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Shadowy coalition gives Kremlin illusion of support 'Centrist Bloc' traced to KGB, Communists

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MOSCOW -- Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, chief of the Soviet KGB, is a busy man. But he found time last week to meet with the leaders of the Centrist Bloc of Political Parties and Movements, one of the most dubious of the dozens of political groups to spring up in this country over the last two years.

"Vremya," the nightly national television news program, is packed with domestic and foreign news. But Wednesday night the announcer broke into routine reports to read an item hot from the Teletype: The Centrist Bloc had met Mr. Kryuchkov.

Most of the fledgling non-Communist parties, even those with thousands of members, don't get to hold talks with the boss of the Soviet intelligence service and security police. Most don't get mentioned on "Vremya."

But since it was formed last June, the Centrist Bloc has been different. It has met not only with Mr. Kryuchkov, but also with Anatoly I. Lukyanov, chairman of the Soviet parliament, and Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, while he was still prime minister.

Why? The search for an answer leads along the winding path of a political detective story that passes through Vilnius, Lithuania, where 14 people died in what amounted to an aborted coup attempt last month. It is a story with alarming implications for a country whose Communist elite, having launched democratic reform, now seem determined to abandon it.

The Centrist Bloc is largely a paper organization, a coalition of a score of mostly minuscule or non-existent parties and groups.

Its leaders, Vladimir V. Voronin and Vladimir V. HD, are eccentrics who appeared suddenly on the political scene, make wild claims about their importance and are taken seriously by no political figures of any stature -- except, apparently, the Communist political leadership.

According to an article in the reformist weekly Moscow News last November, both men had brushes with the law in the 1970s.

Mr. Voronin, 53, served three years for misappropriation of state funds and currency profiteering before his sentence was suspended, the newspaper said. Mr. HD, 40, faced currency speculation charges while a law student at Moscow State University, but the charges were dropped after he agreed to cooperate with the KGB, according to Moscow News. A third prominent figure is Valery Skurlatov, previously known chiefly as the author of anti-Semitic tracts.

These facts, combined with the political magic that surrounds theCentrist Bloc, lead to one conclusion: It is controlled by the KGB and used on behalf of the Communist Party.

"The Centrist Bloc is a pro-Communist organization, created a the orders of the [Communist Party] Central Committee," said Vladimir V. Bogachev, an old colleague who broke with Mr. HD, accusing him of being a tool of the Communist Party and the KGB. "It was created to divide and destroy the democratic movement."

"In the whole democratic movement in Russia, not a thing is known about the so-called parties in the Centrist Bloc," said historian Yuri N. Afanasyev, a member of the Soviet parliament and co-chairman of the Democratic Russia movement, the dominant reformist coalition.

"It's obviously been created by the apparat to create the illusion of democratic forces supporting [President Mikhail S.] Gorbachev's policies,"Mr. Afanasyev said. "In my opinion, it's [being done by] the KGB and the apparat of the Communist Party."

Mr. Voronin and Mr. HD deny the charges and claim to be anti-Communists with no ties to the KGB. The KGB Center for Public Relations failed to reply last week to questions provided by The Sun, saying it might reply in the future.

Mr. Afanasyev and others point out that while Moscow's political insiders understand the Centrist Bloc perfectly, millions of ordinary Soviet citizens who see its announcements and declarations on television or in Tass releases in newspapers do not.

To them, it may well look like a legitimate, mass political coalition -- one that could cloak future tough measures by the regime, including the imposition of martial law, in legitimacy by issuing well-publicized endorsements.

Last Dec. 5, the Centrist Bloc announced that it had formed a National Salvation Committee -- chaired by Mr. Voronin -- to lead the Soviet Union out of crisis.

It called for a state of emergency in the whole country, a ban on all political parties and the replacement of local elected bodies with branches of the National Salvation Committee, which would rule with army support.

At the time, the announcement seemed absurd. The notion of Mr. Voronin as leader of a Soviet dictatorship was ludicrous. Tass duly reported the announcement, and Soviet papers printed it, but few people took it seriously.

Until last month -- when hard-line Communists in Lithuania claimed there had appeared in the republic an anonymous National Salvation Committee. The committee, following the Centrist Bloc's prescription, said it was seizing power from the Lithuanian parliament and called on the army for backing. When the army, ostensibly acting at the committee's orders, seized broadcast facilities in Vilnius on Jan. 13, 14 people were killed.

In retrospect, the coincidence of what the Centrist Bloc said in December and what the Lithuanian National Salvation Committee said in January appears too complete to have occurred by chance. Though Mr. Voronin denies there is a connection, a former associate of his asserts that the two events were part of a single plan.

The KGB's role in the Vilnius events, though it has received little notice in the West, was substantial. The only Soviet soldier killed in the Vilnius military assault on TV facilities was neither a paratrooper nor an Internal Affairs Ministry riot police officer. Viktor V. Shatskikh was a lieutenant in the KGB's 7th Directorate, a member of an elite anti-terrorist squad who apparently was killed by accident in the chaotic darkness of the early hours of Jan. 13.

An investigation by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, published last week, concluded that the elite KGB troops played a significant role in the Vilnius events. They supported, and possibly posed as, "worker volunteers" who supposedly were angry about anti-Soviet and anti-army propaganda on Lithuanian television. And the troops participated, and possibly led, the assault on the broadcast facilities.

Moreover, the paper stressed, the KGB's 7th Directorate troops take orders only from KGB headquarters in Moscow. The journalists cite this fact, among others, to disprove the Kremlin's claim that the decision to use force against peaceful demonstrators was made by a local garrison commander, not by Moscow.

In light of the events of December and January, Mr. Kryuchkov's meeting last week with the Centrist Bloc seems both logical and ominous. The Interfax news agency reported that Mr. Kryuchkov told the delegation that "the Soviet Union's domestic problems will continue to escalate."

The bloc's leaders, according to Interfax, told Mr. Kryuchkov that they welcomed President Gorbachev's recent moves to activate the KGB to enforce law and order and to control economic sabotage.

Mr. Voronin, at a news conference the day before his meeting with Mr. Kryuchkov, said that the meeting was "one of the last in a series of meetings that are all in preparation for our meeting with President Gorbachev." He did not say when that meeting might take place.

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