Gorbachev and Yeltsin Answer Americans’ Questions

<i> Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin answered questions from Americans across the country late Thursday on ABC TV. Following are excerpts: </i>

* On their personal relationship:

Gorbachev: Once upon a time that was a difficult question. Now it is easier to answer. A good deal of water has passed under the bridge.

Yeltsin: Yes, our relationship has not been an easy one. There’ve been dramatic times and there’ve been normal and businesslike times. There have been times when Gorbachev thought I was a political corpse. . . . But somehow we’ve adjusted, and particularly after recent events after the coup, President Gorbachev has changed very seriously. . . . We are committed to common work.

* On the possibility of a Yeltsin power play:


Gorbachev: On the whole . . . it is not a matter of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, it is a matter of unifying all democratic powers in the country. We have a difficult task in front of us. And that is essential.

* On Cuba:

Yeltsin: I think that the process (of withdrawing military hardware) has begun and it must be continued. Gradually the troops must be moved out.

Gorbachev: These relations are acquiring, I would say, a character which is of mutual benefit in an economic sense. We are taking what we need, sugar . . . and in turn we provide those materials, raw materials included, that are necessary to Cuba. . . . We do not intend to alter our relations in a different direction.


* On the KGB:

Gorbachev: It will be different in nature. In reorganizing this service . . . everything has to be done in such a fashion so as not to engender within society something that might be disruptive.

* On the return of exiles:

Yeltsin: I said certainly please come back. Now there is not more danger. After the lesson of the last coup, measures have been taken to prevent the possibility of any repetition. . . . Please come back. Don’t be afraid.


* On personal religious beliefs:

Gorbachev: I am an atheist. I have never concealed this. I respect the feelings and the religious beliefs of each citizen, each person. This is a question of personal sovereignty.

Yeltsin: The ritual aspect, I don’t relate to those, although I have been in church quite often. Because during the service there is a kind of internal feeling of moral cleansing, as it were. I certainly make a point of attending church. Not to mention my respect of course for believers. I am also superstitious, by the way.

* On control of nuclear weapons:


Gorbachev: The control over nuclear weaponry in our country is more rigid than in your country. . . . No one should have any anxiety in this regard. The American intelligence services and satellites have been able to confirm that everything is calm.

Yeltsin: Today, nuclear weapons are in the territory of three republics. . . . I think there will be a process under way whereby nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan and the Ukraine are transferred to Russian territory.

* On food distribution:

Gorbachev: Today we truly do need cooperation with regard to food and medications. I want to assure you that in these days we have been very occupied together with the republics in developing a reliable mechanism for supplying these foodstuffs to consumers.


Yeltsin: The point is that until the federal structure is reorganized as we intend, radically reorganized, we don’t have any certainty in any structure that deals with external economic activity. Russia will deal directly with your exchange (the Chicago Board of Trade) without intermediaries.

Gorbachev: It shouldn’t be that way. . . . I think there will be two stages. Now we are at the stage of distributing authority. There will be inter-republican structures that will interact. . . . More and more we hope this will be shifted to the republics . . . creating a normally functioning market. We are going to be moving toward a market and changing our approaches.

Yeltsin: The American leadership must bear in mind it will be necessary to change somewhat the system of relationship with the Soviet Union. . . . There has to be a two-path system.

* On anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union:


Yeltsin: It is not so extreme as it was when it was started in 1987. In general, this process will be eased. It will ease off. Intuitively, I feel this.

Gorbachev: I would like to add here, I personally am categorically opposed to any inequality, no matter how it might be displayed between persons. I think today we can speak about the fact that we cannot say that anti-Semitism is given a free hand. I think anti-Semitism is lessening. I hope in light of democratic changes in our country, this will eliminate this question.

* On discrimination against women:

Gorbachev: This is commonly recognized in our country now. Both within the Supreme Soviet, in republics and society as well, we must pay tribute to our women for their heroism, that they have in difficult conditions displayed patience, stamina and reduced tension in our society. . . . The more we have women in political structures in the country, in all structures in society, where the fate of the society is being solved, we will have a more reliable and safe society.


Yeltsin: Nevertheless, (women) still manage to live five years longer than men.

* On Raisa Gorbachev’s condition:

Gorbachev: I can now say to you that everything is fine. . . . Let’s just put it that way. Things are normal. And soon things will be great.

* On coup plotters in Gorbachev’s government:


Gorbachev: That has been a lesson for me. And if you think about the moral aspects about that which took place, most of all I am amazed and troubled by the treacherous and treasonable nature of their acts. I think in the future we will be able to exclude the possibility of such mistakes.

* On Gorbachev’s chances of being freely elected:

Gorbachev: I think that which took place during these difficult days, days of difficult testing of this putsch, I was from the beginning convinced the putsch would fail. I think if these people had given more thought to the question, they should have known from the very beginning that this was doomed to failure. We need more democratic approaches, and for that reason, I think people have the opportunity to think things through. They know my position, the position of the president. They know my devotion to democratic processes, and I think they are asking themselves the same question that are now being asked of me, and in all probability they will compare and decide what does the president have most of, which qualities? Can he make decisions?

* On whether any country should live under communism:


Yeltsin: I think this experiment which was conducted on our soil was a tragedy for our people, and it was too bad it happened on our territory. It would have been better if this experiment had been conducted in some small country, at least to make clear it was a stupid idea, although a beautiful one. I think gradually this will be come to be understood by other countries.

Gorbachev: That model has failed which was brought about in our country. And I believe this is a lesson not only for our people but for all peoples. But at the same time, this induces me to turn to the experiences of other countries, where a devotion to the socialist idea has led to very interesting results, both with regards to democracy, the development of the economy, human rights. . . . I believe it would be on our part somewhat pretentious to indicate to people how they should live. Let them examine our experience . . . and make their own selection. Each people has the right of selection.

* On Soviet participation in the Olympics:

Gorbachev: We can get together within the union. . . . I think this is their right and their prerogative, and I think they will come to an agreement themselves.


Yeltsin: I think there has to be a team representing the whole country since right now regardless of the independence of three republics, athletes are taking part in our national teams. . . . I think they will do that. Russia has no pretentions toward putting forward its own separate team.

* On the Western leader most admired:

Yeltsin: I felt very much the support of the whole world community during the coup. When dozens of heads of state called directly to me to inquire what the situation was like . . . to express their support. That was very important. Twice a day, I spoke with President Bush, practically. So I give my preference to him.

Gorbachev: I have interacted with current politicians for a number of years, and I have the opinion that history has produced a situation where the world is changing and all countries are going through major changes and we have political leaders who are courageous. . . . I very highly value that which has come to be between the leaderships of our countries. During the period when Mr. Reagan was in office, and further developed under leadership of President Bush.


* In closing:

Gorbachev: We have been very happy to meet with Americans on this program. But we neglected to apologize--not because we maliciously intended that way, we have delayed this program. We wanted to meet after the Congress. Please accept our apologies.

Yeltsin: I would also like to thank President Bush and all of the American people for their support in the course of three dramatic days for Russia, for our country, and I believe for the entire world.