The vast Russian republic proclaimed its sovereignty today with a declaration that signaled a sharp break with the central Soviet government but carried no legal force.
Deputies of the Russian Congress, who overwhelmingly approved the declaration, stressed that the move does not amount to a declaration of independence such as that of the breakaway Baltic republic of Lithuania.
“We didn’t declare ourselves a separate government from the U.S.S.R.,” said Ruslan Khasbulatov, the Congress’ deputy chairman. “We think our Russian fate should be within the framework of the U.S.S.R.”
The lawmakers last month elected as the republic’s president Boris N. Yeltsin, the populist reformer who backs a more radical shift to a market economy than Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
There was no immediate reaction by Gorbachev, who has warned that the Kremlin cannot carry out its reforms if the Russian heartland is not firmly behind it.
Yeltsin had urged quick passage of the measure so that June 12 could become “Russia’s independence day.” The vote was 907 to 13, and the result was met with applause and a standing ovation. Yeltsin stood and applauded the deputies.
Earlier in the day, deputies voted 704 to 206 not to drop the “Soviet Socialist” from the republic’s formal name: The Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.
Today’s declaration does not actually have any effect on the laws of Russia, by far the largest of the country’s 15 republics, making up two-thirds of the country’s territory and just over half its population. The declaration is, however, the basis for writing a new Russian constitution.
Passing a declaration that carried legal force, Khasbulatov said, “would have called forth a big crash.”
The declaration “solemnly proclaims the state sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic on all its territory” and says laws of the Russian Federation should have priority over centrally dictated Soviet laws.
The declaration says the republic has the right to secede from the Soviet Union under conditions to be stated in a future nationwide treaty. But the proclamation serves only as a political statement of intent, with no legal weight.
Still, it “expresses the mood of decentralization in the country,” said Vyacheslav Maslennikov, a consultant for the Congress’ editorial commission.