Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, saying he and other Communists are “guilty before the working class” for their errors in leadership, vowed immediate efforts Thursday to alleviate the country’s worsening food crisis.
In a wide-ranging speech to a citywide conference of Moscow Communists, Gorbachev, who is also the party’s general secretary, said his country, as in World War II, is again in a life-or-death situation.
In another development reflecting the Soviet Union’s troubled domestic politics, official media reported that Gorbachev scheduled a trip to the republic of Moldova in the Soviet southwest today in a bid to mediate the nation’s latest ethnic dispute.
Speaking from a stage dominated by a white bust of Soviet founder V. I. Lenin, the 59-year-old Kremlin leader said the party he heads, which has been fast losing members, has been out of touch with the Soviet people and their demands for a “U-turn” in society.
“We are guilty before the working class--all of us, I think, and me personally,” Gorbachev declared.
Answering written questions from the audience of about 1,000 Communists, Gorbachev gave special attention to the food situation in the capital, saying he gets daily reports that show meat and bread supplies at about the same levels as in 1989. Hearing that, some in the audience jeered.
Gorbachev said, however, that supplies of milk and other dairy products have dropped as regions around Moscow refuse to meet prior commitments. He said agreements have just been concluded with Estonia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine to supply the capital and Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second-largest city, with milk.
Gorbachev also assured his Muscovite audience that food aid from foreign countries “will go first to Moscow and Leningrad.”
Tass, the official Soviet news agency, quoted the chairman of the Moldovan legislature, Alexander Mosanu, as saying Gorbachev will make a one-day visit to the republic today and meet with lawmakers to discuss the “social-political situation” there.
Moldova, formerly known as Moldavia, is a small, largely agricultural republic on the border with Romania. It has been riven by ethnic quarrels since the Moldovan majority, which speaks a language akin to Romanian, declared the republic’s sovereignty this summer.
In response, a Turkic-speaking minority, the Gagauz, and a predominantly Slavic enclave proclaimed their own breakaway states.
Last month, at least three people were killed in clashes between Moldovan police and residents of the Slavic area. Earlier, Gorbachev had sent his personal adviser on defense matters, Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, to Moldova in a bid to halt the unrest, but the Soviet leader has apparently decided that his own presence will be more effective.
The last time Gorbachev intervened personally in an ethnic dispute, the results must have seemed dismaying to him as well as harmful to his prestige. He traveled to Lithuania in January to urge its people to remain in the Soviet Union, but the Baltic republic’s legislature proclaimed independence in March.
Likewise, there is widespread resistance in Moldova to Gorbachev’s attempt to conclude a new union treaty between the republics and the central government.
Speaking to the Communists in Moscow, Gorbachev again said that the Soviet Union should not be allowed to break up, but he acknowledged that achieving the transition to a truly federal state, given the longtime tyrannical centralization of Soviet power, may be “the most difficult task of the 20th Century.”