Hard-liners Hail Shake-Up in Interior Ministry, Call for Crackdown
MOSCOW (AP) _ Hard-line legislators on Monday praised President Mikhail S. Gorbachev for responding to their criticism and replacing the interior minister with a KGB general expected to crack down on dissent, Tass reported.
Col. Victor Alksnis, who has threatened to seek Gorbachev’s resignation if he does not take action by Dec. 17 to prevent the break-up of the Soviet Union, termed the replacement of Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin a step in the right direction.
Gorbachev’s removal of Bakatin ″is obviously a response to the ultimatum by Alksnis,″ who heads the ‘Soyuz’ group of right-wing legislators, said Dmitri Simes, a Soviet expert at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington. But Simes said it was difficult to know if Gorbachev was sympathic to their demands or surrendering to them.
Alksnis denied that a crack-down would lead to more violence, but only because he believes bloodshed is now inevitable.
″Mountains of weapons have been stockpiled in the republics, threatening us with uncountable disasters,″ he warned.
Soyuz is expecting Gorbachev to relieve other officials it finds unacceptable as well, said another member, legislator Yevgeny Kogan.
Gorbachev also plans to transfer several divisions from the regular army to the Interior Ministry troops, which handle outbreaks of ethnic and political violence inside Soviet borders, said independent lawmaker Vladmir Kirillov, according to Tass.
Bakatin is popular among some liberals for keeping tighter rein on his riot police since 19 peaceful demonstrators were killed by troops wielding shovels and gas in Tbilisi last year.
He was replaced by Boris Pugo, a Communist Party official who became a KGB major general while running the secret police in Latvia in the early 1980s.
Pugo is a friend of Alksnis, Simes said. Both men are Latvians who are extremely unpopular in their native land for their opposition to independence from the Soviet Union, Simes said.
Pugo’s deputy will be Army Gen. Boris Gromov, who won fame for commanding Soviet troops in Afghanistan while still in his 30s. He is considered a hardliner, and a prime candidate for a high post in the Defense Ministry, which Gorbachev also has promised to shake up.
Legislators who declined to be named said the Interior Ministry post may be a means of keeping Gromov out of a top job at the Defense Ministry.
Simes speculated that Pugo’s major task will be controlling his new deputy.
Bakatin previously has been mentioned as a possible candidate for prime minister. He was nominated for president last spring, and declined to run against Gorbachev.
Alksnis accused Bakatin of allowing the break-down of the ministry, the official news agency said.
″He is fully responsible for the blood spilt in Moldavia,″ Alksnis charged, referring to a series of violent confrontations between separatist ethnic groups in that southwestern republic.
″Bakatin was not only passive, but he rendered concrete support to separatist forces in the republics,″ Alksnis charged. The Soyuz group sharply criticized Bakatin for allowing independence-minded Estonia take control of its own Interior Ministry and police from the central government.
Reformist legislator Galina Starovoitova told Tass the reaction in the republics to the changes may be ″extremely negative.″ She said the Russian republic plans to demand that the functions of the Interior Ministry be removed from the central government entirely.
Gromov’s appointment could mark a blow to the plans of several republics to form their own militias. The army general has said that allowing separate armies for each nationality would be disastrous.
Pugo, chairman of the Communist Party’s Control Committee since 1988 and strong Gorbachev supporter, must be confirmed by the Supreme Soviet legislature, Tass said.