Angry Soviet Rightists Seek to Defeat Power-Sharing Plan : Union: Judicial panels rule that a two-thirds vote is necessary for the new arrangement. Gorbachev hints he might terminate the People’s Congress.
Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin hurled Russia’s huge weight into the debate on the Soviet future Tuesday, insisting that republics join a “single system” and denying that Russia will dominate it.
But conservatives said they have enough votes to torpedo the plan to transform the Soviet Union into a cluster of sovereign states.
With a ballot scheduled this morning on the blueprint for urgent power devolution--drawn up by Yeltsin, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and leaders of nine other Soviet republics--a rising chorus of right-wing anger was the leitmotif in the chamber and corridors of the Congress of People’s Deputies.
“Of course they will try to liquidate the constitution of the U.S.S.R., but they will not succeed. They will not get the two-thirds of the votes needed,” Col. Viktor I. Alksnis of the right-wing Soyuz faction predicted.
Alexander G. Zhuravlev, a deputy from Byelorussia, said: “We may see a miracle happen today, when the Congress wakes up and takes power away from Mikhail Gorbachev. The designs that are being proposed are not fit for building a country.”
The proposals, reversing a heritage of government centralization that dates to the Romanov czars and even earlier, would grant each Soviet republic the right to determine its own level of participation in a future political, economic and military alliance, although much about the plan remains vague.
Leaving the debate Tuesday evening, a stern-looking Gorbachev dropped a heavy hint that he will do away with the Congress--which he founded in 1989 as the supreme body of political power in the country--if it does not adopt the documents put in front of it. “Then, the Congress will have exhausted itself,” Gorbachev said in an impromptu press conference held outside the glass-and-marble Kremlin Palace of Congresses, as TV crews shoved and scuffled to get closer.
In other developments:
* In a decision of potentially great import, two judicial committees ruled that the suggested governmental revamp is so sweeping that, as required by the Soviet constitution, it must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the 2,250-member Congress.
But only about 1,900 legislators have shown up to take part in this week’s Kremlin proceedings; when Monday’s session convened to put the hastily drawn-up power-sharing plan on the agenda, it was approved by only 1,350 members. To pass, it needs at least 1,500 votes. “Just by not showing up, a deputy will in effect vote against it,” said Roald Z. Sagdeyev, former head of his country’s space research program and a progressive who favors the power shift.
* In the Caucasus, 20 people were injured in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi when riot police, firing warning shots in the air, clashed with demonstrators demanding the resignation of Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
* During a meeting with Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, said the situation in his country is “rapidly worsening” and did not exclude the possibility of people “flooding the streets,” the Tass news agency reported.
* Azerbaijan, which adopted a declaration of independence last Friday, rejected as unconstitutional a similar proclamation by the Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic enclave, which declared itself an “Armenian republic” on Monday.
* The Ukraine, which proclaimed independence Aug. 24, named its first defense minister, air force Gen. Konstantin Morozov, an ethnic Russian. It has already assumed “political” command of all Soviet army units based there, and it intends to create a Ukrainian national guard.
Yeltsin, taking the floor at the Congress for the first time, tried to reassure the other republics that Russia--which has half the Soviet population and more than two-thirds of its territory--would not exploit the new power arrangement as a cover for its imperialist designs.
“The Russian state, which has chosen democracy and freedom, will never be an empire, or a younger or older brother (to other republics),” Yeltsin said, his baritone booming through the great hall.
In the new union, he said to applause, Russia “will be an equal among equals.”
Building an economic union on the ruins of Soviet socialism, Yeltsin told the Congress, has now become critical, as well as “measures for survival as far as food is concerned.”
In an interview with the Cable News Network, Yeltsin said that all but one of the 15 republics--he did not identify the holdout--is ready to sign an economic cooperation agreement that would replace the state-run planning and production system, in ruins after six years of Gorbachev’s perestroika program.
“But, I believe, we need to talk some more about that, and maybe 15 will join,” he said, holding out hope that the “common economic space” evoked by Gorbachev and the republic leaders may coincide precisely with present-day Soviet territory.
Yeltsin said the rightist junta that unsuccessfully tried to usurp Gorbachev’s powers last month led unintentionally to the “breakup of the totalitarian empire” that will now be succeeded by a “free commonwealth of sovereign states.”
“We must agree that, yes, there may be independent republics which insist on a confederation, and on a federation, and on an associate membership, and on an economic union,” Yeltsin said. “And yet, they must all exist within some sort of single and solitary system.”
His last remark set off alarm bells in delegations worried that, with the demise of the central Soviet bureaucracy, the Russian government that Yeltsin heads is fast moving to establish itself as the dominant force in the land.
“I have always stood against the idea of one constitution (for all Soviet republics) because I think that a union of sovereign states cannot be a state itself--it cannot have its own constitution and a government--this is nonsense,” Leonty I. Sandulyak of the Ukraine said. “Frankly, I think that Yeltsin today was speaking the language of a diplomat. Such language serves the purpose of concealing one’s thoughts. . . . I did not trust his words.”
Yeltsin also disturbed some non-Russians by announcing that his government would “defend the interests of the people of Russia,” regardless of where they live. Millions live in the other republics.
“The rights of the Russian-speaking people in Byelorussia are protected better than those of the Byelorussians,” said Byelorussian lawmaker Vladimir M. Stankevich. “We have more Russian-language schools than Byelorussian ones.”
