast center, Gorbachev pledged a full legal investigation of that incident and another on Sunday in Riga in which Soviet commandos stormed the headquarters of the Latvian Interior Ministry.

"The main thing I want to say is this: The events that happened in Vilnius and Riga are in no way an expression of the line of presidential power," he said, referring to the recent increase in his constitutional powers. "Therefore, I absolutely reject any speculation, suspicion and slander on this score."

Gorbachev also sought to repair his damaged image in the West, where the developments in Lithuania and Latvia had raised questions not only about his commitment to reform but whether he was still in control of the government.

"Events are getting a lopsided interpretation abroad--and in some cases in a manner reminiscent of the ideological war of the past," he said. "Many people perceived them inadequately and saw a shift in the policy of the Soviet leadership.

"It would be regrettable and dangerous if, as a result of such wrong interpretation, recent achievements in international affairs were threatened."

In a short statement broadcast on television and radio, Gorbachev sought to reestablish his much-diminished authority--more than 100,000 people had rallied outside the Kremlin on Sunday to demand his resignation--and to claim the center ground between radical reformers on the left and the resurgent right wing.

His critics, he said, were using the developments in the Baltic republics to "whip up tensions under the pretext of a swing to the right and the threat of a dictatorship.

"I resolutely reject these conjectures," he continued. "The gains of perestroika, democratization and glasnost were and will remain lasting values, guarded by presidential power."

Only that morning, however, one of Gorbachev's principal economic advisers had written in a biting open letter that his reform program was finished and only catastrophe lay ahead.

"Our country is now in a state of extreme crisis, decay and wild disorder," Stanislav S. Shatalin, a leading pro-market economist, wrote in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. "Economic catastrophe is coming on fast, and in effect nothing is being done to avert it."

Gorbachev, emerging from a lengthy meeting with his key advisers, including several leading liberals who had been eclipsed recently, appeared determined to halt the right wing's use of the Soviet armed forces as their political instrument and to check the growth in conservative influence.

"Any public organizations, committees and fronts, whatever their programs, may seek to take office only constitutionally, without the use of violence," he said, referring to the declarations this month by largely anonymous groups in the Baltics that they were assuming power in the name of the workers and peasants. "Any attempts to appeal to the armed forces are inadmissible in the political struggle."

He told military commanders to respond only to lawful orders and to strengthen discipline and to recognize that, under the Soviet constitution, the armed forces are subordinate to the government and not a law unto themselves.

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