Former Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze condemned the crackdown in the Baltic republics and the show of force in Moscow to quash dissent as "very dangerous experiments" that confirmed his warnings of approaching dictatorship.
In his first interview on Soviet television since his Dec. 20 resignation, Shevardnadze said on Sunday the threat from "reactionary forces" that he cited when he quit has increased in the past three months.Shevardnadze said conservatives and democrats are engaged in a deadly struggle for power in the Soviet Union, with the hard-liners representing more of a danger to the country.
"It is not from the side of the democrats that we should expect some sort of adventure, but precisely from the side of the extreme-right reactionary forces," he said. "They really do exist in our society."
The white-haired Georgian did not directly criticize Mikhail Gorbachev, but he offered only limp support and expressed dismay over several recent steps by the Soviet president.
In Washington, Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell of Maine, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, said he did not think Gorbachev would survive the current crisis "unless he takes the dramatic steps necessary to turn their economy around."
"I think he's got a host of problems, but I think the biggest problem and the one from which they all stem is the economic slide of the Soviet Union, the fact that daily living is more difficult for almost all Soviet citizens," Mitchell said.
"And I think unless and until he takes the dramatic step - that is, makes the break, goes to a free economy, endures the short-term pain that that involves - I don't see how it's possible for the government to continue in its current state."
Shevardnadze, at times clenching and unclenching his fist, said he requested air time on television because of his anguish over seeing military vehicles placed in the heart of the Soviet capital Thursday to stop pro-democracy activists from staging a rally outside the Kremlin.
"We all are concerned about what happened in the Baltics, in other regions, about yesterday's events in Moscow, about the barricades yesterday and the fact that military equipment was displayed," Shevardnadze said. "You know, this deeply upsets me. It seems to me that these are very dangerous experiments. I wanted to make this public statement today.
"This is impossible to permit. In all the postwar years, we didn't see military equipment on Red Square except for parades."