Gorbachev plan gives control to the republics Central structure would be swept away, reorganized THE SOVIET CRISIS

September 03, 1991|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW — President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the leaders of 10 Soviet republics yesterday outlined their plans for a completely new central government -- one that would be controlled by the republics through their chief executives.

They told the Congress of People's Deputies, th conservative-dominated supreme legislative body that began meeting here yesterday to ponder the implications of the August coup, that they intend to sweep away the old structures of the Soviet government, including the congress itself.

Fearing that the congress, which has the power to change th constitution, might run away from him, Mr. Gorbachev kept firm control over its deliberations yesterday. He alternated as presiding officer with Boris N. Yeltsin, the Russian president and his chief ally in pushing for a new government.

He kept his conservative critics on a tight leash.

"I am not going to listen to any demonstrations or demonstrative shouts," Mr. Gorbachev said. "We won't deal with any disruptive people."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Gorbachev had reportedly told a group of deputies, called the "initiative faction," that no matter how the Congress voted, he would not resign and would continue to push for the changes.

But even as deputies grumbled over what they saw as strong-arm tactics, it appeared that Mr. Gorbachev would get what he wanted.

The congress voted, 1,350-107, to consider his plan, and th delegations of five key republics, including Russia, endorsed it in caucuses. The session of the congress continues today and tomorrow.

"The moment of truth is here," said Sergei Alexeyev, head of the Constitution Oversight Committee. "Let's be frank. Our union was not simply on the verge of collapse; it was already in a state of collapse."

The plan worked out by Mr. Gorbachev and the 10 republic leaders Sunday was presented to the 2,250-member Congress, meeting at the Kremlin, virtually as a fait accompli yesterday.

They envision an interim government under the direction o councils consisting of representatives chosen by each republic.

It would have authority over defense and foreign affairs, but almost all other powers would be given to the republics.

The interim government would be followed by the signing of new union treaty. Each republic, under Mr. Gorbachev's plan, could define its own relationship with the center in the new treaty.

Thus, the new Soviet Union could be a very loosely organized -- and tremendously complicated -- nation. But Mr. Gorbachev and his allies are apparently betting that the flexibility they are offering the republics will induce some to join up that otherwise would have sought independence.

"We have to have a union of sovereign states," Mr. Gorbachev said. "Each one will manifest its own position."

Those republics not backing the plan presented yesterday -- Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with Georgia reserving judgment -- would be free to go their own way.

The Baltic republics have pretty well established themselve already as independent states. Yesterday they won President Bush's promise of United States recognition, and Hungary's parliament voted to restore diplomatic ties as well.

But Mr. Gorbachev and the 10 republic leaders also called for th creation of an economic community guaranteeing free trade that would embrace all of the original 15 Soviet republics, whether they become politically independent or not.

"We have to have a unified economic space," Mr. Gorbachev said.

Nursultan Nazerbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, presented the plan to the Congress yesterday.

Its aim, he said, is "to prevent the uncontrolled dissolution of the union."

Since the three-day coup came completely undone two week ago, the Soviet Union has undergone a more fundamental and rapid change than at any time in its history, and it threatened to fly apart completely as the central Communist government lost all legitimacy.

A sobersided reaction has begun to set in, however, as people i therepublics reflect on the likely consequences of an anarchic breakdown.

The country, said Mr. Nazerbayev, was on the "brink of catastrophe."

But if having a weak central government is the only way to have a central government at all, some legislators wondered if it was worth the effort. Such a union, for instance, would be unable to guarantee ethnic peace, said Konstantin Lubenchenko.

Alexander Obolensky, the sole deputy to call for Mr. Gorbachev's resignation, said the wholesale changes in the government were being planned for political expediency.

"Stop treating the constitution as a whore," he said.

But the statement read by Mr. Nazerbayev declared, "The failure of the coup and the victory of democratic forces have dealt a serious blow toreactionary forces and to everything that had been hindering the process of democratic reforms. An historic chance has been created to speed up reforms and renewal in the country."

The interim government would consist of:

* A council of representatives, made up of 20 from each republic, to be selected by the republics' parliaments.

* A state council, including Mr. Gorbachev and the leaders of the republics, to "decide internal and foreign issues concerning common republican interests."

* An interrepublican economic committee, with proportional representation based on population, and including members from all republics, even those that secede.

The real power would presumably lie in the state council, essentially a committee of chief executives.

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