The Independent Archive: Hardliners in Kremlin warn of civil war

4 September 1989 While the President is away, Communist hardliners demand action to quell nationalism, reports Helen Womack from Moscow

WITH PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev on holiday by the Black Sea, Kremlin conservatives went on the offensive at the weekend, openly demanding action to quell the nationalist unrest sweeping the fringe republics of the Soviet Union. A string of statements by party hardliners included a warning that the Armenians and Azeris in Nagorny Karabakh were on the brink of civil war and that troops there have lost control.

But, even as they spoke, 100,000 people were demonstrating in the Azeri capital of Baku for more autonomy from Moscow; almost as many people rallied in four Ukrainian cities against a draft election law; Russian workers were striking in Moldavia against the new language law; and Estonian party activities met to discuss how to make the local party more independent of Moscow.

The Soviet Union is more on edge than at any time since Mr Gorbachev came to power in 1985. There is even a stirring of discontent in the vast Ukraine, with a population of 50 million, Mr Gorbachev's ultimate nightmare. It is the centre of Soviet heavy industry and the nation's main grain- growing area. Moscow is looking anxiously to 17 September, the 50th anniversary of the "liberation" of the western Ukraine from Poland.

The hardline attacks were led by the former Politburo ideologue Yegor Ligachev, who was sidelined to take responsibility for agriculture last year. He appeared on national television calling for measures to stop the "erosion of socialism", though he said these should be "political" and not "repressive".

He said the Kremlin had a "constitutional duty" to tighten the reins on nationalist unrest. "Nationalists and separatists of various hues are actively working to disunite and waken the leadership," he said. His prescription was tighter party discipline and better communication between party and public.

To dampen speculation that the conservatives might be acting without Mr Gorbachev's assent, Mr Ligachev stressed that the whole Politburo had agreed the 26 August warning from the Central Committee to the Baltic states that they were heading towards "the abyss".

As if to underline that Mr Gorbachev was still in charge, Tass yesterday carried the full text of a message from him to the Non-Aligned summit in Belgrade. In Mr Gorbachev's absence, however, the party daily Pravda has shifted sharply to the right; for 10 days running, it has campaigned against the growing demands for autonomy - and sometimes outright independence - in several of the non-Russia republics.

The warning over Nagorny Karabakh came from Arkady Volsky, the chairman of a Kremlin committee set up to administer the region, whose Armenian majority want to secede from Azerbaijan. The army daily Red Star yesterday quoted him as saying the region was a "powderkeg" which was ready to blow up and that the two communities were "on the brink of civil war". In the same issue, an army colonel stationed in Nagorby Karabakh said his troops had practically no power to control the huge violent protests which have rent Armenia and Azerbaijan.

At the weekend rally in Baku, there were passionate appeals for a general strike from today to back demands for local autonomy and for firmer Azeri control over Nagorny Karabakh.

Among those who joined Mr Ligachev in condemning such demands was the former KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov. He urged that unspecified measures be taken to "strengthen law enforcement bodies and enhance their prestige". Using rhetoric reminiscent of the Brezhnev era, he said: "Murderers, violators and bandits should not go unpunished, no matter what flags they raise and in what brightly coloured national costumes they are clad."

It is this tone which has so disturbed the three Baltic states, whose popular front movements have appealed to the United Nations for protection. At the weekend, the Communist Party in Estonia reiterated its policy of accelerating perestroika and sacked two party officials regarded as conservatives.

From the front page of `The Independent', Monday 4 September 1989

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker