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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soviet Nostalgia Greets Visit By Clinton

On the eve of U.S. President Bill Clinton's arrival in Latvia, where he is expected to try to calm fears of renewed Russian imperialism, Mikhail Gorbachev met Tuesday with some of the former Soviet Union's most prominent politicians to call for the resurrection of the Soviet state. The State Duma Committee on CIS relations sponsored parliamentary hearings Tuesday on "the formation of the CIS, its current state and the prospects for its development." In fact, the hearings amounted to an emphatic plea for reintegration of those countries that once made up the Soviet Union. "For the first time in many hundreds of years the peoples of our country have been separated," said committee chairman Konstantin Zatulin. "The collapse of the Soviet Union is a tragedy that has not yet been fully appreciated." The hearings could not have come at a more sensitive time as Clinton prepares for his visit in the Baltic states and as Ukraine and Belarus count down to elections in which each country faces a choice between broadly pro and anti-Russian candidates for president. The sentiments expressed at the hearings appeared to add weight to fears voiced by leaders of the three Baltic states, who will meet Clinton in Riga on Wednesday. "The old colonial, expansionist tradition is still strong in Russia," Estonian President Lennart Meri was quoted as saying Tuesday. His words were echoed by Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Birkaus, who said the security of the Baltics was the most important issue the leaders wished to raise with Clinton. Tuesday's parliament hearings in Moscow drew a lineup of luminaries from the latter days of the Soviet era. They included hardline legislator Sazhi Umalatova and members of the ill-fated State Committee for the State of Emergency that attempted to remove Gorbachev from power in 1991.Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's last president, shared the podium with Anatoly Lukyanov, the former chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., who was indicted as a participant in the coup attempt. Another accused coup plotter, the former prime minister Valentin Pavlov, also spoke. Valery Zorkin, former chairman of the Constitutional Court, dismissed by Yeltsin last December for political activities unbecoming his office, appeared too, as did the former nationalities minister Sergei Shakhrai and the industrialist leader Arkady Volsky. The unlikely group had a common platform: In their view, the agreement dissolving the Soviet Union, signed by the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in December 1991 betrayed the interests of the Soviet state. The speakers were also united in insisting that the process of reunification was inevitable, and all that remained was to choose the most painless means of facilitating it. "I am sure that the Union will be restored," said Lukyanov to applause from the hall. "This process cannot be stopped." That kind of talk has fueled fears in the Baltics that they could be in danger of losing their independence, won as recently as 1991, to their vast and unpredictable neighbor. Russian troops are still based in two of the former republics, Latvia and Estonia. In a phone conversation with Clinton on Tuesday, President Yeltsin linked their withdrawal to what he said was discrimination against Russians living in the Baltic states. "The president of Russia expressed confidence that Clinton will in Riga give his due public assessment to the commonly known violations of human rights of the Russian speaking people in Latvia and Estonia," a statement from Yeltsin's office said. The issue of reintegration has played a large part in presidential campaigns in both Ukraine and Belarus, which go to their second and final round Sunday. The votes will determine whether close relations with Russia are the solution to both countries' dire economic situation. The speakers at Tuesday's hearings spent much of their time trying to apportion blame for the Union's collapse, with Gorbachev taking great pains to defend his record at the expense of his erstwhile opponents. "In 1990 I was against Yeltsin being nominated to the Supreme Soviet," he said. "I knew that he had a destructive nature, and would only tear things apart." Gorbachev was adamant that he never intended the Union to fall. "I was always sure that we could not carry out reforms without a fundamental reform of our federation," he said. "But ... we always intended that our people should live in one country." Lukyanov was not so kind to his former boss, accusing Gorbachev of "not raising a finger" to stop the 1991 agreement that broke up the Union. Sergei Shakhrai traced the reasons for the empire's collapse back to Russia's declaration of sovereignty on June 12, 1990 which, he said, was when "the process of decentralization became the process of disintegration." On occasion, the proceedings seemed to be in a time warp, with figures from the past, such as Gorbachev and Lukyanov, fighting old battles. Gorbachev also lashed out from the podium at Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party: "I remember you, Gennady, and what you were doing in those days," he said. "If I had more time I could provide quite a character reference," he said to general laughter. The time warp also extended to more mundane areas. As one member of the audience searched his pockets in vain for a two-kopeck coin for the telephone, he smiled wistfully and said, "It's just like in the old Soviet Union."