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Soviets Brace for Unrest Within Their Borders Over War

February 23, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ As President Mikhail S. Gorbachev made final efforts Saturday to avert a ground war in the Persian Gulf, some voiced fears that such fighting could trigger a pro-Iraq backlash by Muslims in the Soviet Union.

″He (Gorbachev) undertook peace partly to pacify the Muslim population,″ said Vladimir Nosenko, a Middle East analyst with the Institute for World Economics and International Relations.

″Now he can say he did his best to help Iraq, but when the war starts there will be an anti-American trend in the whole Arab world, including the Soviet Union,″ he said.

The Kremlin has weathered two years of secessionist and ethnic unrest in its southern regions, and some militant Muslims have openly supported their brethen in Iraq and Iran.

Soviet Muslims number an estimated 80 million in the country of 283 million. Tensions could worsen if Iraqi casualties increase dramatically during a ground war.

Iman Kaziy Ravil-Khazrat, leader of Moscow’s sole mosque, said that Soviet Muslims were divided in their support for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, but united in opposition to the anti-Iraq coalition.

″This war is being waged to destroy completely Saddam Hussein and Iraq,″ Ravil-Khazrat said. ″They want not only to destroy Iraq’s policies, but its cities and people.″

On Saturday, Gorbachev launched a vigorous telephone campaign to leaders of the anti-Iraq coalition to try and salvage a peace plan that was accepted by Iraq but rejected by the United States.

But his efforts appeared futile. Iraq ignored President Bush’s noon EST deadline for Iraq to start leaving Kuwait, and Bush said the war would go ahead as scheduled.

Nosenko told The Associated Press that unrest in the Soviet Union could include ″terrorism and anti-military actions″ by Muslims, including efforts to seize Soviet weaponry to help defend Iraqis or provoke Soviet military involvement.

Col. Gen. Vladimir Litvinov, commander of Soviet anti-aircraft forces, warned on Thursday that nationalist unrest could ″seriously interfere with protecting the Soviet Union’s southern borders,″ the state news agency Tass reported.

Gorbachev likely will keep trying to end the war and prevent a total Iraqi defeat, steering a middle route between the West and his own generals who want to block U.S. domination and even keep Saddam Hussein in power.

″I think our generals prefer to save Saddam as a future partner,″ Nosenko said.

Assuming his diplomatic initiative fails, Gorbachev may face demands by the military to take a harder line toward the allied coalition. But observers expected him to stick with the allies.

″Gorbachev is making some concessions to the military, but that doesn’t mean his is guided by it,″ Nodary Simonia, deputy director of the institute, told The AP.

AP-DS-02-23-91 1536EST

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