Gorbachev accuses mobsters of trying to buy power

February 14, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev charged yesterday that Soviet organized crime figures were trying to buy their way to political power, in part by paying off the press.

He also said that economic reform must proceed slowly, with greater attention for the time being to stabilization and law and order.

"It is impossible to start market relations right away," Mr. Gorbachev told a gathering of prosecutors. "It would be adventurism. Our society must be prepared for this. Therefore, there will be a relatively long transition period."

He also rejected the idea that "market relations are a panacea and will bring us a horn of plenty." Echoing ideas he first advanced in 1985 but seemed later to discard, Mr. Gorbachev said a market economy can only bring benefit if accompanied by "the introduction of new technologies and implementation of a structural policy."

He said his recent decrees canceling large bank notes and giving sweeping search-and-seizure powers to the KGB had targeted the power-hungry Soviet mafia.

The decrees were meant "to strike a blow against organized crime, which already isn't satisfied with just an economic role but wants to have power," Mr. Gorbachev said.

"And it's trying to buy off the press. To pay newspapers, buy a stake, and so on," he said.

His comments came a day after Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov alleged that Western bankers had plotted to topple the Soviet leadership by buying up billions of rubles to be dumped on the Soviet market.

Bankers and Soviet economists yesterday ridiculed Mr. Pavlov's claims as preposterous, with some pointing out that Mr. Pavlov himself, as finance minister, oversaw printing of the rubles he now claims were to be used to destabilize the government.

Just as Mr. Pavlov failed to name bankers involved in the alleged financial coup attempt, Mr. Gorbachev failed to mention which mafiosi were buying up which newspapers.

Many Soviet and foreign observers concluded that the statements added up not to economic scandal but to an emerging political strategy: The Gorbachev leadership apparently seeks to persuade the public that Soviet crooks and bourgeois conspirators -- and not the Soviet state -- are to blame for economic woes. In this way, the leadership can squeeze out free-enterprise competitors and preserve the government's grip on the economy and on power.

"The apparat of the Communist Party is returning to power, and the democratic forces are doomed," declared Moscow Mayor Gavriil K. Popov, whose liberal leadership of the capital is rumored to be the target of a forthcoming Gorbachev decree imposing central government control on the city.

In another apparent result of the Gorbachev strategy, a top ally of Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin resigned yesterday after being linked by the KGB to an alleged attempt at a currency swindle.

In his resignation letter, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Gennady I. Filshin denied he was guilty of wrongdoing. But he said he had been spending so much time answering KGB charges that he could no longer do his job.

Mr. Filshin, 59, an economist, said his resignation was a "protest at what is obviously an anti-democratic campaign of provocation" organized by the KGB and Communist Party and (( government bureaucracies.

Another official in the Yeltsin government, Russian Foreign Trade Minister Viktor Yaroshenko, charged that the attacks on Mr. Filshin were part of "a deliberate campaign of persecution against the Russian leaders." He predicted that he or Mr. Yeltsin's top deputy, Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, might become the KGB's next targets.

Another Yeltsin ally, Russian parliamentarian and businessman Artyom M. Tarasov, already has been the target of a negative media campaign. Mr. Tarasov is being prosecuted for "insulting the honor and dignity of the president" in connection with his speculation that Mr. Gorbachev may have agreed to turn over the disputed Kurile Islands to Japan in return for massive investment.

Mr. Yeltsin, however, is clearly the real target of the various investigations, prosecutions and press slander campaigns, but he is somewhat protected from direct assaults by his popularity.

Mr. Gorbachev did criticize yesterday what he called an attempt to create "some kind of parallel center," clearly having in mind Mr. Yeltsin's insistence on the sovereignty of the Russian Federation.

In his speech to the prosecutors' gathering, excerpts of which were shown on television, Mr. Gorbachev said he still considered reform necessary.

Without "intellectual, economic and political freedom," he said, there would be no incentives and society would slip back into stagnation.

"There can be no return to the past," he said.

But the Soviet president, whose conservative turn over the past two months has angered many Soviet citizens and baffled many of his foreign admirers, made a revealing remark about the economy.

"On the way to the market, we are confronted with situations where it's very difficult to distinguish initiatives that are truly useful for the economy -- and the mere appearance of that, behind which in general stands only the striving for profit," he said. "That's a complex question."

Mr. Gorbachev's distinction between "useful" economic moves and those that only seek profit shows how deeply traditional Marxist-Leninist economic thinking is ingrained in him. He appears still to view personal economic profit not as the engine driving a market economy but as an unsavory, if unavoidable, side effect.

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