MOSCOW -- A glimpse of what a future Soviet Union might look like began to emerge yesterday as Russia and Kazakhstan agreed to seek a new, looser union run by 15 equal republics instead of a central government.
While Russia, the largest republic, and Kazakhstan, the third-largest, were negotiating, the liberal new head of the KGB declared that agreement on a new union treaty was not only still possible but also vital to create a stability that would lead to economic reforms. Without such reforms, he said, the nation faces economic catastrophe.
"The [coup] conspiracy really succeeded in one thing," said the KGB's Vadim A. Bakatin. "They wanted to undermine the signing of the union treaty. They have succeeded in this. We must deprive them of that victory. That is just necessary, and this chance is not lost yet."
Azerbaijan yesterday became the eighth Soviet republic to declare its independence, and the crucial Ukraine has said the union treaty negotiated before the coup was dead. But the willingness of Russia and Kazakhstan to press for some kind of treaty offers prospects that the unpredictable republics may yet reach some kind of agreement.
Representatives of all 15 republics met yesterday to discuss economic ties that could lead to the basis for a new union.
And the Russian-Kazakh agreement gave further hints that a union was still possible. A statement by Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh president, and Alexander Rutskoi, the Russian vice president, said:
"The Kazakhstan and Russian delegations affirm their determination to press for creation of a new union structure on the basis of equal rights and call on other states, members of the former U.S.S.R., regardless of their present status, to join talks about mutually beneficial forms of cooperation."
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, meanwhile, was speaking along the same lines in reassuring tones after frightening many of the republics earlier in the week with talk of renegotiating borders.
"I want to state firmly that the collapse of the center is not tantamount to a collapse of the country, let alone Russia," Mr. Yeltsin said in a radio broadcast. "The striving to create a new, really free, really voluntary union of sovereign and, I stress, equal states remains strong."
Mr. Bakatin of the KGB said that the nine republics that had agreed to a new union treaty before the coup told him they were still interested in some central government to oversee functions such as national security.
The nine republics included those essential to a union, Russia and the Ukraine, in addition to the other large republics, Kazakhstan and Byelorussia.
While describing the basis for a future Soviet Union, Mr. Bakatin also gave a remarkably candid description of the forces that destroyed the union -- the KGB among them.
"The work that has been done by the KGB of informing the top echelon of leadership of the Soviet Union has in many cases distorted the vision of that leadership," he said. "This has been done deliberately, and the tide of information has engulfed the leadership and prevented it from making correct decisions."
He promised that the KGB would no longer be a dark force controllingthe republics but one that existed to serve them.
At a news conference, he said he would have to destroy much of the KGB in reforming it. He called the feared secret police organization a "monopoly" that had become a state within a state, operating outside the law and without any controls.
"The KGB became a tool uncontrolled by anyone or anything," Mr. Bakatin said. "It had a monopoly on communications, the guards, the troops. They hand a free hand organizing that coup."
His guiding principles, he said, would be to rid the KGB of many of its "abnormal" functions, free it of party activity and propose laws that would regulate KGB operations, permitting eavesdropping, for example, only under certain conditions.
"Now we have a legal vacuum," he said, in which KGB agents routinely spy on everyone from Soviet parliamentarians to businessmen and foreign journalists.
"The KGB is still operating under instructions issued in 1959," he said. "That stops as of today."
Some "abnormal" functions already have been removed. The KGB's troops have been transferred to the Soviet army. Border guards will be removed from KGB jurisdiction, Mr. Bakatin said. Eventually, military counterintelligence will be assigned to the military, he said.
He expects to oversee a KGB concerning itself with intelligence, counterintelligence and guarding key military installations. But such drastic measure will change little, he said, if economic reforms are not introduced quickly.
"The situation in this society is critical," he said, "and the only thing that is going to help us is not reforming the KGB but decisive actions on changing the economy and making it really market-oriented. This is the basis of solving the crisis."