Viktor Alksnis says he's "just a regular guy," but Soviet reformers call him one of the colonels who is forcing Mikhail S. Gorbachev to roll back reforms or face a bloody civil war.
"The conflict could start at any moment," Alksnis said in an interview. "The situation in hot spots of the Soviet Union is so bad that spontaneous military action might take place there."Forgoing his blue air force stripes, Alksnis wore a black leather jacket and badges identifying him as a member of the Soviet and Latvian legislatures.
Lounging in his suite at the Moscow Hotel near the Kremlin, the tall, beefy 40-year-old radar engineer seemed an unlikely candidate to lead the reaction against Gorbachev's reforms. Alksnis' grandfather, a three-star general in the Red Army, was shot as a traitor by dictator Josef Stalin.
Alksnis says he has three political goals: a state based on laws rather than power, an economy based on market forces rather than central planning along the Stalinist model, and a voluntary rather than a forced federation of the 15 Soviet republics.
Yet, a few minutes after reformer Eduard A. Shevardnadze announced his resignation as foreign minister Dec. 20, warning that "dictatorship" was stalking the Kremlin, Alksnis strode victoriously to the podium.
His ice-blue eyes flashing under swept-back black hair, Alksnis applauded the resignation and proclaimed himself a "hawk" and a "reactionary."
Although Shevardnadze did not mention Alksnis by name, he castigated "colonels" who were using legislative pulpits to badger Gorbachev into undoing much of perestroika.
The seeming contradictions in Alksnis' position underscore the difficulty of understanding the political situation in the Soviet Union, where the reformers seem to be under attack by their former hero, Gorbachev.
And such apparent hard-liners as Alksnis adopt the form if not the substance of perestroika: democracy and greater openness.
"Call me Viktor," a jovial Alksnis said. He began the interview by proclaiming, "I'm just a regular guy."
The same Alksnis accuses Gorbachev of betraying army officers who responded to a call from the shadowy Lithuanian National Salvation Committee and attacked a Lithuanian television tower Jan. 13. Thirteen civilians and one soldier were killed in the attack, the goriest chapter in the crackdown on the Baltics.
The Soviet president has denied advance knowledge of the attack in Lithuania and separate incidents that have claimed five lives in neighboring Latvia. Alksnis said, "Gorbachev must have been informed."
"Any movement of armed troops in the Soviet Union can occur only if the president gives an order or is informed," he said.
"We don't have a copy of this order, but the defense minister does not have the right to send troops to any part of the Soviet Union, especially in the Baltics, without having an order from the president."
Gorbachev's spokesman, Vitaly N. Ignatenko, denied Alksnis' accusations.
Alksnis said Gorbachev sanctioned creation of the National Salvation Committees in the Baltics, intending them to rival elected legislatures.
Crisis at 'danger' level
The Communist Party said in a statement Sunday the social crisis in the country has reached "the danger limit" beyond which looms social upheaval.
The statement, issued after a plenum of the Central Commitee last Thursday and published Sunday, said anarchy already reigned in some areas.
"The social crisis in the country has reached the danger limit, beyond which destructive social upheavals are possible," the statement said.
It charged the leaders of some republics striving for independence are "nationalist totalitarian regimes proclaiming a mythical supremacy of the nation's rights over the world's universally recognized rights of the individual and citizens."
Although it expressed sorrow over the army killings of 14 Lithuanians on Jan. 13, the statement indicated that republics' "anti-constitutional acts" led to the misfortune.
Although the Communist Party surrendered its constitutional guarantee of one-party rule last year, it still controls all the levers of economic authority and retains enormous political clout as the most organized political body in the country.