Yeltsin declares Russia will not sign Union Treaty, calls Gorbachev a liar

March 10, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of the Sun

MOSCOW -- In a fiery speech, Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin declared yesterday that the largest Soviet republic will not sign the proposed Union Treaty in its present form and accused Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev of lying about Russia's support for it.

Enraged by the Communist Party's media campaign against him, the burly, snowy-haired populist urged democratic activists emulate striking coal miners and "declare war on the leadership of the country, which is leading us into a swamp, which again is turning to anti-democratic action."

He said Russia still has "dozens of criticisms" of the latest draft Union Treaty proposed by Mr. Gorbachev, published in Soviet newspapers yesterday. The flaws begin with the fact that the treaty does not refer to the republics as "states," as they are called even in the existing Soviet Constitution, he said.

He called Mr. Gorbachev's assertion last week that the Union Treaty was virtually agreed to by the republics "his latest deception." He said the Communist Party is plotting a legislative maneuver to permit representatives of the Russian Federation to sign the treaty despite Mr. Yeltsin's opposition.

"We don't need the union in its present form," he said. "We don't need a huge bureaucratic center. We don't need the ministries. We don't need that whole bureaucratic machine that has dictated everything from top to bottom all these 70-plus years. We should get rid of all that.

"During the six years of perestroika they have tried to persuade ++ us that we've destroyed that [old] system, that we really are conducting democratic reform," he said.

"That has turned out to be a lie. We should open our eyes to the fact that it was a lie and take a different path -- not that of the perestroika we've had so far, especially of the last year."

Reversing a long-held position, Mr. Yeltsin called for creation of a single political party, on the base of the reformist coalition Democratic Russia, to oppose the Communist Party.

He said he intends to wield the ballot against Communist power by pushing not only for direct election of the Russian president -- as will be decided by referendum next Sunday -- but for direct election of the chairmen of local soviets, or governing councils.

"It's time to go on the offensive," he said. "Democracy is in danger."

Mr. Yeltsin's 40-minute speech was a classic of political oratory, setting off fist-shaking defiance and rhythmic peroration with humorous asides. It was ignored by the major media but broadcast by Radio Russia, which is controlled by Yeltsin allies.

A sure sign that the speech struck its mark was the special appearance of Anatoly I. Lukyanov, chairman of the Soviet parliament and a top Gorbachev ally, on the evening television news show "Vremya" to denounce it.

Mr. Lukyanov assured the viewers -- most of whom knew nothing of the speech -- that it was irresponsible and inflammatory and would get an appropriate reply from the Supreme Soviet.

Mr. Lukyanov appeared particularly outraged by Mr. Yeltsin's backing for the striking coal miners, some of whom have demanded Mr. Gorbachev's resignation and transfer of his power to republican leaders.

"In such a difficult period, when society is so tense, when a match would be enough for it to burst into flame, the head of the highest organ of power of such a republic as Russia has no moral right to make such a speech," Mr. Lukyanov said. "It seems to me that we can't let such things pass."

It is increasingly difficult to separate personal bitterness and hunger for power from differences of principle in the long-running battle of Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin.

But Mr. Gorbachev stands for the preservation of the Soviet Union as a single, centralized state, with much, if not most, real power concentrated in the Kremlin. Mr. Yeltsin proposes a far more decentralized model, in which republics would essentially run their own affairs, relying on private enterprise, linked through direct, voluntary economic ties in a loose-knit commonwealth of nations.

Their differences were dramatized in January, when Soviet troops seized broadcast facilities in Lithuania, killing 13 unarmed demonstrators. Mr. Gorbachev justified the use of force to stop "anti-Soviet propaganda;" Mr. Yeltsin flew to the Baltic republics to denounce the attack and sign treaties pledging Russia's support.

In their epic power struggle, Mr. Gorbachev has on his side the Communist Party, the army and the KGB, the three traditional pillars of Soviet power, plus control of most of the media. He also retains abroad the reputation of a history-making reformer, albeit tarnished by Soviet troops' violence against Baltic civilians in January.

But he has lost, almost completely, the trust of the Soviet people.

Ex-Communist Yeltsin's position is precisely the reverse. He has no military or security force, no significant political party and does not even control the Russian parliament he heads. But while Mr. Gorbachev has never dared stand for election, Mr. Yeltsin has run successfully for both the Soviet and Russian parliaments and remains the most popular politician in the Soviet Union.

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