Yeltsin sets goals for food, price stability Baskets will be 'two-thirds filled' in a year, he promises

December 15, 1991|By Francis X. Clines | Francis X. Clines,New York Times News Service

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin of the Russian republic, calling on the people of the crumbled Soviet Union to rally for a grim period of transition, promised in an interview published yesterday to stabilize the economy in a year and have food baskets "two-thirds filled, not more."

"The main thing is trust," he said in the newspaper interview, in which he set basic national goals to survive what he conceded would prove to be a very difficult year.

nTC "No pessimism," said Mr. Yeltsin as he prepared to start his plans for reconstruction. "Don't lose hope. This is what is most important today."

In the interview, which appeared in the newspaper Trud, Mr. Yeltsin made his first broad pledges to the public since the republics put their hopes in a commonwealth association. As the elected leader of Russia, the republic that is by far the largest part of the commonwealth and the chief political force behind the new union, he acknowledged that times would be hard and talked in the most simple food-basket terms as he sought to bolster public morale.

"I promise the food basket of a Russian citizen in one year's period will be two-thirds filled, not more," he said. "But we will do our best that it won't be less than two-thirds, irrespective of price rises, and we won't allow any hunger."

Conceding that his popularity will dip in the coming harder days, Mr. Yeltsin vowed to have the reeling economy stabilized within a year.

"Gradually in the five following years we'll start increasing living standards," he told a public desperately in need of fresh confidence.

"As president, I see these goals," he said. "We know where to head and we are sure that we will achieve these goals."

Severe tests are fast approaching for Mr. Yeltsin's free-market economic reforms and commonwealth plan, with consumer prices expected to be free to rise Jan. 2 after seven decades of state subsidies.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar estimated yesterday that Russia's inflation rate will reach 100 percent to 150 percent in January, according to a dispatch from Reuters. Mr. Gaidar, quoted by the Soviet news agency Tass, said that the rate should drop noticeably in February and March.

Those transformations may lead to market changes in other republics of the new Commonwealth of Independent States, which Mr. Yeltsin and the leaders of Ukraine and Byelarus proclaimed a week ago.

The official news agency Tass, meanwhile, announced that computers linking Soviet railroads to international booking systems had been shut off because the Soviet Communications Ministry owed foreign companies $150 million. Sales of international train tickets would have to be suspended, railway officials said.

Mr. Yeltsin's interview was published as Secretary of State James A. Baker III headed to Moscow yesterday from Washington to survey the latest survival plan of the collapsed Soviet empire, already on notice that he must face the complaints of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that the Bush administration has proved disloyal to him as Soviet president.

In an interview released yesterday, Mr. Gorbachev said, "Mr. Baker was overly hasty in saying 'The Soviet Union no longer exists.' While we're still trying to figure things out, the United States seems to know everything already.

"I don't think this is loyalty," he said in the interview with Time magazine. "Particularly for those who favor partnership and full-fledged cooperation. It is our common interest that this process should end successfully without any surprises."

Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, estimating that social tensions were increasing, said he had urged Mr. Gorbachev "not to rush into any resignation."

While endorsing the commonwealth, Mr. Shevardnadze said he believed that Mr. Gorbachev "can do many useful things for this process."

But Mr. Gorbachev, in an interview yesterday in the paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, once more raised the subject of somehow salvaging within the commonwealth some part of his proposed union treaty.

That treaty's chances were --ed by the republics' choice of a commonwealth approach that eliminates the central union state. Mr. Gorbachev talked of possibly blending the two in a "joint understanding," but the republics have already made clear that they want no part of the union idea.

Mr. Gorbachev has continued to give no hint of when he might quit. He has maintained that his presidential role is still needed to ensure an orderly transition in government.

"I want a stage-by-stage, step-by-step process that will not stimulate chaos," he told Time magazine.

In that interview, the Soviet leader issued his most urgent plea thus far for U.S. aid.

"We need your help now," he said. "Immediately. Stop hesitating or we will all have to pay a greater price in the end."

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