MOSCOW, FEB. 10 -- Confident and flush with a sense of power, Soviet hard-liners in the military and the Communist Party have begun an open attack on what had long been considered Mikhail Gorbachev's one unassailable success: his foreign policy.
Influential hard-liners such as former Politburo member Yegor Ligachev, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, the Kremlin's top military adviser, and Col. Viktor Alksnis, head of the Soyuz legislative faction, argue to varying degrees that six years of Gorbachev's "new thinking" in diplomacy have seriously undermined the prestige and security of the Soviet Union.
Although much of the West's original support for, and trust in, Gorbachev was rooted in his foreign policy initiatives -- the massive troop reductions in Europe, the arms agreements with the United States, the hands-off policy in Eastern Europe -- hard-liners now speak angrily of an ideological, economic and geopolitical sellout.
Ligachev, who was forced out of the leadership in July but remains influential among party bureaucrats and military officers, told the newspaper Kuranty that "the events of 1989 in Eastern Europe were a defeat for socialism . . . a victory of imperialism and a benefit for NATO."
"For the present, I see only the weakening of the Warsaw Pact and the strengthening of NATO. And I don't like that," Ligachev added. "There is no doubt that . . . the very security of the Soviet Union has decreased."
Akhromeyev, in an interview with the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya, said, "Circles in the West are trying now to dictate their terms to us, even to determine what kind of policy we should pursue internally. More often now they try to approach us from a position of strength and try to press on us policies in conflict with our own interests."
Alksnis, the 40-year-old leader of the hard-line Soyuz faction in the legislature, said in an interview that the Soviet Union's position in the world has shriveled to such an extent "that what we need now is our own Monroe Doctrine, our own isolationism."
Gorbachev's proclaimed goal had been integration of the Soviet Union into the world community, the creation of "a common European home."
Alksnis also accused the Kremlin of making a pact with the multinational alliance against Iraq that will "inevitably lead" to the presence of U.S. troops near the Soviet Azerbaijani border long after the war in the Persian Gulf has ended. He said the celebrated success of Gorbachev's foreign policy is merely "the last myth" of his years in power -- and now that myth is "collapsing."
From the moment Eduard Shevardnadze resigned as foreign minister in December, Gorbachev and other key leaders have tried to reassure the West that Moscow has no intention of shifting course in foreign policy.
The appointment of Alexander Bessmertnykh, the former ambassador to the United States, as Shevardnadze's replacement was widely interpreted here and abroad as a gesture to prove that despite a distinctly hard-line turn in domestic policy, Gorbachev intended to maintain his reformist course in foreign affairs.
But Bessmertnykh, as a career diplomat, does not have the sort of power base that Shevardnadze, as a party leader in Georgia and Moscow, brought to the position. Bessmertnykh's ability to shape, rather than merely carry out, policy will be far less, analysts here said.
The influence of the increasing hard-line criticism is already evident in certain areas, Soviet sources said. Moscow's position on the Persian Gulf is more ambivalent than it was when Shevardnadze first formed a coalition with the United States last August. Gorbachev warned the alliance Saturday that its military strategy in the gulf appears in danger of going beyond its U.N. mandate.
Sources also said that the Foreign Ministry's relationship with hard-line Communist client states -- especially Cuba -- has grown considerably warmer in the past few months after several years of chill. Military and party forces have fought hard against further cuts in aid to Cuba, they said.
In an article published this week in Moscow News headlined "The 'New Thinking' Is Ending," political analyst Andrei Lipsky wrote that the current trend will likely mean greater hesitation to sign arms-reduction agreements with the West, an increase in support of hard-line socialist states in the Third World and the "revival of a sense of external danger in order to strengthen a defensive mentality and to 'discipline' society."
Other analysts here agree. "With the conservatives showing their muscle now, the danger is of a reappearance of a Cold War mentality," said Andrei Melville, a foreign policy academic here.
Some of that conspiratorial Cold War mentality is already evident in the speeches and articles of hard-line critics. Alksnis and Col. Nikolai Petrushenko are among those who accuse the West of trying to hasten the collapse of the Soviet state by secretly funding pro-independence groups in the Baltic states and anti-Communist political organizations such as the Interregional Group of radical deputies in the legislature.
To a great extent, the hard-liners are resentful that the Soviet Union is no longer being dealt with like a superpower, an equal of the United States.
Last week, the conservative weekly Literaturnaya Rossiya charged Western leaders with using "threatening tones" and economic sanctions against Gorbachev in their attempts to ease the crisis in the Baltic states. "Of course, during the Cold War we got well accustomed to such external pressure from the West," the paper said.
The debate over foreign policy here has deep ideological roots. Shevardnadze, picking up the themes of numerous academics and writers, argued that Soviet foreign policy would never again be based on the old Marxist-Leninist basis of class war, but rather on "common human values." Ligachev and other conservative Communists made last-ditch arguments for the class-struggle approach favored under Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev.
Shevardnadze's view prevailed, and the victory meant that Moscow would no longer base its decisions on ideology. Such a policy allowed Gorbachev to reconsider aid to countries such as Cuba and Iraq. It provided a logic for the laissez-faire policy in Eastern Europe, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the reductions of troops and arms in Europe and the Pacific, and the general end to decades of xenophobic policy.
The "new thinking" was never entirely free from criticism. At a Central Committee session in February 1990, Vladimir Brovikov, then Moscow's envoy to Poland, lashed out at the Kremlin for its passivity in Eastern Europe.
"We have brought the motherland to an awful state," Brovikov said, "turning it from an empire admired throughout the world to a state with an inglorious present and indefinite future. And all this to the great pleasure of the West, which is praising us and at the same talking about the collapse of a colossus with feet of clay and the death of communism and world socialism. And we ourselves try to present all that as a success of our perestroika reforms!"
At the time, the pro-reform forces in the leadership were still strong and Shevardnadze and Gorbachev easily rebuffed Brovikov.
But Brovikov's brand of fury and criticism is no longer considered shocking or eccentric. It is mainstream conservative Communist thinking.
In a speech to workers at Moscow's Dynamo engine factory earlier this month, Ivan Polozkov, a member of the Communist Party Politburo, said "it was no accident" that "anti-Communist groups and cliques are funded by international capital." In a speech that critics here said was reminiscent of the Stalin era, he accused Gorbachev of "burning down our ideological timber."
And in a scathing article in Sovietskaya Rossiya last week, a retired army colonel, Yuri Katasonov, accused Shevardnadze of cutting a secret deal with the United States over the Bering Straits region that "gave away" oil-rich property there.
The attacks are now commonplace. But just as the hard-liners can never hope to turn the clock back completely on domestic politics in the Soviet Union, the "new thinking" in foreign policy can be slowed down, even halted, but not reversed.
"What can they do? Un-unify Germany? Recapture Eastern Europe? No, what's done is done," Melville said. "What has to be watched carefully now is how these attacks can affect future relations with the world. Do we get more defensive? Do we turn inward? Those are the questions."