Economic transition plan is ready, Gorbachev says

September 13, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said last night that a final plan for the transition to a market economy has at last been completed and that "the whole country" now must determine its fate.

"I'm convinced that we stand before crucial, fundamental changes in our economy and in our style of living," he told Soviet television. "Our whole country has to discuss this and take a position. It's a difficult choice. It's not a choice for one person or even a group of people."

The interview clearly represented an attempt by Mr. Gorbachev to reassert control over an economic reform process that bogged down in bickering and confusion in the national parliament Tuesday.

But his remarks failed to end the anarchy surrounding the reform plans. He did not even acknowledge the fact that the Russian Federation parliament has unilaterally adopted an economic program, refusing to wait for the Soviet parliament to make up its mind.

Meanwhile, in an ominous note, two newspapers revived open discussion of the possibility of a military coup by hard-liners to defend socialism or prevent disintegration of the union.

In Moscow News, activists in the military reform organization Shield claimed to have evidence "that the leadership of the armed forces already has a clear plan to take control of the situation in the country." Political writer Andrei Nuikin said reformers should "carefully consider measures of response" to a possible coup attempt.

Also yesterday, Vladimir Sokolov, an editor of Literaturnaya Gazeta, outlined the thinking of the military brass who might engineer a coup.

Economic collapse, interethnic violence and the hazard that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of unofficial forces might persuade them that "it would be cheapest and most reliable to carry out that same military coup that politicians and newspaper writers have scared one another with for two years."

Mr. Sokolov rejected the widespread idea that a coup would be met with massive popular armed resistance and would therefore not be attempted. He even proposed that Mr. Gorbachev ally himself with younger, more progressive military officers to forestall a seizure of power by older, reactionary officers and to preserve order during the transition to a market economy.

The coup scare, which has flared and receded off and on since 1988, has been revived for several reasons: Economic shortages are worse than ever and have begun to affect such necessities as bread. Crime, draft resistance and interethnic violence are growing.

Perhaps the most important new factor is the radical economic reform plan drafted by a team led by Gorbachev aide Stanislav Shatalin, approved by the Russian Federation parliament and endorsed by Mr. Gorbachev Tuesday.

In effect, it rejects many of the values of the Bolshevik Revolution by endorsing large-scale denationalization of industry and private ownership. The plan also presupposes a drastic decentralization of power from Moscow that would mean the end of the Soviet Union in its current form.

Tuesday, expectations that the national parliament would at last act on a program for a transition to a market economy were frustrated as Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov announced that competing teams of economists had failed to agree on a plan.

Mr. Gorbachev added to the disarray by stating that he backed the Shatalin plan over that of Mr. Ryzhkov -- but adding that he opposed calls for Mr. Ryzhkov's resignation because that would promote instability.

In last night's television interview, Mr. Gorbachev adopted a calm, in-charge tone, declaring that a single plan had been developed, mainly based on the Shatalin plan while incorporating some ideas from the Ryzhkov program.

What Mr. Gorbachev had in mind when he said "the whole country" would decide on the program was unclear. He previously has indicated he opposes a national referendum.

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