BREST, U.S.S.R., AUG. 8 -- As official Soviet media appeared to be giving tacit endorsement to President Bush's decision to send thousands of troops to Saudi Arabia, Soviet army officers and recruits made clear in interviews that they did not approve of the behavior of Iraq, Moscow's longtime ally in the region.
Army officials interviewed during a two-day tour by Western journalists of military installations here in Byelorussia, the Ukraine and Leningrad said they could not countenance Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Some even said they were ready to fight alongside U.S. troops if the situation in the Persian Gulf region escalated further.
The Soviet Union has endorsed a United Nations package of economic sanctions and an arms embargo against Iraq but so far has remained vague on its military intentions in the region.
Moscow has sent two warships to the mouth of the gulf, but its ambassador to Sweden said today that the United Nations trade boycott against Iraq should be enough to press the Iraqis into withdrawing from Kuwait.
"No conflicts justify the use of military force. Such actions must be rejected and stopped," said Ambassador Nikolai Uspensky in an interview with the Swedish newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet.
However, higher-ranking Soviet officials have been silent on the U.S. deployment of 4,000 paratroops and combat aircraft in Saudi Arabia.
The popular Soviet television news program "Vremya" gave a bare-bones factual report about the Bush administration's moves in the Persian Gulf but offered no commentary. Considering Moscow's past close relations with Iraq and the fact that the Soviets have been one of Iraq's major arms suppliers, such silence was interpreted here as a kind of tacit endorsement of U.S. action.
In interviews, Soviet military personnel displayed anger with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and a readiness to cooperate, if necessary, in any multinational efforts against Iraq.
In Brest, Col. Stanislav Kuliyev said: "Military cooperation between the two countries is possible, especially when it comes to such outright aggression as we're seeing now in the Persian Gulf. Maybe the means of cooperation is through United Nations troops."
At an installation near the Ukrainian city of Chernigov, Gen. Boris Gromov, who led the last troops out of Afghanistan, said, "the situation has to be solved peacefully, and by that I mean that Iraq must remove its troops from Kuwait." Gromov, like many officers interviewed, said that while the relaxation of East-West tensions had greatly reduced the threat of large-scale warfare, Iraq's massive army and its invasion of Kuwait last week was "sad proof" of the need for "vigilance."
Some officers who had served in the Middle East said they were less than surprised by Iraq's aggression. "I spent more than three years serving in the Middle East -- in Syria and Lebanon -- and I saw that Kuwait creates wealth and Iraq just creates an army, and what you are seeing is the result," said Maj. Gen. Vladislav Lisovski, deputy commander of the Leningrad military region, one of 14 such regions in the Soviet Union.
"No one can endorse what Iraq did; never mind the treaties we've had with them. I think the Soviet Union is ready to help apply social and economic pressure. Let's hope it doesn't come to military pressure," Lisovski continued.
One young soldier at the artillery training school outside Leningrad, Anatoli Tretyachenko, was asked if he were ready to fight alongside troops from the West in the Middle East. He smiled, and said, "Yes."
Maj. Gen. Alexander Kalnyev of Moscow said: "It's clear that the United States and the Soviet Union are drawing ever closer in their military objectives. I'm not talking about direct attack, but if we work together, I don't see that there is any problem that we can't solve, in the military sense.
"Countries cannot just impose their will on other countries the way Iraq has."