The mayor of Moscow was misidentified yesterday in a story about democratization in the Soviet Union. He is Gavril Popov. (Published 1/29/91)

MOSCOW, JAN. 27 -- Last week's Kremlin decrees authorizing joint military and police patrols of major cities and KGB inspection of all domestic and foreign businesses here are not isolated measures, but elements in a continuing reversal of the historic trend toward democratization that Mikhail Gorbachev began when he came to power nearly six years ago.

"The mood among all democrats now is absolute gloom," said Vitaly Goldanski, a scientist and reformist member of the Soviet legislature. "We are watching the end of the Gorbachev thaw, and it is even more dramatic and terrible than the end of the reforms under Khrushchev."

"Of course, it depends where you are sitting," said Algimantas Cekoulis, a member of Soviet Lithuania's secessionist parliament, "but I am convinced that in the long run, what you are seeing now in the Soviet Union will prove more important historically than the war in the Persian Gulf. I don't think anyone doubts that the allied coalition will win in Iraq, but who will prevail in the Soviet Union? How much blood will be shed? This is not some isolated issue for the tiny Baltic states, or even for the Soviet Union. The course of events in this country will have a dramatic effect on the fate of Europe and even of the United States."

Hard-liners in the Soviet legislature who have demanded a crackdown on rebellious Soviet republics and democracy movements seem disappointed only that Gorbachev's move toward suppression did not come sooner or more decisively. In an interview with the mass-circulation weekly Argumenty i Fakty, army Lt. Col. Viktor Alksnis, a leader of the conservative legislative faction Soyuz, even indicated that he believed the army could shift eventually from a strategy of behind-the-scenes pressure on Gorbachev to outright mutiny.

When asked if hard-line Communist Party leaders might want to take power "at the point of a bayonet," Alksnis said: "It cannot be ruled out that the army may switch to a more autonomous regime of work. Right now the situation in the army is comparable to the way it was in 1917," the pivotal year of the Russian Revolution during which the army abandoned the weak provisional government of Alexander Kerensky en masse and sided either with the Bolshevik revolutionaries or anti-socialist military leader Lavr Kornilov.

Alksnis, the legislative representative of Soviet troops stationed in Latvia, does not necessarily speak for his superiors, but it has become clear in recent months that he often gives brash public expression to the anger and increasing political confidence of the army, the Interior Ministry police, the KGB and the Communist Party.

Last week's decrees, particularly the one authorizing army troops and police to begin joint patrols in all major cities beginning Feb. 1, have plunged freely elected parliamentary and municipal leaders in the Soviet Union's 15 republics into deep despair. No longer do they talk with much conviction about further political and economic reform; instead, they speak defensively about holding back the "coming dictatorship," the chilling phrase used by Eduard Shevardnadze when he resigned as foreign minister last month.

Soviet historian Ruslan Skrynnikov has attracted large audiences in Leningrad with his lectures comparing the current situation to the "Time of Troubles," a 15-year period of instability and civil war in Russia during the early 17th century. An even more common comparison being made is to the eight months of turmoil and uncertainty following the fall of the last czar, Nicholas II, and the rise of Kerensky's interim government. Kerensky was subsequently overthrown by the Bolsheviks in what Harvard University historian Richard Pipes has said was not a popular revolution but a coup d'etat.

The current process, the hard-liners' furious counterattack against devolution of political power to the republics and disintegration of Communist ideology, began months ago, perhaps with Gorbachev's rejection of a broad program of radical economic reform in October.

Goldanski, who accompanied Shevardnadze on a trip to New York the following month, said that "even then Eduard Amvrosievich was expressing great alarm at what was happenening. He kept saying how naive the leadership had been, meaning that they had underestimated the enormous difficulty of changing a conservative environment and its forces."

With speeches and decrees, military and KGB officials became more and more public over succeeding weeks in expressing their intention to seize the political moment. The decree on joint military and police patrols, signed secretly Dec. 29 by Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov and Interior Minister Boris Pugo, was almost certainly under discussion before Shevardnadze's announcement less than two weeks earlier.

In a dramatic speech to the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies following Shevardnadze's resignation, Byelorussian writer and filmmaker Ales Adamovich declared that "colonels and generals" were crowding reformists out of the leadership with such ruthless efficiency that soon "only their epaulets" will be visible around Gorbachev.

Gorbachev, Adamovich said, "is the only leader in Soviet history who has not stained his hands with blood, and we would all like to remember him as such." Then, addressing Gorbachev directly, he added: "But a moment will come when {the military} will instigate a blood bath, and later they will wipe their bloodstained hands against your suit, and you will be to blame for everything. In the West, you are known as a political genius. I would like you to exercise your wisdom once again, otherwise you will lose perestroika reforms."

Many advocates of radical reform here are convinced that with the recent army and police violence against civilians in the Baltic republics of Lithuania and Latvia, the generals and party hard-liners have indeed left Gorbachev's reputation smeared with blood. "It's still confusing what role Gorbachev played in the Baltics," said Yuri Schekoshikin, a writer and member of the Soviet legislature, "but one way or another it is becoming impossible for him to represent anything resembling democratic change."

Although Gorbachev may have expressed regret over the deaths of at least 13 civilians in Lithuania and five in Latvia this month, his support for the military buildup in the Baltics, his dismissal of numerous reformists from office and his new reliance on hard-line decrees and policies make his decisive turn toward political repression unmistakable. In recent months, he has told Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian republic, and a number of other politicians that he has shifted to the side of conservative reaction "because our society has moved to the right."

Undoubtedly, empty store shelves and increasing crime rates in cities have made many Soviet citizens fearful of the future and nostalgic for "the iron hand" of previous Soviet regimes. Tatyana Zaslavskaya, a prominent Soviet sociologist and leading reform advocate, said results of her most recent polling show that a "surprisingly" large minority of about 20 percent favors a military coup.

But while reformists such as Zaslavskaya, Schekoshikin and Goldanski are clearly in retreat, they hope fervently that the reactionary offensive can be blunted and even reversed by the forces Gorbachev helped unleash in his first years in power. Among these, they cite the readier availability of information in the press and the rise of democratic power centers in major cities and republics.

Certainly the violence in the Baltics won no sympathy from the Russian-speaking minorities there that the army and police claim to be protecting. Polls in all three Baltic republics -- Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- show that the bloodshed has turned most of the non-indigenous population into supporters of Baltic independence.

But the forces of democracy have precious few weapons in a battle with the entrenched institutions of the KGB, military and Communist Party, and there is a feeling among them of furious impotence. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said the new decree on joint patrols could give the military sufficient pretext to take control of the capital or any other city anytime it deems necessary. As a result, political reformists are looking increasingly to Western political pressure to ensure that the crackdown will not extend further.

But many outspoken military hard-liners, such as Col. Nikolai Petrushenko, merely sneer at "the illusion" that foreign sanctions and protests could somehow reverse the political tide. "President Bush should mind his own business," Petrushenko said in an interview. "That would be the wisest course for him."