Western food aid is financing the Soviet crackdown on the democratic forces not only in the Baltic republics but also in Russia itself.
Internal Ministry police, or MVD, are in control of the donated food and are distributing it to the politically reliable supporters of the old communist order.Despite the food shipments, the Soviet press reports continuing shortages, especially in cities where elected politicians have wrested power from the Communist Party. Democratic leaders say food is being used against them as a weapon in an attempt to embarrass them as ineffective leaders. Reports of stocks of food spoiling amid shortages give some credibility to these suspicions.
Mikhail Gorbachev's move against the democratic forces is proving correct those analysts who predicted a crackdown would be the result of the Bush administration's decision to put all its diplomatic eggs in Gorbachev's basket. By failing to support the democratically elected leaders of the various republics, the West provided no counter-pressure to offset the Soviet hard-liners' demands that Gorbachev do something "to restore order."
President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker thought they had to keep at arms length Russian President Boris Yeltsin, along with democratic leaders in the Baltics and the Ukraine, in order not to undermine Gorbachev. They did not realize that by withholding support for these people, they undermined Gorbachev's reformist position and allowed hard-liners to increase their influence.
Gorbachev could keep things moving in a favorable direction only by balancing the angry demands of the threatened Soviet establishment with the strength of new elected politicians. Though discredited, the old order is still in control, and the West needed to strengthen with its support the weaker, newly emerging republic leaders.
Since Western aid was given in order to support Gorbachev and better Soviet relations, Gorbachev could not argue that a clamp-down would be costly in terms of Western support. He couldn't explain to the military that it would deny them Western technology, or tell the cadres that it would cost financial support and food aid.
The Bush administration's miscalculation has led to violence in the Baltics and the use of Soviet troops against protesting civilians. Some fear that Gorbachev will be pushed by the military to assert direct rule over Russia itself and to shove aside or arrest Yeltsin.
The hard-line resurgence in the Soviet Union comes at an inopportune time, with the bulk of U.S. forces arrayed against Saddam Hussein in the Middle East - where Soviet generals can watch our performance and become emboldened or alarmed.
No matter how just the cause, going to war with Iraq does not make America look peaceful. Despite Bush's rhetoric about a "new world order," Soviet generals will simply see American determination to employ military force to control oil in distant countries.
With Gorbachev at war with his own republics and the United States at war in the Middle East, hopes of a new world order may be premature. Indeed, a new world order could be brewing that is different from the one Bush has in mind.
(Paul Craig Roberts is the William E. Simon professor of political economy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington and is a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.)