Yeltsin unveils plans for market economy, seeks new powers

October 29, 1991|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun The New York Times contributed to this article.

MOSCOW -- Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin began a do-or-die plunge toward a market economy yesterday and said he would take full responsibility for the painful consequences.

Mr. Yeltsin told his republic's highest legislature that he will deregulate prices by the end of the year and will move rapidly to privatize businesses and turn land over to individual farmers.

Without the measures he has proposed, Mr. Yeltsin warned, "we will doom ourselves to poverty and a state with a history of many centuries to collapse."

The Russian president, who has come under heavy criticism for inaction during the last month, asked for extraordinary new powers, including the authority to rule by presidential decree, subject to legislative veto.

And he said he would take personal responsibility for saving Russia from its disastrous decline by acting as his own prime minister, which prompted enthusiastic applause from the legislators.

"The time has come to act decisively, toughly and without hesitation," he said. "Now that there is a paralysis of power, life in the country has become increasingly disorganized."

Mr. Yeltsin, who spoke for just over an hour, looked very much like the determined leader who a little more than two months ago climbed atop a tank to resist the hard-line Communist leaders of the failed August coup.

"We must work now just as in those August days," he said. "This is one of the most critical moments in the country's history. It is precisely

now that it is being determined what kind of Russia will come into being in subsequent years and decades."

Just as his defiance in August helped turn the tide against the conspirators, his promise of action yesterday began to dispel the speculation and rumors that have been sweeping Moscow lately. The prospect of a harsh and hungry winter had started talk that people were so unhappy another coup could succeed.

The drastic measures proposed by Mr. Yeltsin yesterday included:

* Financial stabilization, which would include stern financial and credit policies, tax reforms and strengthening of the ruble.

Mr. Yeltsin said he would propose stern mechanisms to prevent the uncontrolled distribution of money and credits, along with the creation of a true reserve banking system.

* Privatization and the creation of a mixed economy with a large private sector and special emphasis on land redistribution.

Mr. Yeltsin said that as many as half of all small and medium-sized enterprises could be privatized within three months and that the denationalizing of large enterprises would begin immediately.

* A sharp reduction in the government budget, with significant reductions in spending on ineffective industries, the military and bureaucracies.

* Lifting all limitations on earnings. Mr. Yeltsin said salaries of teachers and physicians would be increased, along with the minimum wage, pensions and student stipends.

Mr. Yeltsin opened the meeting of the Russian Congress of People's Deputies in the Kremlin palace where czarist opulence contrasts starkly with the abject poverty that afflicts Russia.

Outside, snow has been swirling for several days, and in the dark afternoons the people of Moscow stand in line and wonder what they will eat this winter.

The lines have been full of fear and apprehension during the last week amid rumors that prices soon will be freed from controls, which could increase them tenfold.

But in an interview at the Kremlin yesterday, Sergei Stankevich, the deputy mayor of Moscow, said Russians have no choice but to suffer patiently a little longer.

"I think the Russian people will have enough patience to absorb this shock therapy," said Mr. Stankevich, who also is an adviser to Mr. Yeltsin. "The Russian people will understand even the most unpleasant measures. They won't understand lack of action."

Mr. Stankevich said Mr. Yeltsin's demand for emergency powers is aimed at trying to overcome the political bickering that has stalled action in the Russian parliament.

Mr. Stankevich said that he expects the legislature to grant the emergency powers and that Mr. Yeltsin needs no approval to act as his own prime minister.

Pavel Bunich, president of the Union of Leaseholders and Businessmen of the U.S.S.R., said that freeing prices will have enormous benefits, such as cutting down on criminal reselling of state goods on the black market, which puts many items out of reach of the typical Russian.

Sergei Kushtymov, a legislator who is head of the City Council in Bogdanovitch, a city in the Urals, said, "People are tired of politics. They want something to eat. They want something to wear."

"We'll be criticized if we do this," Mr. Kushtymov said. "But if we don't do this today, tomorrow the people will sweep us out. It's time for Russia to act."

Bella Kurkova, a legislator and St. Petersburg television news executive, said Mr. Yeltsin will be admired for taking a stand.

"Any other politician would have appointed a prime minister to take the blame," she said. "Yeltsin, like a true Russian man, took all the responsibility. None of our other politicians has that courage."

Legislator Oleg Basilashvili, a St. Petersburg actor, said Mr. Yeltsin's speech was three years overdue.

"It's late, but what else can be done?" he asked. "The only other solution is to go backward, in other words to go back to slavery. I think many people now realize their own happiness lies in their own hands. Now we must all work as we see fit and earn as much as we can and want."

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