MOSCOW -- Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin hailed strikin coal miners last night for stopping the Soviet leadership's slide to the right and warned Mikhail S. Gorbachev that the recent political peace treaty between himself and the Soviet president is Mr. Gorbachev's "last chance."
In a televised interview following his trip last week to the militant Kuzbass coal basin in Western Siberia, Mr. Yeltsin sought to cement his political alliance with the burgeoning workers' movement and fend off allegations that he had conceded too much to Mr. Gorbachev.
"The broad scale and organization of the strike around the
country was one of the main reasons that the offensive of reactionary forces was cut off," Mr. Yeltsin said.
"At the time when reactionary forces, right-wing forces, started to arise, there began to appear as a counterweight the workers' movement, and in many ways it determined that the situation changed," he said. "Miners, workers, citizens of Russia demonstrated that they won't go backward."
Mr. Yeltsin thus implicitly endorsed the 2-month-old strike, which at its peak closed a third of Soviet coal mines and forced the shutdown of metallurgy plants and other factories.
The strike is now winding down, partly due to Mr. Yeltsin's intervention. Russian miners' leaders said yesterday that strikers will return to work if the Soviet government signs an agreement today, as expected, to free coal mines from Soviet bureaucratic control and shift them to the jurisdiction of Mr. Yeltsin's Russian Federation.
The Russian leader said his government will grant the mines total economic independence. He said other enterprises in "energy, transport, construction" and other industries may soon be freed from Moscow superministries and granted the power to manage their own affairs.
Mr. Yeltsin credited the strike with reversing what was viewed here and abroad as a clear shift against reform beginning late last fall, with the new prominence of hard-liners around Mr. Gorbachev, increasing reliance on the army and KGB, and tightened control of the media, especially television.
Mr. Yeltsin argued that the strikers had forced Mr. Gorbachev to grant important concessions, making possible the "Statement of signed April 23 by both men and the leaders of eight other republics after 9 1/2 hours of secret negotiations in a country house outside Moscow.
Never before, he said, had Mr. Gorbachev accepted explicitly that the republics' status has changed fundamentally.
He also said Mr. Gorbachev had agreed that the remaining six republics -- the Baltic states, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova -- can decide for themselves whether to stay in the union. "Without the army," he declared.
Mr. Yeltsin spoke carefully, often reading from notes. As the leading candidate in the first Russian presidential election, set for June 12, he seemed at pains to retain his status as rival, not ally, to the unpopular Mr. Gorbachev.
"I criticized [Mr. Gorbachev] fairly sharply, and said, 'For you, it's the last chance. If you will carry out our agreement, let's go ahead and act. And if you don't, then we'll go our own way,' " he said.
Mr. Yeltsin replied to skeptics among democratic activists and some striking miners, who saw the agreement as a betrayal of his earlier demand for Mr. Gorbachev's resignation. He said the Soviet president will not dare go back on an agreement signed by nine republican leaders.
Mr. Yeltsin claimed that Mr. Gorbachev had made a number of concessions to the republics on other matters that were not recorded in the published "Statement of 10." He did not explain why republican leaders failed to insist on publication of all points agreed to during the marathon meeting.
In a major victory for the republics, Mr. Yeltsin said, Mr. Gorbachev had conceded that the Soviet government will relinquish control over exports.
"It won't be necessary every time, for every 1,000 cubic meters of lumber, to go to [Soviet Prime Minister Valentin S.] Pavlov's office and get permission to export it," he said.
Mr. Yeltsin said Mr. Gorbachev also agreed that the planned Union Treaty, which is expected to become the basis for a renewed U.S.S.R., will be based on drafts drawn up by the republics.