Gorbachev speaks out against 'destabilization'

April 02, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, facing severe challenges from rebellious republics and striking miners, has told army Communists he will stand firm against what he called his opponents' attempts to destabilize Soviet society and divide the union.

His tough, conservative speech was delivered Saturday, one day after his chief rival, Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin, had appealed for round-table talks among opposing political forces. In the published version of his speech, Mr. Gorbachev made no mention of Mr. Yeltsin's peace offer and implied that he was in no mood for negotiations.

As Pravda printed the Soviet president's remarks yesterday, Georgia became the fourth of the 15 Soviet republics to vote for independence in a referendum. The overwhelming support for Georgian secession -- 99 percent of those voting Sunday, with a 92 percent turnout -- was higher than in any of the three Baltic republics.

Several hundred thousand striking coal miners stayed out of work despite heavy pressure from the government and a promise of talks today with Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov and possibly with Mr. Gorbachev. Bauxite miners in the Sverdlovsk region also struck for a day.

The strikers' stance has been hardened by the fact that Communist members of the Russian Federation Congress of People's Deputies have blocked the creation of an elected Russian presidency.

Such a presidency, for which Mr. Yeltsin would be the leading candidate, was approved by 70 percent of Russian voters in a referendum March 17.

Chaos broke out at the Russian congress yesterday as reformist deputies tried to get the presidency onto the agenda and were frustrated again by hard-line Communists. The Communists are too weak to remove Mr. Yeltsin as parliamentary leader, their original goal, but they can muster enough votes to keep the presidency off the agenda.

Leaders of the reform coalition Democratic Russia said that if the congress did not vote to carry out the will of the voters by calling presidential elections, they would seek to dissolve the congress and force new parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile today, steep increases in state prices for food, clothing, appliances and many other items take effect, creating the potential for a wave of broader protests against the leadership of Mr. Gorbachev and the Communist Party.

But Mr. Gorbachev appears to be responding to the building pressure against him by standing firm and reinforcing his growing reliance on the army and Communist Party.

He spoke Saturday to 1,000 delegates to the first All-Army Communist Party conference. Because virtually all high-ranking military officers are still members of the party, the conference amounted to a meeting of the Soviet military brass.

"Today we are confronted with an attempt by opposition forces to destabilize society, to shake, weaken and even destroy our constitutional structures," he said, according to Pravda.

"Moreover, these anti-democratic actions are being taken under the slogans of the battle for democracy. The special danger of a certain part of today's opposition movements lies in the fact that for their own political goals they exploit and incite tension in society at any price, frequently according to the principle, 'the worse, the better,' " Mr. Gorbachev said.

He said that by "strengthening ties with all groups of workers, with all layers of the population," the Communist Party has "great chances to not only maintain but strengthen its position as ruling party."

That prognosis from the party's general secretary is strongly at odds with most public opinion polls, which show the Communist Party enjoys increasingly less respect and support in society as a whole.

But it was a message likely to play well with top military officers, many of whom are confused and angered by republican independence and sovereignty drives and radical attacks on communist ideology.

Mr. Gorbachev said the union's Cabinet of Ministers would soon propose an anti-crisis program that will include "measures of political stabilization, strengthening of law and order" as well as economic moves to prevent the breakdown of economic ties.

Last week, Mr. Gorbachev supported a ban on all rallies in Moscow imposed by the government on flimsy legal grounds and deployed 50,000 police and troops to keep demonstrators out of the city center.

There were no serious clashes between demonstrators and security forces. But former Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who resigned in December after warning of encroaching dictatorship, linked the show of force to a KGB and military assault on peaceful demonstrators in Lithuania in January.

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