Soviet leaders frantically try to save union Gorbachev accepts blame for coup, pledges 'no delays' THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 27, 1991|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The largely discredited leadership of the Soviet Union struggled unsuccessfully to recapture a semblance of authority yesterday as the republics acted decisively to free themselves from the old ties.

Other nations began establishing diplomatic ties with the Baltics, where Lithuania started to issue its own visas for the first time in half a century. The Uzbekistan Parliament prepared to declare independence, as the Ukraine and Byelorussia already have.

Moldova plans to vote on independence today, and the chairman of Armenia's Parliament, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, pronounced that "the center is dead. To reanimate this cadaver would be to bring alive danger."

With the country disintegrating, members of the Soviet parliament traded accusations far into the night even though they had applauded vigorously earlier in the day when President Mikhail S. Gorbachev told them "there will be no more compromises, no more delays."

He acknowledged that the seven days since Communist hard-liners attempted to oust him had changed the country irrevocably.

"People are saying that I came back to a different country. I agree with this," he said.

And he told them that he accepted some of the responsibility for last week's coup against him, which touched off the chain of events that stripped the central government of its authority.

"Instead of decisive actions, there was lack of determination," he said. "I as president bear an enormous share of the responsibility for this."

But he also blamed the parliament he was addressing -- known as the Supreme Soviet -- because it "failed to move."

Mr. Gorbachev, who appeared more subdued than forceful, was interrupted by applause once during his 35-minute speech when he said "no delays will be accepted in carrying out these reforms as long as I am president, no more compromises."

He said that the only way for the country to solve the governing crisiswas for the republics to sign the new union treaty, which hard-liners were trying to prevent when they launched their coup last week.

"The draft treaty is a balance of the interests of all participants," he said. "We have to sign the treaty and not delay its signing any longer."

Although the collapse of the central government has changed what the republics want in the treaty, Mr. Gorbachev said that it should be signed quickly and amended later.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan said the new union should be a loose confederation of republics joined by economic interests and called the Free Union of Sovereign Republics. Each republic, he said, should have its own army, but the central government should control nuclear weapons.

Alexander Rutskoi, the Russian vice president, said yesterday that his republic, the largest in the Soviet Union, wanted veto power over the use of nuclear weapons. Such issues, he said, were a strong argument for a new union treaty.

"If there is no union," Mr. Rutskoi said, "who among the republics is in a position to keep strategic weapons? None of them except Russia is in a position to do this.

"And that would mean the rebirth of the Russian empire. To avoid that happening, a union treaty must be signed. But we have to consider in what capacity states would enter that union agreement, how a coalition government would be formed and how the defense systems would be worked out."

He was optimistic that a new treaty would be signed.

"I think that there will be a union agreement," he said. "There is nosense in completely dismantling the Soviet Union. Unless we have a united economic area, we will simply perish."

As hero of the resistance to the coup, Russia's president, Boris N. Yeltsin, has quickly been expanding his powers at Mr. Gorbachev's expense. Yesterday, Russian officials appointed their own people to run the central bank and several ministries.

Russian officials also warned that they might dispute some borders as the new Soviet Union emerged, summoning up the sort of dangers that face the nation if a new union is not formed.

Yesterday, Mr. Gorbachev called for elections to select new members of the parliament and a new vice president, to replace Gennady I. Yanayev, who was one of the coup leaders.

The Congress of People's Deputies, the legislative body that holds the power to fire Mr. Gorbachev, has been called into session next Monday. No leader has emerged who seems capable of challenging Mr. Gorbachev -- other than Mr. Yeltsin, who reportedly is not interested.

On Saturday, Mr. Gorbachev disbanded the Communist Party that had shaped his vision of the world -- only two days after vowing to fight to the death for it. When he spoke yesterday, he seemed tired. There was little evidence of the consummate politician who had guided his country through six difficult years of perestroika.

Still, members of parliament said that Mr. Gorbachev was not finished.

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