The recent Soviet bloody crackdown against Lithuania - resulting in the deaths of at least 14 people from guns or tanks and the serious injury of 140 - sent the worst kind of chill around the world. It may very well indicate a major setback in East-West relations.
With good reason, the other Baltic republics, Latvia and Estonia, have braced for possible crackdowns. Poland, which formed one state for five centuries with Lithuania - and where 50,000 Soviet troops still remain - fears that its people are also at risk.President Gorbachev, who has worked hard to gain a more respectable, reform-minded image in the world, has made a mockery of the Nobel Peace Prize. Indeed, a return to the iron-fisted methods of the '50s and '60s caused 10,000 Warsaw demonstrators at the Soviet Embassy to shout, "Gorbachev the killer."
In a 10-minute conversation with reporters, Gorbachev gave an extremely poor showing of leadership. When asked about the use of force, which he had renounced only Saturday, he blamed a local military commander for making the decision. He neither expressed any regret for the deaths nor explained why he waited until Monday to comment on the violence.
This is an unforgivable lapse in leadership. It means that either Gorbachev lacks the integrity to admit his role in the crackdown - or that the Soviet Army is assuming the authority formerly held by Gorbachev. Neither prospect is encouraging. The disturbing possibility that revolution may be just around the corner cannot be overlooked.
The conspiratorial timing of the crackdown is also unsettling. It was purposely done at a time when the rest of the world was completely distracted by the trauma of the Persian Gulf crisis, and therefore could not react normally.
Clearly, President Bush and European leaders need to reassess Western aid to the Soviet Union and determine whether the crackdown symbolizes a reversal of the reform begun by Gorbachev. As Bush said, "There is no justification for the use of force against peaceful and democratically elected governments."