Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov asserted today that the Soviet Union is determined to counter effectively the planned deployment of U.S. medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe.
Apparently responding to statements by Reagan administration officials arguing that Moscow eventually may accept the U.S. deployment, Ustinov said:
"We will take such countermeasures that will make the military threat to the territory of the United States and the countries on whose territories American missiles will be deployed the same as the one the United States is trying to create for the Soviet Union and our allies."
Alluding to the period before Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, Ustinov said, "We will never forget the tragedy brought upon the people by the policy of appeasing the aggressor.
"Mindful of that, we are duty bound to take measures and to respond to the growth of the nuclear threat, respond in such a way that the sense of self-preservation should prevail in the potential aggressor over the intention to unleash an aggression against us."
Ustinov was Soviet minister of armaments in 1941, the year of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. His reference to "the policy of appeasing" touched on perhaps the most traumatic event in Soviet history. Having concluded a pact with Hitler in 1939, Stalin took pains not to provoke the German dictator and thus left the country poorly prepared for the oncoming conflict.
As a result, the Germans sliced through western Russia and reached the gates of Moscow in two months. Ustinov personally supervised evacuation of more than 300 industrial plants from European Russia to the Urals in that short period.
By raising the "appeasement" issue in his interview with the government news agency Tass, Ustinov appeared to be putting forward the views of the military chiefs on the missile deployment issue.
However, Ustinov's tone was unusually conciliatory. He asserted that Moscow was not striving for military superiority and that western claims about Soviet superiority were "a fabricated, malicious lie."
Although he mentioned both Pershing II and cruise missiles due to be deployed in five NATO countries, Ustinov identified Pershing II as "a first-strike weapon."
Soviet officials normally identify both Pershing II and cruise missiles as first-strike weapons.
Observers here said Ustinov's remarks appear to reflect an internal debate over the possibility of a compromise at the Geneva talks on limiting nuclear arms in Europe. Marshal Sergei Akhromeev, the first deputy chief of the Soviet general staff, indicated in talks with a group of visiting U.S. congressmen recently that the "walk in the woods" formula rejected by both Moscow and Washington last fall could now be revived.
The formula worked out informally by the top U.S. and Soviet negotiators at Geneva would call for dismantling some Soviet SS20 missiles and the deployment of some U.S. cruise missiles--but no Pershing II ballistic missiles--in Western Europe.
Asked about the "walk in the woods" formula, a Soviet Defense Ministry spokesman, Lt. Gen. Mikhail Kiriyan, acknowledged in an interview that such an informal arrangement had been discussed last year but said that it was no longer current.
The Soviet military chiefs now expect that the United States will deploy new nuclear missiles in Western Europe, Kiriyan said. But, he added, "the numbers and character" of these weapons could be limited through negotiations.
Ustinov today criticized as "selfish" the U.S. position at the Geneva talks and said that the Soviet delegation at the talks was not seeking "unilateral advantages."
"Naturally, everyone at the talks presses for more advantageous conditions," Ustinov said, "but if the subject of the talks is problems of fundamental interests to states, the talks can be conducted only with due regard for each other's legitimate interests."