The Ukraine Proclaims Its Independence
The Ukraine, swept up in the backlash from last week’s Kremlin coup attempt, declared its full independence Saturday, claiming the right to issue its own currency and control all military units on its territory, including at least 1 million Soviet troops.
The decision, passed overwhelmingly by the republic’s Parliament as it was besieged by thousands of protesters who broke through police barricades to chant and wave blue-and-gold Ukrainian flags at the doors, is subject to confirmation by a referendum in December. But it appears certain to pass, riding the republic’s rising wave of nationalism.
The Soviet Union’s second-largest republic, with an area the size of France, a population of about 55 million and some of the country’s richest farmland and best industry, the Ukraine is considered the linchpin in President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s attempts to fashion a new Soviet federation.
Saturday’s declaration put Gorbachev’s blueprint in even greater doubt.
The fertile republic, the Soviet Union’s breadbasket, has shown declining enthusiasm for Gorbachev’s proposed new Union Treaty, and the declaration of independence, unlike the Ukraine’s declaration of sovereignty in July, 1990, made no mention of plans to eventually sign it.
Instead, it complained of “the fatal danger that hung above the Ukraine in connection with the coup,” an apparent reference to troop movements that appeared to Ukrainians to carry the threat that martial law would be imposed here.
In view of that threat, and “expressing a thousand-year-old tradition of building statehood, the Supreme Soviet solemnly proclaims the independence of the Ukraine,” the declaration said.
In a further push to separation pressures, Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin on Saturday issued decrees recognizing the independence of Latvia and Estonia.
He had already recognized the statehood of Lithuania, the third Baltic state, and Lithuanian lawmakers claimed control on Saturday over the republic’s western border--which is also part of the Soviet frontier with Poland. Control would include the issuance of visas, the measure said.
With his strengthened authority as the man who saved Gorbachev and the country from the rightist putsch, Yeltsin appeared poised to pressure Gorbachev into letting the Baltic states, annexed under a secret Nazi-Soviet pact in 1940, finally have their long-sought independence.
Three other republics, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, have declared their intent to become independent, and the Ukraine now becomes the seventh, and by far the most important, to move toward separation.
Part of the Soviet Union’s Slavic heartland, together with Russia and Byelorussia, the Ukraine produces an estimated 25% of Soviet agricultural and industrial output and has long contributed more than its share of the Soviet military officer corps, its intelligentsia and its leadership.
Leonid M. Kravchuk, chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament, said Saturday that the Ukraine still plans to discuss the federal treaty in September, but no earlier than then. In any case, he added ominously, “The only kind of treaty we can sign is one that does not violate our sovereignty.”
The Ukrainian declaration of independence garnered 321 votes at an emergency session of the republic’s Parliament, with only two deputies opposed--an unusual consensus for a body normally split between radical nationalists and Communist conservatives.
The vote won a prolonged standing ovation. Ukrainian patriots both inside the Parliament hall and on the streets outside kissed and embraced, congratulating each other.
The Parliament also voted to eject all Communist Party cells from the Ukrainian KGB, the army, police and government, and passed a law providing for creation of a Ukrainian currency.
The measure claiming control of all Soviet troops on Ukrainian territory passed after radical lawmakers cut a deal with Kravchuk. It was not immediately clear how they would attempt to convince the Soviet high command that its soldiers now had new masters.
Kravchuk, a Communist who has cast his lot increasingly with nationalists over the last year, announced Saturday that he was resigning from the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee because he had not been informed of its decisions on the coup.
But that did not save him from heated accusations that he had been indecisive during the crisis by failing to openly condemn the coup. Kravchuk, speaking for the Ukrainian Parliament, had said only that there was no state of emergency on the Ukraine’s territory and that the renegade junta’s decisions did not apply here.
Kravchuk replied that as Speaker of the Parliament, he did not have the authority to issue decrees, only to sign decisions of the Parliament’s ruling presidium. He ended up winning additional powers, to last until presidential elections are held along with the independence referendum on Dec. 1.
The surprising lack of opposition to the independence declaration from the Communist majority in the Parliament spurred some speculation that they are counting on Ukrainian independence to insulate them from Yeltsin’s anti-Communist fervor.
“We should have let Yeltsin come in here (first) to clean the Commies out,” said Oleh, a 32-year-old worker demonstrating outside the Parliament building. “Then we could have declared independence.”
Like the Russians who won the battle to fly their old national flag over their Parliament, the Ukrainians won an official place for their blue-and-gold banner--once a sure ticket to a Stalinist prison camp--in their Parliament.
The next battle, radical activists said, will be to shoot down the Union Treaty when Parliament discusses it in September.
“Yeltsin needs a Union Treaty to maintain a large state that will keep the Russian Federation together,” said Deputy Ihor Yukhnovskij. “Central Asia needs the treaty for economic reasons. The Ukraine doesn’t need a Union Treaty at all.”
Mycio, a free-lance journalist, reported from the Ukraine; Goldberg, a Times staff writer, reported from Moscow.
Turmoil Among Soviet Republics
There were more voices for separatism and against Communist rule in the republics:
* Russian Federation leader Boris N. Yeltsin recognized the independence of Latvia and Estonia after meeting with Estonian President Arnold Ruutel and Latvia’s Anatolijs V. Gorbunovs.
* In Lithuania, which declared independence last March, President Vytautas Landsbergis vowed to control Soviet troops in his republic and prosecute those who supported the coup.
* Ukrainian lawmakers declared independence, setting a referendum for Dec. 1. The declaration envisages nationalization of state-owned enterprises, printing of Ukrainian currency and a separate armed forces.
* The legislature barred Communist Party membership for KGB security police, the army, the police force and the prosecutor’s office.
* President Leonid Kravchuk said he was quitting the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee and Politburo.
* Armenia: Armenian Communist Party chief Aram Sarkisyan called for “increasing autonomy” for local leaders.
* Azerbaijan: In Baku, there were calls for the ouster of President Ayaz Mutalibov for supporting the coup leaders.
* Kazakhstan: President Nursultan Nazarbayev outlawed Communist activities in the KGB, Interior Ministry, courts and customs offices in the republic.
* Kirgizia: President Askar Akayev nationalized the Central Committee and Lenin Museum buildings.
* Moldova: Parliament outlawed activities of the Communist Party and nationalized its property.
* Tadzhikistan: President Kakhar Makhamov banned political party activities in the Justice Ministry.
* Uzbekistan: President and Communist Party chief Islam Karimov quit the Politburo.