The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

THE GULF WAR AND THE POLITICAL STRUGGLE IN THE USSR MARCH 1991

Although Soviet troops did not fight in the Gulf War, the Gulf War clearly
influenced the nature of the Soviet Union's internal struggle. This snapshot
shows both the conservative and liberal forces battling to exploit the Gulf
War--a battle exacerbated by Gorbashev's continued inability to adopt and
maintain a firm policy position.

In mid-February, Soviet TV broadcast the proceedings of a large meeting in Leningrad. The meeting had been called by various conservative organizations eager to criticize the work of their democratically elected local governments. These governments, the first of their kind in the Soviet Union, had been disappointing their constituencies with increasing frequency, and the conservatives were anxious to exploit that disappointment.

Among the posters and placards on display at the meeting was one that featured a smiling Saddam Hussein cradling a little girl. As the camera focused on this image, the reporter, looking surprised, asked, "What is the relevance of the Iraqi leader to this gathering?" His confusion was, of course, feigned, since he knew perfectly well why Saddam Hussein's visage had appeared in the Leningrad square: The conservatives and Russophiles had enlisted him in their movement.

Developments in the Soviet Union and Kuwait have been closely connected since the beginning of the Gulf crisis, and the Soviet people have made direct connections between the Gulf crisis and the conservative offensive in their country--particularly the bloody developments in the Baltic republics.

The dominant feeling in Moscow is that recent Soviet domestic developments have been possible only because the Kremlin assumes that the Allied countries--especially the United States--are so involved in the Gulf crisis and so appreciative of Soviet support that they will not seriously protest a shift to the right in Soviet domestic affairs. Many Soviets, for example, feared that the outbreak of war would overshadow a crackdown on the Lithuanian independence movement. Although, thankfully, fears about world indifference to developments in the Baltic region proved unfounded, the Soviets appear to have been correct regarding the Kremlin's line of thought--the bloody events in Vilnius occurred just three days after the beginning of the war in the Gulf.

For the Soviet national republics fighting for independence, and especially for the Baltic republics, the invasion of Kuwait symbolizes the brutal treat-

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