MOSCOW -- In the name of the fight against "economi sabotage," President Mikhail S. Gorbachev last night gave the KGB and police the right to enter virtually any premises in the country except foreign embassies to examine financial records and to confiscate valuables.
The decree was the latest of many recent acts of Mr. Gorbachev, the initiator of democratic reform in the Soviet Union, aimed at curbing democracy for the sake of law and order.
It underscored Mr. Gorbachev's shift from the political reliance on liberal intellectuals and activists that marked the first years of his rule to his increasing dependence on security forces today.
The new decree was unveiled as leaders of Moscow, Leningrad and the Russian Federation vowed to fight plans of the Soviet leadership to begin army patrols Friday in all major Soviet cities, ostensibly to fight crime. They called the move illegal and dangerous.
Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, vice president of the Russian Federation, said the patrol order was part of "a very dangerous tendency" to "create the psychological persuasion in the army that what is important is not its constitutional function of external defense but a role as an instrument of domestic policy."
He called such use of the army "anti-constitutional."
Leningrad Mayor Anatoly A. Sobchak said the order appears to be an attempt at "a creeping counterrevolution," under which martial law would gradually take shape without any official announcement.
"Then tomorrow, they could use these [military] formations to disband the legal organs of power," Mr. Sobchak said. He appeared with Mr. Khasbulatov on Leningrad television, which has so far escaped the censorship that has returned to national television.
At a press conference, Moscow's leaders said the patrol order would in effect strip the city of control over its own police. They said the situation in the capital in no way required such draconian measures.
The officials said they would use every legal means to cancel the order of Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov and Internal Affairs Minister Boris K. Pugo. Their statements followed denunciations of the order Friday by leaders in the Baltic republics.
There was no immediate response last night to the new presidential decree, granting what even the Tass news agency called "very extensive powers" to KGB and police investigators.
Superficially, the powers involved resemble those of, say, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in the United States. But they lack the controls of that apply to such powers in the United States.
For instance, the decree says that if the owner of premises
refuses to permit an inspection, KGB agents can conduct one anyway. No search warrant is needed.
Apparently dissatisfied with the slow drafting of laws, Mr. Gorbachev has virtually abandoned legislative initiatives in favor his broad powers to issue decrees. He speaks less often of his proclaimed goal of building a "law-governed state."
In the last few months, having rejected a swift move to a free market, Mr. Gorbachev has increasingly come to rely on the KGB to restore order to the collapsing planned economy. The KGB, meanwhile, has in several major cases been working to smear or HTC otherwise undermine attempts at private enterprise.
The Pugo-Yazov order setting up military patrols in most Soviet cities was signed Dec. 29 but was revealed only Friday after republican officials and journalists got wind of it.
It has touched off a fusillade of criticism in the wake of Soviet troops' violence this month in Lithuania and Latvia, which cost 19 lives.
In both republics, the violence was associated with what appears to have been an attempt by "salvation committees" to seize power. In both republics, these unelected committees asserted that they were in the process of seizing power from the elected parliaments, but subsequently backed away from those claims.
The committees appear to be mere fronts for local hard-line Communists who lost power in the first democratic elections last spring. Their genesis can be traced to Moscow. Viktor Alksnis, a right-wing army colonel and member of parliament from Latvia, has said their creation was personally approved by Mr. Gorbachev.
"The idea of committees of national salvation was born, it seems, in the [Communist Party] Central Committee building on Staraya Square," Mr. Khasbulatov confirmed. "Maybe it was a laboratory experiment in using these anti-constitutional structures. They thought, 'Maybe it will work. If it works we'll use it in other regions.' It's dangerous and does no one any honor."
It is the conviction of many Soviet reformers that the Baltic coups failed partly because of a strong stand against the violence from Russian Federation leader Boris N. Yeltsin and swift condemnation by many Western leaders.
Mr. Khasbulatov, Mr. Yeltsin's top deputy, said Russia sees a threat to its own sovereignty in the army's moves against the Baltic republics.
He specifically said he feared that the army or KGB might try to compromise the Russian leadership by creating the impression that Russian officials are planning to take up arms against the union.