Moscow and republics face showdown today

January 22, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun Karen Hosler of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

MOSCOW -- In the wake of two deadly attacks by Soviet troops in the Baltic republics, representatives of all 15 republics are scheduled to meet in Moscow today in what may be a crucial showdown with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Anatoly Denisov, a Soviet legislator returning from a fact-finding mission to Latvia, predicted that in the aftermath of a rampage by riot troops in Riga Sunday night that left five people dead and 10 wounded, Mr. Gorbachev will try to impose direct presidential rule in the republic.

Presidential rule, frequently cited by conservatives as a panacea for festering interethnic and economic problems, is only vaguely defined in the law. Many reformers fear that it will be imposed in several republics or even the entire country, and enforced by the military, becoming a dressed-up form of dictatorship.

A conservative army colonel, Viktor Alksnis, told reporters that Mr. Gorbachev had personally approved the formation by Communists of self-appointed "salvation committees" in Latvia and Lithuania to rival the elected pro-independence parliaments. He said the Soviet president apparently hoped to split the republics into warring factions to justify imposing presidential rule.

But Mr. Gorbachev then hesitated to implement his own plan. "He's weak," Colonel Alksnis said. For that reason, he said, Mr. Gorbachev should resign immediately and turn power over at an emergency session of the Congress of People's Deputies to a union-wide salvation committee.

The Democratic Russia movement, which organized Sunday's mass rally demanding the resignation of Mr. Gorbachev, countered the calls for presidential rule and salvation committees with a plan to boost republican power.

In a statement read by the movement's co-chairman, Yuri N. Afanasyev, Democratic Russia proposed abolishing the union presidency altogether and transferring the president's powers to the Federation Council, made up of the leaders of

the 15 republics. Only the dismantling of the union-level bureaucracy and the recognition of state sovereignty of the republics can prevent civil war, Mr. Afanasyev said.

The Russian Federation's leader, Boris N. Yeltsin, addressing an emergency session of the Russian parliament, proposed dramatic measures to defend the sovereignty of the biggest Soviet republic. Several other republics see Mr. Yeltsin as setting a precedent by defending his republic against arbitrary rule by Mr. Gorbachev, the KGB and the army.

Most dramatically, Mr. Yeltsin asked the Russian Federation prosecutor to "call to account" Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov for ignoring a Russian law banning the use of Russian troops against peaceful Soviet citizens. His proposal drew boisterous applause.

Some deputies had been inclined to give Mr. Gorbachev the benefit of the doubt even after troops seized Lithuanian broadcasting facilities Jan. 13, leaving 14 dead and 163 wounded. But the assault Sunday night by "black beret" riot troops of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs on the Latvian police headquarters persuaded many that troops are deliberately sowing conflict to prepare the ground for dictatorship.

"Black beret" defenders said the attack was a spontaneous action of local troops after the wife of one of their commanders was allegedly gang-raped by members of a Latvian volunteer force. Latvian officials said the attack was a provocation intended to destabilize the republic.

"It was absolutely a bandit-style action," said Gleb P. Yakunin, an Orthodox priest and Russian deputy, of the Riga assault. He said that Minister of Internal Affairs Boris K. Pugo and Mr. Gorbachev himself bore full responsibility for the killings, whether they gave the order to attack the building or not.

To boost republican security in the wake of such attacks, Mr. Yeltsin said, Russia would shortly sign a four-way treaty with the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan to create a "Union of fTC Sovereign States" with a very limited role for the union government.

The treaty, which he said other republics could subsequently choose

to sign, clearly is aimed at pre-empting Mr. Gorbachev's draft union treaty, which preserves most of the power of the current centralized regime. The four big republics together produce about 85 percent of Soviet gross national product.

Mr. Yeltsin said Russia should take control of enterprises now operated by Soviet ministries, including the defense plants that wield enormous political and economic clout in the Soviet Union. Russian banks should be prepared to offer such plants credits if they are cut off by union banks, he said.

The "information blockade" of Russia should be broken, he said. Union officials, most of them Communist Party loyalists who are decidedly hostile to Mr. Yeltsin, still control most television broadcasts and many print publications.

Finally, Mr. Yeltsin said the Russian parliament had to consider creating its own security organs and armed forces. "We cannot leave the armed forces in the hands of a few

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