And Now, Divorce?

As Lithuanians demand independence, Mikhail Gorbachev contemplates an empire endangered by the flames of secession

He touched down in Vilnius the dignified statesman, expecting to rely on his charm and diplomatic skills to work out a compromise. But when the first cry of Samostoyatelnost! -- independence -- sounded from the Lithuanian crowd, Mikhail Gorbachev rapidly abandoned the strategies of genteel diplomacy and adopted the tactics of a ward politician bent on maintaining his lock on a balking constituency. "Independence?" he shouted above the insistent cries. "Let's have it. At the workplace. In cities. Republics. But together!"

Wading into crowds, the Soviet President proved himself a master of street theater, improvising historical, philosophical and legalistic arguments as...

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