Legislators Join in Scrapping Kremlin Power
As if there were any doubts, the Soviet legislature, a pathetic parody of its former self, solemnly voted the Soviet Union out of existence on Thursday and ordered the remaining shreds of Kremlin power scrapped within a week.
“As you noticed today, the flag of the Soviet Union over the Kremlin has been lowered,” Kazakh writer Anuarbek Alimzhanov, chairman of the legislature’s upper chamber, the Council of the Republics, told the 40 or so deputies who bothered to show up.
Following the lead of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who quit the Soviet presidency on Wednesday night and ordered the Kremlin’s red flag lowered for the final time, Alimzhanov led his chamber, the last representative body in national Soviet politics, through its “civil and parliamentary duty"--declaring a formal end to the U.S.S.R.
In the 40-minute proceedings, the chamber also moved to abolish the Supreme Soviet, killing off the Gorbachev-remodeled institution that gave this now exploded country its first taste of robust parliamentary debate and democracy.
On the first day of the post-Gorbachev age, Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin drove out to the Moscow suburb of Yasenevo to visit the headquarters of what had been the Soviet espionage agency, which Yeltsin last week ordered nationalized by Russia.
After talking with the director, Yevgeny M. Primakov, an academician and longtime member of Gorbachev’s coterie, Yeltsin decided to retain Primakov, 62, in the job.
But the espionage agency, the result of the breakup of the KGB, will now be called “Russian External Intelligence,” the Tass news agency said. It said Yeltsin told its officials they must work in Russia’s interests.
Preparing for a key meeting of leaders of the new Commonwealth of Independent States next week, defense ministers from the member republics gathered in Moscow at the headquarters of what had been the Soviet Defense Ministry.
In talks to last at least two days, the ministers will try to hammer out a common defense policy before the commonwealth summit next Monday in Minsk, Belarus. Since the presidents of both Ukraine and Azerbaijan have proclaimed themselves commanders in chief of conventional forces in their republics, the commonwealth has been unable to agree on a unified command, as Yeltsin desires, or independent armies for all the republics.
Gorbachev, meeting with a group of Soviet reporters and aides at a Moscow hotel to bid them farewell, said he feels exhausted because of his recent political struggles. He said he will take the next two weeks off.
But he firmly rejected the idea of retirement at 60.
“I have big plans. My role is changing but I am not leaving the political scene,” Gorbachev said in a brief speech.
And he quipped: “My mother has been telling me for a long time: ‘Give it all up and come home.’ I am going to call her today. I am sure she will tell me the same thing.”
The Russian Information Agency reported that Gorbachev warned that society is fed up with politicians in general and reiterated that he doesn’t plan to seek a new role as leader of an anti-Yeltsin opposition. “We now are on the eve of the most important events and have to put aside political affiliations and even disagreements to carry out reforms,” he said.
At the Kremlin, the last rites of the passage of power from the Soviet Union to the new commonwealth continued. It was a bitter, windy day Thursday. But Muscovites came to Red Square to gawk at the flag of pre-revolutionary Russia that now waves again--after an interval of 74 years--from atop the rotunda of the old Senate building.
Black Zil and Chaika limousines crammed with belongings trundled out of the Borovitsky and Spassky gates, as departing Soviet bureaucrats evidently stripped their offices. Two shiny bronze wall plaques that marked the entrance to the ocre-hued palace where the Supreme Soviet met were unbolted by workers and carted away. Inside, the plump women who check the coats and fur hats of deputies and visitors said they had been told the building will now be used by Russian lawmakers.
The Kremlin-based legislature boasts a pedigree dating to January, 1938, when it began sitting a few days every year as the supposed supreme organ of state power, lending Josef Stalin’s tyrannical rule a cloak of legality.
In keeping with the single-party Communist system, all votes were unanimous until the advent of the Gorbachev era. Then, in October, 1988, Roald Sagdeyev, a space scientist who would marry the granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower, cast the first “no” vote in Supreme Soviet history, opposing a bill creating paramilitary police forces.
The next year, a two-tier legislature came into existence that turned the Supreme Soviet into what it had never been before: a working legislature empowered, at least theoretically, to scrutinize and brake actions by the executive branch.
Many of the politicians now in power, like St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly A. Sobchak, gained fame because of their stirring orations in the Supreme Soviet. But it rapidly became clear that the legislature, with 542 members, could be manipulated at will by Gorbachev and Speaker Anatoly I. Lukyanov, who is now in prison for his role in the August putsch.
After the failed coup caused an outflow of political power from Moscow to the republics, the bicameral legislature was again refashioned to allow republics to directly name delegates to a new upper chamber, Alimzhanov’s 173-member Council of the Republics. But no more than seven republics ever took part, and the chamber, along with the Council of the Union, which had ceased to function earlier, was nothing more than an impotent talking shop.
“I don’t know what the first session of the Supreme Soviet (in 1938) talked about; it seems to me they spoke of great things, of world revolution, of the dream of moving toward communism,” Alimzhanov told the nearly empty chamber wistfully. He said his compatriots had since learned that they “can’t skip stages in history” and will now have to experience capitalism.
With a show of hands, the few dozen deputies from the five Central Asian republic legislatures ratified the commonwealth accords, as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and some others already have.
The deputies also decided that officials on the national Supreme Court, State Prosecutor’s office and Arbitration Court will vacate their offices by next Thursday, when under the terms of a Gorbachev-Yeltsin accord, Soviet institutions will be definitely supplanted by the commonwealth.
Recognizing New States
After Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev resigned, the diplomatic world reacted to the new Commonwealth of Independent States. United States: President Bush recognized six former Soviet republics--Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. The six other republics will receive U.S. recognition when America is satisfied “that they have made commitments to responsible security policies and democratic principles.”
China: Beijing indicated it is ready to establish ties with the republics but blamed Gorbachev’s “new thinking” for bringing “political chaos, ethnic strife and economic crisis” to the new states.
European Community: The EC had earlier recognized the Russian Federation. It accelerated the establishment of diplomatic ties with the other former Soviet republics.
Germany: A key ally of the Soviet Union, Germany established diplomatic relations with Russia and recognized it as the successor to the old union.
India: The Asian nation recognized the members of the commonwealth and Georgia, where opposition forces are fighting to oust President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
Japan: Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said his nation is ready to recognize Russia as the successor to the Soviet government.
Afghanistan: Afghan rebels said that the collapse of the Soviet Union is divine retribution for the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.
Israel: The Israeli government recognized the commonwealth republics. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it plans to open an embassy in Ukraine and another in one of the Baltic states, probably Latvia.
Cuba: The Cuban government recognized the 11 commonwealth states and Georgia. Cuba said it is interested “in continuing to develop the ties of friendship and collaboration created over the past three decades.”