Gorbachev consolidates power, cutting prime minister's influence

November 18, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev took a step toward dismantling the central Soviet bureaucracy yesterday by effectively stripping Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov of power and announcing that he would manage the government himself, along with a council of republican representatives.

His plan, endorsed in a 316-19 vote last night by a crisis session of the Soviet parliament, replaced the Council of Ministers headed by Mr. Ryzhkov with a Cabinet reporting to Mr. Gorbachev and to the Federation Council, which consists of the leaders of the 15 republics.

Mr. Gorbachev, presenting the bureaucratic shake-up in a hard-hitting speech, appealed passionately for the preservation of the Soviet Union as a state.

"I am resolutely against the breakup of the state, against dividing up territory, breaking centuries-old ties of the peoples," he said. "Now I think it's easier for me to speak from my own experience, bitter experience already washed in the blood of our people. We see that we cannot split up."

The shake-up of the central bureaucracy headed by Mr. Ryzhkov

would distribute its power to the republics, which have declared themselves sovereign states.

But it appeared unlikely that republican leaders would accept subordination to Mr. Gorbachev, as the plan envisions. The three Baltic republics will not participate in the Federation Council at all, said Marju Lauristin, deputy speaker of the Estonian parliament.

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, without whose assent the plan will be doomed, did not react and may not comment before consulting with Ukrainian leaders on a trip to Kiev today. Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Gorbachev met Friday during a break in the parliamentary debate, but it was not clear that they discussed the reorganization plan.

Some deputies were concerned that Mr. Gorbachev -- who has never submitted himself to a popular election -- is giving himself dictatorial powers. Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who before his election was jailed for nationalist activity for six months last year at Mr. Gorbachev's orders, on Friday accused him of harboring "totalitarian ambitions."

"It's a new structure with all the power in the hands of one man," Ms. Lauristin said. "You decide what word to use for it."

Mr. Ryzhkov, 61, who has hung on to power for months in the face of plummeting popular support, told reporters he had learned of the plan yesterday morning only 20 minutes before Mr. Gorbachev unveiled it.

An aide to Mr. Gorbachev, Georgy Shakhnazarov, said Mr. Ryzhkov's job was being eliminated. But he would not rule out the possibility that the prime minister would be offered the new vice presidency created as part of the leadership shake-up.

Sources close to Mr. Gorbachev said the plan had originally been prepared for the Congress of People's Deputies, the enlarged parliamentary session now scheduled for Dec. 17. But after Friday's frontal attack on the Ryzhkov government from Mr. Yeltsin, Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitold Fokin and a number of other republican leaders, Mr. Gorbachev concluded that the shake-up could not wait.

Initial reaction was mixed. Leningrad Mayor Anatoly A. Sobchak, a leading reformer, said he was pleased. Historian Yuri N. Afanasyev said the plan might turn out to be merely a "Politburo improvisation," not negotiated with the republics and therefore useless.

Not all details of the Gorbachev plan were clear yesterday. But his speech sketched the following structural changes:

* The Federation Council, which has met only a few times since it was created last spring, will get broad powers to approve all decisions affecting the interests of the republics. A new Inter-Republican Council will be set up under the Federation Council to handle its day-to-day work.

* The Council of Ministers will be replaced by a Cabinet of Ministers and -- according to Mr. Shakhnazarov -- its chairmanship, the post of prime minister, eliminated. Its ranks will be renewed with "new, enterprising people with modern ideas," Mr. Gorbachev said.

* The Presidential Council created last spring will be dissolved and a new Security Council established under the president. Mr. Gorbachev did not define its role, but it may well parallel the national Security Council operating under the U.S. president.

* A law-enforcement-coordinating council will be created to step up the fight against "organized crime, the shadow economy, speculation and other criminal phenomena overwhelming the country." The new "special service" -- again reporting to the president -- will begin work within two weeks.

* A presidential office would be established with representatives in every region to ensure the implementation of "laws, decisions, instructions." Many deputies have complained that Mr. Gorbachev's decrees and the parliamentary laws are ignored by republican and local authorities.

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