The U.S. denunciation of a Soviet plan to send troops into the Baltic republics and elsewhere to enforce the military draft shows Washington's growing concern about a shift to the right by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
In an abrupt about-face after months of offering Gorbachev encouragement and support, the White House on Tuesday charged the Soviet plan to use its military to track down draft dodgers and deserters in the breakaway republics was "provocative and counterproductive.""This action represents a serious step toward escalation of tension within the USSR and makes the peaceful evolution of relations among the people of the Soviet Union more difficult," presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said in a statement.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the harshness of Fitzwater's language was meant to show rising concern within the Bush administration about the recent trend toward more authoritarian rule.
"This was a logical continuation of steps Gorbachev has been taking in the last couple of months," a senior State Department official said.
The official cited the replacement of a liberal interior minister by a hard-liner, a tough speech by the head of the KGB warning of a breakdown in law and order, and Gorbachev's efforts to consolidate his power in a new government.
The crackdown also followed the surprise resignation of Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who warned the Soviet Congress last month that Gorbachev's democratic reforms were imperiled by the threat of a new dictatorship. And there is growing talk in Moscow that the president soon will impose martial law.