Temporary head of economic team to quit Disputes cited as Moscow reels THE SOVIET CRISIS

September 12, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Amid dire economic news and reports of squabbling over reform plans, the man in charge of the transitional Soviet government said yesterday that he intends to resign.

Russian Federation Prime Minister Ivan S. Silayev, who chairs the temporary Soviet Economic Management Committee formed after last month's failed coup, said he will step down from his post Monday, the news agency Tass reported.

He gave no explanation. But there has reportedly been little accord in the committee, which has the awesome task of simultaneously reforming the centrally planned economy and overseeing new economic relations between republics that are becoming independent.

Fractious republics, having just asserted their independence, are not inclined to submit to a plan drawn up in Moscow. At the same time, Mr. Silayev's Russia has been the target of special criticism that it is using its size and wealth to seize powers and property that rightfully belong to the other republics or to the union.

Mr. Silayev delivered a letter to the European Community yesterday asking for emergency food aid for the Soviet Union, including 5.5 million tons of grain, 800,000 tons of meat and 900,000 tons of sugar, in addition to smaller quantities of 15 other products.

Soviet estimates say that the value of the aid package, to be delivered between now and mid-1992, would be more than $6 billion.

Meanwhile, Grigory A. Yavlinsky, a top Soviet economist and deputy chairman of the Economic Management Committee, warned that the republics face disaster if they fail quickly to unite on an economic program.

"Economic union is not a choice; it is rather a necessity," Mr. Yavlinsky said at a news conference.

He said that production has dropped 16 percent in the last half-year and that inflation is running at 3 percent a week. An anticipated 20 percent drop in oil production by the end of the year will mean a corresponding drop in desperately needed hard currency revenues.

Another economist, Yevgeny Yasin, said that 1,000 percent annual inflation would be inevitable if the republics do not reach an agreement.

"Russia cannot wait long. If the other republics, in a reasonable amount of time, don't express the desire to begin economic reform . . . then Russia has all it takes economically to begin by itself," Mr. Yavlinsky said.

Mr. Yavlinsky, a brilliant young economic thinker who carries none of the baggage of traditional Communist 5-year-plans and price-setting, was co-author of a vaunted reform plan discussed a year ago.

That plan, known as "500 Days" for its optimistically precise schedule, was eventually rejected by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev after he came under pressure from the Soviet bureaucracy and the military-industrial complex. The defeat of the plan marked the beginning of a chill in political and economic reform that lasted until last spring.

Now, in the wake of the failed August coup, Mr. Yavlinsky is back with a revised version of his plan. Hard-liners who defeated the plan are in disarray, but the economy is in far worse shape than a year ago.

Things are so bad people need not fear the consequences in bankruptcy and unemployment of a tough reform plan, Mr. Yavlinsky said.

"If you're looking at a country where things aren't so bad and you're proposing some kind of reform, you say, 'Living standards will fall 20 percent, unemployment will reach 15 percent,' and so on, and then they decide -- is it worth making these reforms, or is it better to go on the way they have been living?" Mr. Yavlinsky said.

"Our situation is completely different. We can already say firmly that the cost of not reforming will be higher than the cost of reforming."

Mr. Yavlinsky largely dodged questions on Western assistance to Soviet reform, saying that the nature of the long-term assistance that is needed cannot be decided until an economic agreement is signed among the former Soviet republics.

Mr. Silayev's announcement of his resignation followed a sharp exchange with Yuri Luzhkov, a Moscow official and deputy chairman of the transitional economic committee. Mr. Luzhkov accused the Russian Federation, headed by President Boris N. Yeltsin, of arbitrarily seizing functions and property of smaller republics and the union in the wake of the coup.

The independent news agency Interfax said Mr. Silayev dismissed the accusations, saying that Russia was merely doing the same thing all the other republics have already done -- taking over institutions on its territory.

The difference, he said, is that most of the old institutions of the central government happen to be in Russia.

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