MOSCOW -- Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin have agreed to bury the U.S.S.R. on New Year's Eve.
Mr. Gorbachev, finally yielding in his battle to preserve the crumbling Soviet Union, declared yesterday that he would accept the new Commonwealth of Independent States as its constitutional successor and said he was now working for an orderly transition.
Mr. Gorbachev later agreed with Mr. Yeltsin on dissolution of the central government's remaining ministries over the next two weeks so that the new commonwealth, which will probably include 10 of the remaining 12 Soviet republics, can come into formal existence Jan. 1.
"The presidents agreed that the process of transferring union structures to a new status must be completed by the end of this year," the Soviet news agency Tass reported after the two-hour Kremlin meeting. "By that time, some will be transferred to Russian jurisdiction, and others will be abolished."
On New Year's Eve, the hammer-and-sickle flag of revolutionary red that has flown for 74 years over the Kremlin will be lowered, marking the formal end to the Soviet era, said Pavel Voshchanov, Mr. Yeltsin's press secretary.
In its place will fly the Russian tricolor of white, blue and red as the Kremlin becomes the seat of the Russian government.
Mr. Gorbachev's decision to accept the commonwealth sealed the fate of the Soviet Union, for only his will power had kept it alive after Mr. Yeltsin's refusal to accept any but the weakest central government for a new union.
"If the Supreme Soviets declare for the Commonwealth of Independent States, I shall respect their decision," Mr. Gorbachev said, referring to the commonwealth agreement that republic legislatures, or Supreme Soviets, are now being asked to ratify.
Although he still advocated a "confederative state" to bind the Soviet Union's former republics together politically and economically, Mr. Gorbachev told some visiting statesmen, "As a politician, I cannot go against the current. I cannot oppose the attitudes of the Supreme Soviets."
Andrei S. Grachev, his press secretary, underscored the point, saying, "He is going in this way as he feels that it is in the national interest. He believes it necessary to avoid confrontation and assure an orderly transition from one kind of society to another. He sees this as his personal, political and constitutional duty."
Mr. Gorbachev's future role was left unresolved. Mr. Grachev said that Mr. Gorbachev would not accept a ceremonial position, even to head the new commonwealth; Mr. Yeltsin said he saw no role for Mr. Gorbachev. Speculation continued, however, that the two men would reach a compromise to retain Mr. Gorbachev's influence abroad for the new state.
Mr. Grachev said that Mr. Gorbachev would make a series of proposals to republic leaders Saturday in Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, on ensuring an orderly transition, particularly on ways to try to prevent the country's total collapse into political and economic chaos.
Mr. Gorbachev would seek to ensure that the changes did not threaten the rest of the world and that "rigid control would be maintained over the nuclear potential," Mr. Grachev said, noting, "when these conditions are met, the president will deem his activities to be fulfilled."
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said yesterday that his republic would not give up all nuclear weapons stationed there as long as nuclear arms remain in the Russian republic.
With U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III standing at his side, Mr. Nazarbayev called for total elimination of all nuclear weapons -- those of the United States, Kazakhstan, "everybody's."
Pending total nuclear disarmament, he said he was prepared to put all previously Soviet nuclear arms under a single military command, which would be responsible to the Council of Presidents of the emerging Commonwealth of Independent States.
But Mr. Nazarbayev disagreed with Mr. Yeltsin's assertion, after a meeting with Mr. Baker Monday, that Russia would remain a nuclear power "for the time being" while all weapons stationed in Ukraine, Byelarus and Kazakhstan would be destroyed.
The two republics plan to attend the meeting in Alma-Ata Saturday to expand the commonwealth from its present three members to nine, with the addition of the five Central Asian republics and Armenia. Mr. Yeltsin said he also expects Moldova to sign up before the end of the month.
A Kazakh spokesman said the commonwealth would be renamed to accommodate Asian republics and be called the Commonwealth of Euro-Asian Independent States.
Both Mr. Nazarbayev and Kirgizia President Askar Akayev requested U.S. diplomatic recognition of their independence, and both urged the United States to support their application for United Nations membership.