Russian Approval of Alliance Could Doom the Union : Soviet crisis: Gorbachev’s pleas are ignored as the old structure is effectively dissolved. Ukrainian leader takes command of armed forces in his republic.
The Russian legislature effectively voted the Soviet Union out of existence Thursday by ratifying nearly unanimously an agreement for a Commonwealth of Independent States and turning a deaf ear to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s pleas to save the union.
In the Russian Parliament building, lawmakers, together with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, rose to their feet and clapped as an electronic sign at the front of the hall flashed the results of the vote on the commonwealth--188 to 6, with 7 abstentions.
“There are few decisions that are made to standing ovations--these are historic decisions,” Yeltsin, his fleshy face beaming with satisfaction, said as he thanked the legislators for supporting the commonwealth.
In another major blow to the Kremlin’s authority, Ukraine’s President Leonid M. Kravchuk declared himself commander in chief of the armed forces in his republic, a role Gorbachev alone held for the whole Soviet army.
Gorbachev, meeting with Soviet journalists, gave mixed signals about his own political fate, but even the conservative Inform television news program called it his “farewell press conference.”
“I did all that I could,” Gorbachev told the reporters in an emotional two-hour Kremlin interview. “My life’s work has been accomplished. Maybe other people who come will do better.”
He even gave a recipe to his successors: “I want the process that we began to be moved forward by people who are ready to accept new values: democracy, economic and political freedom.”
But, indicating that he had not yet given up all hope, he also stressed that he would resign only “if we do not come to terms.”
The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of the commonwealth appeared inevitable, despite Gorbachev’s urgings. Without Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the new entity’s three founding members, there could be no Soviet Union.
And several other republics seemed to be on the verge of joining the new alliance, which was put together by Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Belarus leader Stanislav Shushkevich last weekend and now has been ratified by the three founders’ parliaments.
The Parliament of the southern republic of Azerbaijan approved the commonwealth agreement late Thursday. Republic leaders must now simply sign the accord to make Azerbaijan the fourth member of the commonwealth.
And leaders of five Central Asian republics--Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan--met late Thursday in Ashkhabad, the Turkmenistan capital, to discuss whether they, too, will join the commonwealth. The outcome of their discussion was not expected to be made public until today.
The commonwealth envisions a loose union of independent states that will coordinate economic and foreign policies and share control over strategic armed forces.
But Ukraine’s President Kravchuk made it clear that he does not consider conventional forces the commonwealth’s domain. After assuming the duties of military commander in chief, Kravchuk decreed that most troops on Ukrainian territory, except units of “strategic deterrence forces,” will be subordinate to him as commander in chief, according to the official Tass news agency.
Kravchuk was elected by a landslide two weeks ago. In the same election, more than 90% of eligible Ukrainians voted in favor of independence.
In a speech Thursday just before the Russian Parliament voted to ratify the commonwealth, Yeltsin said that he and Gorbachev had agreed that “currently working structures” of the central government would remain functioning until a majority of the republics join the commonwealth.
However, Russia and Belarus recalled their deputies from the national legislature, the Supreme Soviet. That body was scheduled to debate the commonwealth issue Thursday but postponed the discussion until after the five republics meeting in Ashkhabad make their opinions known.
Gorbachev chastised Russia and Belarus for pulling their deputies out of the national legislature.
“Such decisions in the current complicated political and social-economic situation in the country do not serve the stability of society,” Gorbachev said in a statement made public by Tass.
While Gorbachev dug in his heels, many of the country’s leading politicians had already started referring to him in the past tense, considering his resignation a fait accompli.
“I do not exclude the possibility that there will be a place (in the administration of the commonwealth) for the former president of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly A. Sobchak, one of the country’s most popular and influential politicians.
Sobchak and several political leaders suggested that Gorbachev is being considered as a civilian head of strategic forces in the commonwealth.
“The nuclear button should always be controlled by only one person,” Sobchak told reporters at the Russian legislature. “The republics may decide to preserve Gorbachev’s role as the supreme commander.”
Gen. Dmitry Volkogonov, a Russian lawmaker who chairs the legislature’s commission on investigating Communist Party archives and a Defense Ministry commission on dissolving political cells in the military, agreed that Gorbachev was being considered for the post because of his prestige abroad.
“It is natural that Gorbachev should resign, but this does not mean his role is exhausted, because there will be a need in the nearest future for a supreme commander of the strategic armed forces, and he is the main candidate. . . . This must be a politician who is trusted in the West and who is listened to here. I think he will be able to successfully fulfill this symbolic and very important uniting role.”
In his speech, Yeltsin said that when he spoke with top military brass Wednesday, they had offered “active support for the position of the commonwealth.”
Yeltsin stressed that although the idea of the commonwealth came out of a meeting of the three Slavic leaders, the alliance will not give preference to any ethnic group.
“In the commonwealth, discrimination on ethnic or other grounds is impermissible,” Yeltsin said. “The agreement embodies the will of our states to assist the full-blooded development of both indigenous nations and ethnic minorities. It is very important that we recognize open borders between our countries.”
Volkogonov stressed that it was only through such a commonwealth that the peoples of various republics of the Soviet Union could finally come out from under hundreds of years of Russian domination.
“It was a chance to grasp the historic chance to live together with the members of the former Russian empire--but in a new quality,” Volkogonov said. “Before Ukraine, Belarus and other republics were a part of the Soviet empire, they were submissive to Russia. Now they have equal rights. It is a completely new level of civilization.”
A public opinion poll in the capitals of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus showed that the citizens there are not quite as enthusiastic about the commonwealth as their elected representatives. According to results published in the newspaper Izvestia, 76% of those polled in Minsk, 84% in Moscow and 50% in Kiev favored the agreement.
Sobchak of St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, where the population of 5 million is suffering from extreme food shortages, said he hopes that the question of the commonwealth will be decided quickly so that the focus can turn to economic reform.
Where They Stand on Commonwealth
Positions of Soviet republics on commonwealth pact .
MEMBERS: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus
EXPECTED TO JOIN: Armenia, Azerbaijan
WEIGHING MEMBERSHIP: Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, Georgia