On the sidewalk outside the Kremlin hall, Gorbachev said that quick approval of the plan--known as “10 plus One” because it was agreed to by the leaders of 10 republics as well as Gorbachev-- could stymie the threat still posed by the Soviet right.
“Mind you, what are the people worried about most of all? The fate of the union, that’s what!” Gorbachev said. “They talk about economic union--OK, that is necessary. But if we do not resolve the problem of our statehood, if we do not decide in what state we live . . . if we again lose time, if we let this chance slip through our fingers, if we continue ‘speechifying’ in the streets . . . then we shall create the conditions for a new wave of conservatism.”
But some members of the Congress--which would be effectively doomed by the reshaping of the political landscape--railed from the tribune that they had been presented with a fait accompli. Some even called it an illegal power grab by Gorbachev himself.
“Yesterday academician (Yevgeny P.) Velikhov compared the putsch to a mighty impetus that propels the body forward. I would put it this way: One’s body moves the fastest after a tremendous kick in the rear,” said Olzhas O. Suleimenov, a writer from Kazakhstan. “And it seems to me that this is precisely what is accelerating the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet and the Congress.”
In an attempt to make the plan more palatable for some critics, Gorbachev doctored the original proposal for a small interim parliament in which each republic, regardless of population, would have 20 representatives.
Now, the members of the Congress may vote to leave in place the existing national legislature, the bicameral Supreme Soviet, with one house reserving special seats for the country’s smaller ethnic groups and the other chosen as is the U.S. House of Representatives, giving the most populous republics the most seats.
For an unspecified transition period, the power-sharing plan would also create a collegial leadership--the State Council--that would serve as the Soviet government. It would be made up of Gorbachev and the leaders of the republics, along with an inter-republic economic committee.
Of immediate concern to the deputies is the proposal to amend the constitution to cancel automatic annual meetings of the Congress. The Congress made its debut when the Communist Party was still the only legal party in the country, and the overwhelming majority of its members are party members. Also, the party leadership was awarded the right to fill 100 seats directly, and it elected Gorbachev and 99 others, mostly full-time party functionaries.
For many advocates of change, the Congress is a vestige of the old-style Soviet system and will have to be uprooted if the system itself is to be replaced.
“This Congress, reading newspapers from morning until night, has delivered a verdict against itself,” said one disgusted member, Vladimir M. Desyatov from the Soviet Far East. “Let’s leave peacefully, as the people are demanding! We’ll be doing a good thing to preserve the union.”
Although more than 30 countries, including the United States, have now recognized the independence of the three Baltic republics--Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia--the issue was again kept off the floor of the Congress on Tuesday.
“For three days, I have been repeating the same thing: There will be a formula found, and the problem will be solved,” an irritated Gorbachev told reporters at one point.
Baltic deputies, who are attending the Congress for the most part as observers, expressed dismay when Gorbachev successfully moved Monday to have the issue delayed by referring it for consideration to the Presidium, on which he sits. But Tuesday night, they were reporting that Gorbachev is expected to recognize Baltic independence in a presidential decree later in the week.
In another possible attempt to avoid an acrimonious debate on the question in the Congress, the draft resolution to be voted on today proposes that the Soviet Union recognize “acts of state sovereignty adopted by the republics which are members of the U.S.S.R.,” which would apply to Kirghizia as much as it does to the Baltics.
But such general language would not satisfy some Baltic leaders and officials, who demand that the Soviet Union admit that it used brute military force or the threat of it to occupy and annex the three small independent states in 1940.
“Without recognition of this fact, World War II is not over,” said Mikhail L. Bronshtein, a deputy from Estonia.
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Here are the latest developments in the Soviet Union:
* YELTSIN SPEECH. In a speech sharply critical of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin told the Congress of People’s Deputies that Gorbachev should have listened to reformers and foreseen last month’s coup. But Yeltsin said he has more confidence in Gorbachev now because the Soviet president “found strength in himself to re-evaluate a lot of things.” Gorbachev admitted that he has made mistakes but rejected criticism by hard-liners.
* REORGANIZATION. Soviet legislators debated a sweeping reorganization plan that would establish an interim government and render them superfluous. Gorbachev urged the lawmakers to approve the proposal, warning that the union was on the verge of splintering.
* THE BALTICS. Mikhail Bronshtein, an Estonian lawmaker, urged the Kremlin to recognize the Baltic states’ independence, arguing that “without recognition, we cannot end World War II.” The states--Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia--submitted formal applications for full U.N. membership through Britain and France.
* SECESSION. Gorbachev has given his go-ahead for Baltic secession, but the Congress has still to vote on it. “There may not be enough votes” to win Baltic independence, said Russian Federation Vice President Alexander Rutskoi. Yeltsin said the republics can be independent but must join a “free commonwealth.”
* ECONOMY. Russian Prime Minister Ivan S. Silayev outlined a new economic system for the Soviet Union. It would be modeled on the Common Market established by the European Community and based on Soviet economic reforms. He suggested that a common market could include members of the former socialist trading bloc Comecon.
* GORBACHEV’S FAMILY. The family often walked to a nearby beach during the coup so people could see Gorbachev was “alive and well,” his wife, Raisa, told the labor newspaper Trud. Raisa Gorbachev described the “bitterness of betrayal” she felt during three days of house arrest before Gorbachev was restored to power. She suffered a “bad bout"--apparently of nerves--after returning to Moscow.