A bit over a year ago, Eastern Europe peacefully overthrew communism, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union warmed and people of good will hailed the end of the Cold War.
It turns out their happiness was premature. What ended was Cold War I.Cold War II may have started on Dec. 22. That day KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, the chief of secret police and espionage, rose in parliament and delivered a neo-Stalinist harangue full of anti-Western hatred and invective.
In a classic example of the big lie, he tried to blame the collapsing economy and empty store shelves on foreign intrigue. The West, he ranted, was selling Moscow contaminated grain and food high in radioactivity and harmful chemicals.
Russia's enemies were spying everywhere. Businessmen asking questions prior to making investments were stealing state secrets. Foreign evil-doers were fomenting rebellion in the restive republics. They even were causing a "brain drain" by "inspiring" scientists and intellectuals to emigrate.
Kryuchkov is a lucky man: He needn't worry whether he is paranoid or xenophobic. He is both.
To cap a memorable performance, the 66-year-old KGB careerist announced his willingness to "shed blood" to keep the freedom-seeking republics subservient to Moscow.
Kryuchkov's warnings about foreigners and local dissidents were amplified when his entire diatribe was featured on state-run television. This would not have happened without the approval of President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Later, Gorbachev or someone else smarter than Kryuchkov had second thoughts: The top cop's ravings might discourage America, Europe and Japan from providing aid. So, three days later, he sought out foreign correspondents to claim that he really hadn't meant what he said.
Kryuchkov's heartfelt attack and tactical retreat reveal the communist leadership's true feelings: We really hate you, you capitalist swine, but send food, send money.
The speech was doubly disturbing because it came two days after Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze resigned with the warning that "a dictatorship is approaching." Parliament, however, was more afraid of chaos and food shortages. It promptly gave Gorbachev dictatorial power, which he will use soon.
Gorbachev now has lost Shevardnadze, the architect of an enlightened foreign policy; Alexander Yakovlev, author of glasnost; and Vadim Bakatin, the liberal interior minister who opposed shooting ethnic protesters.
Admired in the West as a statesman, Gorbachev does deserve credit for paroling Eastern Europe from Moscow's prison system. But he also is a politician dedicated to his survival in office.
Having lost democrats, workers and intellectuals through economic and political tinkering, Gorbachev depends on the army, the KGB and Communist Party hacks. They are pushing him, or he is going willingly, to the right.
Among his autocratic powers are imposition of "presidential rule" - martial law - and removal from office of democratically elected officials who defy the Kremlin. The military-KGB-party cabal behind Gorbachev has targeted independence-minded Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Georgians, Armenians and Moldavians for lessons in "law and order."
Gorbachev, winner of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, is ready to smash them to preserve his so-called "union." And the KGB's Kryuchkov is more than eager to do the bloody job.