Supreme Soviet asks Gorbachev for crisis session

November 15, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Shaken by what they saw in a two-week break in their home districts, Soviet parliamentarians said yesterday that the country is on the brink of famine, political anarchy and civil disorder. They canceled their agenda and called a crisis session for tomorrow to be addressed by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The atmosphere of alarm in the Supreme Soviet reflected the feeling on the streets, with a number of developments contributing to the sense of uncertainty:

* Without warning, the Soviet government ordered prices freed, beginning today, on so-called luxury goods, including carpets, electronics, furniture and automobile parts. But the Russian Federation leadership immediately suspended the deregulation in its territory and appealed to other republics to follow suit.

The contradictory orders deepened confusion about who is in charge, with one television channel reporting that prices would rise and another reporting that they would not. The episode appeared likely to accelerate panic-buying not only of luxury items but of other goods as well.

* Former dissident and nationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected the first non-Communist president of Georgia since 1921 and vowed to lead the republic to independence. The words "Soviet" and "Socialist" were dropped from the republic's name, which will be the Republic of Georgia under a restored pre-Soviet flag.

* The Moldovan Parliament, already abandoned by ethnic Russian and Gagauz deputies from regions that are trying to secede, was further crippled by a walkout of deputies from the Moldovan People's Front.

The radicals opposed a draft parliamentary statement that said Moldova would stay in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and would not unite with neighboring Romania. They issued a protest saying that the statement contradicts Moldova's declaration of sovereignty and "insults the feelings of people in fraternal Romania," where the language and ethnicity are indistinguishable from those in Moldova.

* Tension increased in the Baltic republics as Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian leaders vowed to defy Soviet pressure to join in the 1991 Soviet budget and pledged to pursue full independence.

The Latvian Parliament instructed government agencies to stop providing supplies or social services to Soviet army troops deployed in the republic. It also ordered the disarming of Moscow-controlled riot police, who have been guarding Communist Party buildings and have clashed several times with Latvians.

* Police said that a Leningrad political activist arrested after firing two shots on Red Square during the revolution anniversary parade last week was aiming at Mr. Gorbachev and other leaders atop Lenin's mausoleum.

The policeman who overpowered Alexander Shmonov, Sgt. Andrei Mylnikov, also said the gun involved was not a sawed-off shotgun, as previously reported, but a hunting rifle. Such a gun might have reached the leaders from about 100 yards.

The price war between Soviet and Russian authorities followed a four-hour meeting between Mr. Gorbachev and Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin Sunday, when both men pledged to avoid such squabbles.

Whether Mr. Gorbachev approved the deregulation could not be learned, but it was ordered by a decree of the government of Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov.

Mr. Ryzhkov has tried repeatedly to torpedo any alliance between Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin, who publicly advocates the prime minister's resignation in favor of a coalition government.

By unilaterally ordering price changes, Mr. Ryzhkov may have been deliberately seeking to undermine a Gorbachev-Yeltsin detente that could cost him his job.

Most economists believe that freeing prices is a necessary precondition for a market economy. So the debate is more one of politics than of economics, which will not make it easier to settle.

Paralysis of government coupled with worsening food shortages is increasingly drawing comparisons with 1917, since every Soviet citizen has studied in school Lenin's definition of a "revolutionary situation." In that year, similar instability, worsened by World War I, led first to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and later to the Bolshevik seizure of power.

Yesterday's emotional explosion in the Soviet parliament was prompted partly by deputies' realization of their increasing irrelevance as more power goes to the republics and to Mr. Gorbachev. Many speakers said it was pointless to keep passing laws as long as both the Soviet president and the republics felt free to ignore them.

But many deputies clearly came away frightened from meetings with their constituents over the revolution holidays.

Leningrad editor Boris N. Nikolsky said bread was disappearing from stores there as people who remembered the starvation of the German siege during World War II bought bread to dry for long-term storage. He said the country was "on the brink of catastrophe" and called for Mr. Ryzhkov to step down.

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