The blue-collar Okruzhnaya neighborhood has a Soviet city's typical dingy stores, persistent shoppers and dilapidated buildings. Now it has soldiers on patrol.
"We're here to enforce order in the streets," said 18-year-old army private Vladimir Belov, dutifully trailing his commanding officer in one of hundreds of new joint police-military patrols to hit streets nationwide this weekend.Ostensibly to curb rising crime rates and maintain public order, Belov's four-man unit walked the neighborhood's 10-block police beat this frigid winter weekend on the lookout for - what else? - crime and disorder.
Did they find any?
"Well, no," Belov said, chuckling, then regaining his composure. "But we're here just in case."
The patrol - accompanied by a pack of foreign journalists - was met by skewed glances, a derogatory shout and curious stares of residents. In a country long accustomed to uniformed authorities on its streets, the patrol added a new dimension of surveillance.
The four-man unit stopped in hotels, a beer hall and a department store. It meandered past the Okruzhnaya train station.
"They asked if everything is OK here, if there were any troubles," said the manager of a modest hotel on Gostinichny Street. "I said `no, everything's OK here.' But these guys showing up, now that's a little strange."
The patrols, criticized by reformers as a sign of a creeping military dictatorship, were ordered by Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov and Interior Minister Boris Pugo last month. Police tried to reassure the media and the public that only criminals had anything to fear.
The four-man squad consisted of Okruzhnaya's regular beat cop, an army lieutenant and two privates. The blue-uniformed police officer, Anatoly Kovel, carried a pistol, as did army Lt. Vasily Yorkin, who wore a gray overcoat bearing a special badge that said "Patrol."
The squad, led by Kovel with the lieutenant and privates walking behind, waded into Okruzhnaya's sole beer hall, an underheated, smoke-filled den of palpable depression and anger.
With the soldiers following, Kovel pushed his way through the crowd, checking identification papers and surveying the clientele. He led the soldiers out five minutes later.
Kovel later took the patrol into a department store near the Okruzhnaya train station, leading it past bundled shoppers skeptically examining Soviet-made jeans and dresses.
Storekeepers are known to hide extra inventory in back rooms for sale later to employees' friends or on the black market.
'Nyet' on crackdown
Less than a quarter of Soviet citizens surveyed after last month's crackdown in the Baltic republics supported President Mikhail Gorbachev's hard-line stand in the region, a national opinion poll said Monday.
The survey of 1,048 people in 14 cities, taken Jan. 23 by the National Public Opinion Studies Center, showed just 24 percent of those questioned approved of Gorbachev's stiffened policies in the Baltics, which declared independence last year.
Gorbachev's chief rival, Russian Federation leader Boris Yeltsin, drew a 46 percent approval rate for his support of the three Baltic states' struggle against Soviet rule.
Yeltsin signed a treaty of solidarity with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Jan. 14, the day after Soviet troops in tanks stormed the Vilnius television center in a bloody raid that left 14 people dead.
Soviet interior soldiers killed four people Jan. 14 in an assault on the Latvian Interior Ministry, and two other people died in separate shooting incidents last month in Riga and Vilnius.
Twenty-four percent of the poll participants said they approved of Gorbachev's handling of the Baltic crisis, 56 percent registered disapproval and 20 percent said they were not sure of their opinion.
Forty-six percent supported Yeltsin's stand, 28 percent disapproved and 26 percent cited uncertainty.