Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Moscow's restless empire

We all know that the Soviet are having problems in Poland and Afghanistan. The people of neither country are happy about being pushed around and dominated by men from Moscow.

Poland is making remarkable progress toward internal independence. The Afghanistan rebels are in the field this spring in greater force than last year and probably control more of the country today than do the puppet regimes in Kabul and the Soviet army of occupation.

About these ads

But does it stop there?

On the surface everyone in the Soviet Union or in its neighboring dependencies is a faithful supporter of the regime in the Kremlin and of the Marxist-Leninist system. But in fact resistance, deviation, and dissent keep cropping up.

For example, a report from Western diplomatic sources discloses that there was a series of demonstrations against the Soviet system in Estonia last fall. The desire for independence exists in all three of the former Baltic Republics --ans, the most prosperous of the ethnic minorities, are also the most restive. The report shows 2,000 schoolchildren and students in one demonstration, a thousand in another. The Estonian national flag was waved -- a particularly bold thing to do any place in the Soviet Union.

Of course, the Soviets blame all this on "subversion" from external "capitalist" sources. But the best evidence of trouble is their very claim that it is caused by the external sources. They would not need to invent an explanation if there were no dissenters or demonstrations.

Obviously, no ethnic minority inside the Soviet Union's frontiers is going to make good its urge for national independence so long as the Kremlin retains the relative strength it has today. The loyalty of the Soviet Army and the Soviet secret police to the Kremlin is not in doubt. There has been no hint of trouble in those two institutions and, so long as they remain loyal, the Kremlin can control all within its frontiers.

The Army is also the main instrument for controlling the dependencies or satellites which are contiguous in territory, although outside those formal frontiers. Poland may be able to gain internal democracy. The story is not finished. How far can the Poles go toward independent trade unions and farmers' groups before there is a counterrevolution imposed by the Soviet Army? Poland's friends must watch with hope and anxiety.

But loyalty to Moscow in foreign affairs is not in question even in Poland. The Polish Army is under Soviet command. And the Soviet Army surrounds Poland. There is no immediate possibility of an escape by Poland from the Soviet system. That whole system would have to crack before any neighboring dependency could become truly independent.

About these ads

Outside that area is the third part of the Soviet imperial system; the countries, most of them in the third world, which have entered into agreements or arrangements with Moscow which make them military and economic clients and sometimes political clients as well.

How well are the Soviets doing at making friends among countries which are able to choose freely between an East or West alignment? They are doing too well for Washington's comfort and taste, but not well in terms of the opportunities they once seemed to enjoy. The breakup of the European empires should have given them an ideal opportunity to exploit anticolonialism, but their success has been limited and, with two exceptions, does not seem to be taking deep roots.

The main exceptions are Cuba and Vietnam. Both are heavily dependent on Moscow but both are also heavy drains on the Soviet treasury.

In Africa, almost all of which was in some European colonial empire before World War II, Moscow has gained three main clients: Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique. Ethiopia had always been independent. Angola and Mozambique were Portuguese colonies. No former British colony has yet been recruited firmly into the Soviet system. Most former French colonies remain in the French cultural and political orbit.

Ghana, a former British colony, and Somalia, a former Italian protectorate, were both at one time Soviet clients. Both have since broken away. Ethiopia and mozambique seem to be happy in the Soviet association. Angola has moved toward increased trade with the West and has promised to send the Cuban troops still there away whenever the problem of Namibia is resolve d. The former colonies have not stampeded to Moscow's door

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.