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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers