Gorbachev wins out on right to keep powers

June 22, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- After getting an emotional tongue-lashing from President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet parliament dropped a proposal to boost the power of Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov at Mr. Gorbachev's expense.

By a vote of 262-24, with 21 abstentions, the Supreme Soviet chose not to debate further a request by Mr. Pavlov for additional powers. Though both Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Pavlov denied they were at odds, the president described the prime minister's request for special powers as "not thought through." It was widely viewed as an attempted power grab by conservatives.

Jabbing with his finger and accusing two leaders of the conservative Soyuz (Union) faction of plotting against him, Mr. Gorbachev warned that time for economic reform is running out.

"We are approaching a phase when delay may mean death," he said.

Despite his tactical victory over reactionary opponents of change, two major questions remained unresolved.

The first was the identity of Mr. Gorbachev's real opponents and the nature of the plot against him. He named Yuri V. Blokhin, an economist from Moldova, and Col. Viktor I. Alksnis, a soldier from Latvia, as trying to undermine good relations between the president, the parliament and Mr. Pavlov's Cabinet.

The usually unflappable Mr. Blokhin shouted from his seat, "So, this is the end of democracy?"

Mr. Gorbachev shot back: "Democracy will continue to develop, but no one will be permitted to usurp democracy to achieve their own, narrow political goals."

But though the two outspoken leaders of Soyuz were the visible opponents, many deputies looked to the left corner of the chamber during Mr. Gorbachev's speech to see the reactions of three men sitting silently in a row: Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris K. Pugo and KGB Chairman Vladimir A. Kryuchkov.

The three had briefed two closed parliamentary sessions earlier in the week, painting a grim picture of the situation in the country. Their views obviously are far more important than those of the Soyuz activists, but by Mr. Blokhin's account they hardly differ. It was hard to escape the impression that Mr. Gorbachev's bitter attack on parliamentary conservatives was aimed at the security chiefs, who may prove far more difficult to neutralize politically.

The second question raised by Mr. Gorbachev is his intention to unite two economic programs into one for presentation to leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial powers at their meeting in London next month. He insisted that Mr. Pavlov's "anti-crisis program" and a separate plan worked out by radical economist Grigory Yavlinsky along with economists at Harvard University are compatible.

Both authors, however, seem skeptical, and each has made disparaging remarks about the other's plan. Mr. Yavlinsky told a news conference he does not see how the two plans can be combined.

But he suggested sarcastically that one way of combining them would be to use only Mr. Pavlov's title, "anti-crisis program," and apply it to his own work.

Last autumn, when Mr. Gorbachev spoke of combining similar radical and gradual economic programs, Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin dismissed the idea as "trying to mate a hedgehog with a snake." Indeed, after lengthy debate, the parliament adopted only a vague set of guidelines rather than an economic program.

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