An irate Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev today lambasted his chief political rival Boris N. Yeltsin, a strong backer of the rebellious Baltic republics, saying the leader of the giant Russian republic is losing his reason.
Gorbachev, speaking to the Soviet Parliament, denounced Yeltsin’s announcement that he might have to create a separate army in the Russian federation, one of 15 Soviet republics, as “a deliberate provocation” aimed at heightening tension in the country.
Yeltsin, who flew to Estonia Sunday night to sign a mutual security agreement with the beleaguered Baltic leaders, said at a news conference Monday that he would consider creating Russian forces “to defend the sovereignty” of his giant federation.
Red-faced and stumbling over his words in anger, Gorbachev declared that Yeltsin’s proposal was “a gross violation of the constitution of the U.S.S.R.,” which he says the Soviet army is defending in the Baltic republics.
“It is not only a challenge to the supreme organs of power in the U.S.S.R. but adds further seeds of confrontation to the already heated, tense situation in the country,” he declared, gesturing vigorously.
“I condemn this as a deliberate act of provocation which does not promote the consolidation of our society but is an incitement to a clash of opinions, to confrontation. This must be rejected and condemned.”
He said Yeltsin “must self-critically recognize this and withdraw this sort of call. . . . We will count on his common sense not having totally left him.”
Gorbachev also blasted leaders of Baltic Latvia, where tension was rising rapidly today after appeals by Communist and military hard-liners for military intervention against the government.
He did not directly refer to Yeltsin’s pact with the pro-independence presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia or his Sunday call to Russian soldiers in the Baltics to disobey orders to shoot at civilians.
But it was almost certain that these acts of defiance by Yeltsin, who according to opinion polls is by far the country’s most popular politician, lay at the root of Gorbachev’s fury.