Soviet Power-Sharing

April 26, 1991

There has been so much alarming news from the Soviet Union recently that the stabilization pact signed by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and nine Soviet republics comes as a relief. After months of turmoil and disintegration, this agreement finally creates the possibility that a new, mutually satisfactory power-sharing agreement can be worked out between the Kremlin and Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tadzhikistan, Kirghizia and Turkmenistan.

In a surprise move, leaders of those nine republics agreed to draft a treaty forming a successor state to what today is the Soviet Union. Once the treaty is signed, a new constitution will be prepared and elections held to fill whatever "union power bodies" are created. Soviet and local legislative and administrative organs are to continue operating during the transitional period.

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldavia, Georgia and Armenia are not among the signatories of this agreement. Significantly, the pact recognizes their right to "independently decide on the question of accession to the union treaty," which is what they have demanded all along. Equally significant, the pact decrees that if those rebellious republics decide against joining the new Soviet federation, they will not qualify for the most-favored-nation treatment within its "single economic space."

If this kind of clear and realistic letter of intent had been promulgated earlier, much of the current chaos threatening stability in the Soviet Union could have been avoided. True, a detailed final agreement still has to be concluded and executed, but that is likely to be done with dispatch. Once it is, earnest negotiations can begin within the Kremlin "center" and the nine republics -- and with the six republics which stayed away from this week's negotiations in the Moscow countryside.

It is unlikely that this pact alone can stop the strikes and upheavals that currently are bleeding the Soviet Union. But if the signatories produce concerted economic and political programs, successful mediations could be started.

Is this breakthrough a victory for Mr. Gorbachev or his arch-rival, Boris N. Yeltsin?

We prefer not to think in the simplistic terms of personal rivalry. Instead we see this as the fruit of tough bargaining, a welcome last chance for an orderly transformation of today's Soviet Union into a federation that will play a major role in tomorrow's Europe and Asia. The United States should do everything it can to encourage this peaceful transformation. Nothing is more threatening to worldwide stability than the specter of a sudden and uncontrollable collapse of the Soviet Union without anything to replace the vacuum it creates.

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