Hard-liners seek to strip Gorbachev of some power

June 19, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Conservatives in the Soviet parliament fiercely attacked President Mikhail S. Gorbachev yesterday for destroying the Soviet Union as a superpower and proposed transferring some of his powers to Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov.

Liberals countered by charging that Mr. Pavlov, new hero of the hard-liners, was plotting with the military and the KGB to halt reform and restore the old order.

After the second closed session of the Supreme Soviet in two days, deputies said, the parliament acceded to a request from Mr. Gorbachev not to grant to Mr. Pavlov for now the expanded powers he requested Monday. They said the Soviet president asked for time to study the idea, which Mr. Pavlov had not discussed with him before unveiling it.

A flash point for the bitter parliamentary debate, which threatened a public split at the heart of the Soviet leadership, is Mr. Gorbachev's appeal for Western aid to support a transition to a market economy. Soviet traditionalists, apparently including Mr. Pavlov, see it as a humiliating and dangerous surrender to old ideological enemies.

Another volatile issue is the draft union treaty, which has been agreedto in principle by nine of the 15 republics. Reformers hail the treaty as having the potential to create a new, smaller, but truly voluntary union. Conservatives say it would in effect break up the Soviet Union by ratifying the secession of the six republics that are unwilling to sign.

"We are being told that everything is proceeding normally, with the exception of one minor detail -- the political and economic collapse of the country," sneered Vladimir A. Valov, director of a state factory in the Kirov region. He said that unlike Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Pavlov was willing and able to restore order in the country.

"We allowed before our eyes a great power to be degraded to the position of a beggar with outstretched arm," said Yevgeny V. Kogan, a Russian from Estonia and leader of the big conservative bloc called Soyuz (Union). "We've reached the point where our citizens have to defend not only their rights but their lives for themselves. And all this is called perestroika."

Sergei M. Ryabchenko, a Kiev physicist and moderate reformer, denounced the conservatives for "nostalgia for the old unitary state and superpower."

He charged that Mr. Pavlov's request Monday for expanded powers -- coupled with addresses in closed session by KGB chief Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov and Internal Affairs Minister Boris K. Pugo -- amounted to "a coordinated campaign to remove the president of the U.S.S.R. from power."

He said the security chiefs had tried to frighten deputies into backing a retreat from reform in order to preserve the old state.

"We hear the cry, 'Save us! Our superpower and unitary state are being destroyed! We have to have emergency measures to save it!' No, we don't have to save it. We need to create for real a LTC union we'll all be proud to be members of, so that all republics are proud they're in the union and afraid of being expelled," he said.

"The rejection of the idea of a superpower means that we're no longer being used the world over to frighten little children," Mr. Ryabchenko said. "Thank God we're not a superpower!"

For many deputies, the debate sounded like a rerun of one last fall that accompanied parliamentary consideration of the vaunted day" radical economic reform plan.

Just as in the fall, said Deputy Ella A. Pamphilova, the conservatives are demanding action from Mr. Gorbachev -- "but as soon as he begins really to do something, all the conservative forces unite to stop it."

Last October, the 500-day plan was championed by Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin and fought bitterly by then-Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, as well as by Mr. Pavlov, then finance minister.

In the middle was Mr. Gorbachev. At first he said he preferred "500 days" to the far more gradual Ryzhkov plan. But under intense pressure from conservatives, he reversed himself and ended up settling for a set of vague economic guidelines that merely postponed serious reform.

The conservatives' victory in that debate ushered in a half-year of reaction, in which Mr. Gorbachev seemed a pawn of the KGB and military.

Today the political situation is dramatically different. In late April, Mr. Gorbachev moved away from the hard-liners and reached a truce with Mr. Yeltsin and other republican leaders. A week ago, Mr. Yeltsin overwhelmed Mr. Ryzhkov, 57 percent to 17 percent, to be elected as the first president of Russia.

Thus the conservatives' vehemence yesterday was partly a measure of their desperation. Leonid I. Sukhov, a worker from Kharkov, went so far as to charge that "Gorbachev and his Mafia" were deliberately destroying the state.

Deputy Alexander N. Kuzmin told Radio Russia that Mr. Pavlov's failure to consult Mr. Gorbachev in advance about his request for expanded powers was alarming. Under the reshuffling of government approved by the parliament in November, the prime minister is directly subordinate to the president.

The forces arrayed against free-market reform and republican independence are still formidable and are unlikely to give up without a considerable fight.

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