MOSCOW 8B — MOSCOW -- A solemn Mikhail S. Gorbachev appeared on national television last night to inform his countrymen of "the most profound changes in the history of our state."
Russia and two other republics agreed yesterday to sign the newly drafted union treaty on Aug. 20, said Mr. Gorbachev, who held out hope
that some of the resisting republics would reconsider.
The treaty would transform the country into a loose federation and give more power to the republics, scrapping a 1922 charter that created the Soviet state. It would necessitate a new constitution, election law and judicial system.
The Soviet president, in an unannounced speech that took up the first 15 minutes of the main news program, offered a vision of freedom and renewal, both economic and political, if the treaty is approved.
"The Soviet Union will remain a great power," he promised. "In brief, the treaty creates prerequisites for profound changes for the better in all spheres of social and state life, and one can expect that its positive effect will begin to make itself felt in the near future."
Though Russia, which promised yesterday to sign, makes up more than half the nation, a new Soviet Union would be no union at all without the Ukraine, the second-largest republic.
The Ukraine, rich in coal and farmland, has been balking at the treaty. Mr. Gorbachev said last night that the signing process would remain open long enough to allow the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet to consider the treaty at length.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also agreed yesterday to sign. Mr. Gorbachev said Armenia, which had been opposed to the treaty, had at least decided to hold a referendum on it.
The new treaty was worked out with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and the leaders of nine other republics. It was unclear yesterday what would happen if all 15 republics did not sign.
Four republics -- Georgia and the three Baltic states -- have refused to have anything to do with the treaty because they want to secede.
"The peoples of Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will also be able to determine their position on this vital matter," Mr. Gorbachev said last night.
"A new, truly voluntary association of sovereign states is being created," he said. "The treaty endorses their right to maintain diplomatic, consular, cultural and other ties, trade relations with foreign states."
Mr. Gorbachev told the country that if signed, the treaty would lead to the strengthening of law and order, demanded by many of his conservative critics. A "full-blooded, all-union market" would be developed, he said, that would give business more freedom and opportunity.
If the treaty is approved -- and the Ukrainian republic has said it will not discuss ratification until September -- national elections for Mr. Gorbachev's job as president will be held, probably next year.
"We are entering a decisive stage in the transformation of our multiethnic state into a democratic federation of equitable Soviet Sovereign Republics," Mr. Gorbachev said.