Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, fighting to keep his continent-sized country intact, unveiled his blueprint Saturday for a new and voluntary union of "sovereign" Soviet republics, but his brand of federalism concentrates so much power in Moscow that some republics have already rejected it.
In the meantime, Boris N. Yeltsin, the populist and crowd-pleasing president of the Russian Federation, continued to steer his own political course, single-handedly revoking a Soviet government decree that would have led to price increases on a wide array of luxury goods.
A draft constitution that Yeltsin helped prepare for Russia was also made public. Echoing the words of the American Founding Fathers, it solemnly begins: "We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation . . . ," and declares Russia's laws superior to national ones. It also proclaims Russia's right to raise its own army.
Friday night at the Foreign Ministry press center, Gorbachev's frustration over Yeltsin's independent actions, and those of other recalcitrant republic leaders, was plain to see. In a fervent pitch for his political power-sharing scheme, Gorbachev told a news conference that the breakup of the Soviet Union along ethnic lines would produce "a tragedy for the people, civil conflicts with grave consequences."
Major state-run newspapers on Saturday printed the 59-year-old Soviet leader's formula for healing the nation's ethnic and economic wounds and ending the paralysis of its government--a proposed treaty establishing the "Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics" to replace the Dec. 30, 1922, accord that founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Besides jettisoning the label socialist at a time when the Soviet Union, goaded by Gorbachev, has set itself the goal of creating a market economy, the 23-article treaty contains many provisions that are truly revolutionary when compared to the last 73 years of Soviet rule.
It proposes, for the first time, the creation of a vice presidency, puts Gorbachev in control of a Cabinet that will replace the Council of Ministers, and creates a Constitutional Court that for the first time in Soviet history would exercise independent judicial review over laws to ensure their constitutionality.
More significantly, given the eruption of nationalism and ethnic hatreds in the country, the treaty makes significant concessions to the Soviet republics, which were long ruled directly from Moscow or by its plenipotentiaries under the Leninist concept of "democratic centralism."
"Membership of a republic in the U.S.S.R. is voluntary," Article 1 states, a tacit repudiation of the 1922 accord that simply welded other Communist-governed territories onto Bolshevik Russia. "Each republic that joins the union is a sovereign state enjoying full state power over its territory."
The pact's concessions, however, will be too little for many republican nationalists. For the treaty, which is being circulated to lawmakers in the Supreme Soviet legislature and the republics, retains a great sphere of responsibilities for central authorities, although some republics--including the independence-minded Baltic states--now claim such powers for themselves.
For instance, the national government, the treaty says, will defend the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of the U.S.S.R., guard its borders, run the KGB and armed forces, declare war and conclude peace. Although the republics, along with the Kremlin, would jointly hammer out economic development strategy, it would be in the context of a single financial, credit and banking system and a common currency.
Such centralization, especially in economics and trade, flies in the face of many of the demands for "sovereignty" that have been made by 14 of the 15 Soviet republics, including Yeltsin's Russia, the biggest and most populous.
Although the republics would be made masters of their lands and natural resources, Moscow would have final say over the nation's gold and diamond reserves, air and rail service, the pipelines that carry natural gas from Siberia to Europe and space research.
"I want to remind you that 12 out of 14 representatives of the republics speaking on the Union Treaty did not express their readiness to sign it," liberal member of Parliament Alexei Yablokov said, summing up criticism expressed in the Soviet legislature.
The proposed pact, which took up about half a page in Moscow dailies, also omits any mention of a republic's constitutionally established right to secede, a fact that advocates of local sovereignty or independence will find ominous.
As one indication of the jitters now being felt over Gorbachev's intentions, Lithuania's President Vytautas Landsbergis warned his countrymen Friday that "our motherland, the Lithuanian Republic, is in danger," and charged that Gorbachev has become the leader of Soviet rightist forces.
Landsbergis predicted many Soviet republics would spurn the Union Treaty. Lithuania declared outright independence from Moscow in March, the only republic so far to do so.
On Friday, Georgia's Parliament, now dominated by nationalists and anti-Communists, declared that republic on the road to "restoration of full national independence." Like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Georgia has informed Gorbachev that it will not sign the treaty.
