THE Soviet Union has carefully signaled its support for the
buildup of US and Western military forces in the Persian Gulf.
The dispatch of two warships from the Soviet Indian Ocean
flotilla into the Gulf, diplomatic sources here believe, is a step
toward joining a possible multinational naval blockade to enforce
the United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
At this writing, there had been no official Soviet government
response to the United States deployment of troops and aircraft into
Saudi Arabia. Soviet press and other sources have indicated the
Soviets would oppose a unilateral US assault on Iraq. But, says an
informed diplomatic source, if Iraq goes into Saudi Arabia, the
possibility goes up that the Soviets will intervene with the US in
support of the Saudis.
Diplomatic sources say Secretary of State James Baker III called
his Soviet counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, on Aug. 7, presumably
to inform him about the US troop movements.
But the tone of the Soviet press commentary remains toughly
anti-Iraq and largely supportive of the US response. The Soviet
military daily Red Star carried a strongly worded analysis Aug. 8 of
the military situation in the Gulf, written before the announcement
of the US action.
"It turns out that Baghdad's statement on the withdrawal of its
troops from Kuwait, even if it is really implemented, is nothing but
eyewash, since a pro-Iraqi `Kuwaiti popular army' (with Iraqi
volunteers) and the puppet government will stay there," Red Star
"Their task is evident: to consolidate the results of the armed
invasion.... The international community cannot tolerate aggression,
no matter who commits it."
The Red Star commentary praised US "restraint" so far in the
crisis, crediting this to the change in Soviet foreign policy toward
cooperation with the West. "It seems that they in the West are aware
that military actions against Iraq would involve great difficulties
and also are fraught with danger of a wider-scale war," the paper
The Iraqi invasion has clearly given Moscow an opportunity to
revise its policy toward its long-time clients in the third world
and to tighten ties to the West.
"It's a new turn of events," comments a knowledgeable Middle East
diplomat. "What is uppermost in the minds of the Soviets today is
cooperation with the West, seeing themselves as part of a new world
order. They don't want to be outsiders anymore."
Mr. Shevardnadze said as much in a joint press conference with
Secretary of State Baker at a Moscow airport Aug. 3.
"Despite the traditional good relations we've had with (Iraq), we
are being forced to take these steps and make these statements,
because what is being done in Kuwait and this aggression is
inconsistent with the principles of new political thinking and, in
fact, with the principles of civilized relations between nations. …