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Soviet talks about coup

By Herb Singh

and Karen Kaplan

Andrei Kortunov, the first Soviet to publicly denounce last month's failed coup on television, discussed the changing state of affairs in the Soviet Union at MIT Sunday.

Kortunov is director of the Foreign Policy Studies Institute of the United States and Canada and a columnist for the Moscow News, a leading Soviet pro-reform paper.

During the hour-long discussion at East Campus, Kortunov talked about various issues facing the Soviet Union, including his country's homelessness problem and America's new role in the economic restructuring of the financially crippled republics.

Kortunov said he was amazed by how active Russian youths were during the attempted coup, especially since for the most part they had been voiceless during the first six years of perestroika.

Kortunov also predicted a decline in Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's popularity. He noted that Russian President Boris Yeltsin capitalized on Gorbachev's blunders, using them to heighten his own popularity.

The next Soviet leader will need to be strong to raise taxes and push for unpopular legislation that is in the union's best interests, Kortunov said. But he added that the Soviet people are ready to accept radical change, and have made fantastic economic improvements in the private sector.

Incentives are needed to bring his country to a level of economic development comparable to that of most Western nations, a process that he guessed would take at least 50 years, Kortunov said.

He speculated that the possible relocation of certain ethnic groups would cause violence, which he hoped could be contained.

Kortunov also predicted that China will remain a communist nation for some time because the Chinese people are less educated than the Soviets, because China has a weaker communication network, and because the Chinese economy is agrarian-based.

Kortunov learned of the attempted coup Aug. 19 when he was awakened by a phone call from ABC. That same morning, he appeared on Good Morning America and was the first among his countrymen to denounce the new government on public television as unlawful and illegitimate.

Kortunov's appearance on Good Morning America was risky because at the time, it seemed very likely that the plotters of the coup would remain in power and might punish vocal dissenters. But Kortunov said he was willing to expose himself to that risk. "It is something that anyone who is a believer in intellectual freedom would do," he said.

Kortunov also appeared on Nightline and This Week with David Brinkley to discuss the state of Soviet affairs.