Boris N. Yeltsin, the Russian populist leader, stepped up his attacks on Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Saturday, calling Gorbachev's commitment to further political and economic reforms "a lie" and promising a full-scale fight for greater regional autonomy.
Yeltsin, attempting to rally the country's divided liberals and radicals, called for the formation of a united democratic front to challenge the Communist Party, whose hold on the central government remains almost undiminished although it gave up its monopoly on political power a year ago.
"Let's declare war on the leadership of the country, which has led us into a quagmire," Yeltsin, who is president of the Russian Federation, the country's largest republic, told a meeting of his supporters. "The time has come, on the basis of the democratic movement, to create a powerful organized party."
Challenging Gorbachev with one of his harshest attacks and appealing for the mass support that he will need for such a confrontation, Yeltsin declared: "We were deceived, and now we must open our eyes wide and realize that (the pledge of further reforms) was a lie. We must take our own path, not that perestroika of the recent years."
Yeltsin denounced as "imposed from above" and "immoral" the new "union treaty" intended to lay a new political foundation for reconstituting the Soviet Union as a federal state after a national referendum on the issue next Sunday.
"All this fuss about the union treaty--it is their politics, their immoral politics," Yeltsin said. "We have dozens of the most serious criticisms of the draft treaty, starting with its very title."
Published on Saturday, the final draft of the treaty attempts to win support by devolving considerably more authority on the country's constituent republics, while retaining sufficient power at the center to hold the country together. For the first time, the republics would control their natural resources and be able to act independently in international relations and foreign trade.
Yeltsin objected, however, that too much power would remain at the center, that the sovereignty of the republics was not fully recognized and that the treaty did not acknowledge private ownership or a mixed economy. While Gorbachev considered the draft final, Russia was not even prepared to negotiate on it yet, Yeltsin said.
"We do not need a union in its present form," he said. "We do not need such a center, a huge center, a bureaucratic center. We don't need ministries. We don't need this gigantic bureaucratic machinery that beats us, that has been dictating from above for more than 70 years. We have to rid ourselves of this."
Yeltsin's speech, following his demand last month for Gorbachev's resignation, drew an immediate and strong rebuttal from Anatoly I. Lukyanov, chairman of the Congress of People's Deputies, the national parliament, and a key Gorbachev lieutenant.
"This is a direct call for confrontation with the legally elected authorities," Lukyanov said in an interview broadcast on state television--apparently in place of a report on the Yeltsin speech. "This is a direct call for declaring war on the leadership of the country, on the bodies that have been elected by the Congress of Peoples Deputies."
Lukyanov said frankly that the Soviet leadership was worried by the Yeltsin challenge and particularly by the tone of the speech Saturday, a week ahead of the countrywide referendum and on the eve of a major opposition rally outside the Kremlin today.
"In such complex times, when society is so easily inflamed that a match is enough to set it on fire, the leader of the supreme body of power of such a republic as Russia has no moral right to make such statements," Lukyanov contended.
"I think it irresponsible, inadmissible to call the country to confrontation today. It is impermissible to introduce even greater tension in society. These are matters of life and death of the country."
In his speech at the headquarters of the Cinematographers Union, which is in the radical vanguard, Yeltsin also demanded the resignation of Communist Party officials who still head local government councils, the soviets, threatening them with prosecution if they refused to resign either their government or their party post by Friday.
Yeltsin said as well that the 10-day-old strike by coal miners, who are pressing political as well as economic demands, was a sign of the dissatisfaction with the central leadership throughout the country and should be supported.
"The miners are pushing us to such actions, to such militant actions," Yeltsin said. "Let us join these militant acts and help them as they are helping us."