The proposed Union Treaty did not say how many republics would have to adopt it before it went into force. Pressed on the matter Friday, Gorbachev replied: "Let the very process of change and life itself answer this question."
Asked whether a republic could secede, Gorbachev told reporters, "I didn't say I wouldn't allow it. I said I had come to the firm conclusion that we could not divide."
His tough tone left no doubt that he would continue to combat local separatists.
Like some other republican leaders, including Ukrainian President Leonid M. Kravchuk, Yeltsin has expressed support in principle
for new and looser union arrangements, but he wants to go about it in a different way, by first concluding bilateral treaties with other republics.
Before approving Gorbachev's treaty, Yeltsin wants an agreement with the Kremlin defining who will own Russia's gigantic trove of natural resources--the main source of the Soviet government's bankroll--and guarantees that Russia's sovereignty will be protected.
Yeltsin again showed his low regard for the Soviet central government Saturday by ordering Russian Federation officials not to obey a Kremlin decree that would allow the prices of furs, jewelry, caviar and other luxury goods to float to their market level, in many cases 10 or 20 times the state price.
The Yeltsin-sponsored draft for Russia's constitution, to be debated at an emergency session of the Russian Congress of People's Deputies which opens Tuesday, also makes it clear who should wield power. Russia, it proclaims, "independently fixes and manages its domestic and foreign policies, enacts its constitution and laws, which take priority on its territory."
Although the proposed constitution, written by a committee that met in a forest cottage outside Moscow, allows Russia to cede some powers to the national government, it proclaims Russia's right to "control" policies in those areas and to take part in their execution, a formula tailor-made to cause endless jurisdictional disputes.
In remarks to the Supreme Soviet legislature, Gorbachev had already disclosed many of the major proposals made by the Union Treaty. Lawmakers on Friday had endorsed the restructuring of the executive branch that the plan presupposes, and gave Gorbachev 14 days to draw up specific proposals. The Union Treaty itself is to be considered by the Soviet Parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies, in mid-December.
Under the treaty, the president would be the nation's chief executive and commander-in-chief, as he now is, but would have to be elected in a nationwide ballot instead of by the Congress. To win, a candidate would have to receive both a majority of votes in the popular election and also carry a majority of republics.
For the first time in the Soviet Union, a vice president would also be elected to exercise functions assigned by the president and, in the clearest provision made yet to ensure the orderly succession of Soviet power, "to replace (the president) in the event of his absence or his incapacity to fulfill his functions."
A Cabinet of Ministers, headed by a prime minister and under the control of the president, would replace the Council of Ministers, although this may be little more than a name change. The Federation Council, an advisory body of the 15 republican leaders chaired by Gorbachev, would take on a major policy-making role.
BLUEPRINT FOR A NEW SOVIET UNION
Here are highlights of the Union Treaty published Saturday: GUIDING PRINCIPLES
Each republic is sovereign, with full state power on its territory.
Republics have the right of self-determination and self-government, resolution of all problems of the republic's development.
STRUCTURE OF THE UNION
Membership in the union is voluntary.
A citizen of a republic is a citizen of the U.S.S.R., or "Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics."
POWERS OF THE UNION
Protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity; defending state border; protecting state security; directing armed forces.
Setting foreign policy; regulating union's foreign economic activities and coordinating foreign economic activities of republics.
Determining, jointly with republics, strategies of economic development; creating market conditions; creating a single fiscal and monetary policy based on one currency.
Administering, jointly with republics, power, fuel, transport, defense industries, space research, communications, ecological policy; establishing guidelines for using natural resourses.
POWERS OF THE REPUBLICS
Ownership of land and natural resources on their territory, and of state property except that needed for exercising powers of the union.
Forming own budgets and determining taxes. Union taxes are for the union's use.
Republic laws are supreme unless they cover issues of union's authority.
Disputes are resolved in commissions or the Constitutional Court.
SHUFFLE OF AUTHORITY
The president is the union's chief executive and commander in chief, but must be elected nationwide instead of by Congress.
A vice president is elected to exercise functions assigned by the president and to replace the president in his absence.
The Federation Council, an advisory body of the 15 republican leaders, takes on a major policy-making role.