FOR several weeks now, the Bush administration has been prodding
Moscow to cut military aid to Nicaragua.
If the Soviets were to oblige, says a State Department official,
it would send important signals to the Sandinistas: that they must
follow through on internal democratization; that Soviet largesse has
reached its limit; and that the Sandinistas must face a decline in
their war-making capabilities.
What's in it for Moscow? Washington has been studiously vague on
this. Accommodation would encourage an overall improvement in
relations, United States officials say. A nonresponse will have
"repercussions," they add ominously. They won't say how long the
Soviets have to pass this test of their so-called "new thinking".
But, says the official at State, Washington is approaching this
the way it did Soviet human rights; that is, to keep raising the
issue until the Soviets understand how important it is to the US.
Then, this reasoning goes, Moscow will find a way to oblige. When
Secretary of State James Baker III visits his Soviet counterpart in
Moscow next month, Nicaragua will be an important agenda item, the
So far, Soviet officials here, as well as visiting Soviet experts
on Latin America, are not impressed by Washington's demands. They
resent being given ultimatums.
"This can only lead us back to the times of early Reagan," says
Sergo Mikoyan, editor of the Soviet journal Latin America.
"The US has no right to demand," says Mr. Mikoyan, who notes he
is speaking for himself and not his government. "If the Americans
could say that they behave in accord with the agreements on
Afghanistan that they signed only last year, well, then. This is my
first consideration, and the second is that they have no right to
demand we stop military aid to Nicaragua [while] there is a massive
military buildup in El Salvador and Honduras."
It appears the Soviets are still considering how to react to
Washington's new Nicaragua policy. Says a Soviet diplomat: "Not
everything is clear in US policy."
The Soviets appear to be approaching policymaking on this issue
with their usual caution. And, suggests another visiting Soviet
specialist on Latin America, perhaps Gorbachev needs to protect
himself politically from hard-liners by not appearing to give in to
US wishes too quickly.
In raising the heat on the Soviets, Secretary Baker may also be
protecting his conservative flank. In last month's bipartisan accord
on policy toward Nicaragua, he made concessions to the
Over the last 30 years, and especially the last 10, the Soviets
have made themselves a player in Latin America, and with relatively
little cost (Cuba's $5 billion annual subsidy aside) or effort. …