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Quit Destructive Path, Gorbachev Warns Yeltsin

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, accusing his chief rival of “destructive activities” that undermine his country’s reforms, Sunday warned Boris N. Yeltsin, the new president of the Soviet Union’s Russian Republic, to moderate his criticism and cooperate with the government’s program to restructure the country’s political and economic system.

Gorbachev, who had strongly opposed Yeltsin’s election last week, said that the radical populist could seriously impair perestroika, as the Soviet reform program is known, if he uses the post to oppose the country’s present leadership.

“If this is nothing but a maneuver and he will return to what he has been doing in recent years, not only criticizing . . . but engaging in destructive activities, destructive efforts,” Gorbachev said of Yeltsin, “then his chairmanship (of the Russian Republic) will certainly complicate these (reform) processes.”

Gorbachev, at the end of his summit meeting with President Bush, turned his attention to the Soviet Union’s domestic problems. During a joint press conference at the White House, he acknowledged that Yeltsin’s election had been a major development in Soviet politics, one that is causing him and others in the Kremlin leadership to rethink their own positions.

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But the harshness of Gorbachev’s comments, which were televised live in Moscow, showed that the long-standing political rivalry between the two men had grown into open political hostility, and Gorbachev appeared to be readying himself for a showdown on his return to the Soviet Union this week.

“We have now reached a phase of radical, fundamental change in which everyone must show great responsibility for their country, where we are changing everything that we now have,” Gorbachev said. “We are about to make a radical change in our economy, for example, and this is all very serious.

“So, everything will soon become clear what Comrade Yeltsin is after.”

Once one of Gorbachev’s strongest backers, Yeltsin has emerged as a potential challenger to the Soviet president. He has a broad populist appeal based on the widespread discontent with the Soviet economy and the slowness of the reform process.

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Taking office last week as the president, or chairman, of the legislature of Russia, the largest of the Soviet Union’s 15 constituent republics, Yeltsin said of the federal government headed by Gorbachev, “This pyramid must be turned upside down.”

But then he declared his desire for “relations based not on confrontation but of a business-like character.”

Gorbachev, who suffered a rare political defeat when his candidate was narrowly beaten by Yeltsin last Tuesday, was asked Sunday by a senior Soviet journalist from the government newspaper Izvestia whether he was ready to “extend an olive branch of peace” to Yeltsin.

“If this is not a political game for him to hold high office, that is one thing,” Gorbachev replied. “A certain approach could be adopted on the basis of that, and we could certainly anticipate further developments in the Supreme Soviet.”

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But Gorbachev, who had harshly criticized Yeltsin during his election campaign as advocating the breakup of the Soviet Union and opposing socialism, said that Yeltsin was continually changing his position and had yet to prove that he was a “serious” politician.

Yeltsin’s election had been particularly divisive, Gorbachev said, noting that it took three ballots over several days and that he had emerged as the winner by only four votes.

Gorbachev’s comments followed a biting attack by Yeltsin against recent government proposals for economic reforms, his renewed calls for “sovereignty” for Russia and his promises of assistance to Lithuania in its attempts to secede.

Although originally brought to Moscow by Gorbachev as the capital’s Communist Party leader and then promoted by him to the party’s ruling Politburo, Yeltsin has been at odds with Gorbachev for more than two years.

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But he has attracted a large popular following, winning election last year to the Congress of People’s Deputies, the Soviet Parliament, with more votes than any other candidate in the country. Seeking a bigger platform, he won the Russian presidency--constitutionally, still the chairmanship of the republic’s legislature--by defeating party nominees for the post last month.

Gorbachev also discussed speculation, now common in the Soviet Union but rarely acknowledged by political leaders in public forums, that time is running out for him and perhaps for perestroika, and he sought to reassure both his audiences--those in the Soviet Union and others around the world--that he will continue to pursue the reforms.

“Debates are under way, doubts are being expressed and views are being compared,” Gorbachev said. “This is very important because what is at stake is our destiny.

“We ourselves can feel the strain of our society, which is much politicized,” he said. “But looking at it from outside, without knowing all the subtleties, without knowing the full depth of the sentiments, one could certainly draw some erroneous conclusions. Hence the questions, ‘How long will Gorbachev stay in office?’ and ‘How will this whole perestroika end?’ ”

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Such questions reflect the depth of the changes in Soviet society, Gorbachev contended, and not doubts about the need for them.

“Everything that is happening,” he said, referring to the country’s multiple crises, “confirms not that we are just cleaning up our courtyard, but that we are really revamping our entire society.

“We are trying to adapt it to human needs on the basis of freedom and democracy. We want to make it more open toward the outside world. That is the essence, and on that Soviet people do not differ.”


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