Gorbachev Buys Time on Economy And Secesssion Issues
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV is attempting to regain the initiative on the turbulent Soviet political scene, with so far uncertain results. The Soviet government on June 13 presented to the parliament a revamped version of its controversial plan for transition to a market economy.
The previous evening, Mr. Gorbachev held a meeting with the presidents of the three breakaway Baltic republics, indicating a breakthrough in the impasse over their plans for independence from the Soviet Union.
Arkady Maslennikov, Gorbachev's spokesman, told reporters yesterday that the Soviet leader ``would be flexible and not insist on certain forms or wordings.'' He insisted that ``we are searching for a solution,'' not a continuation of conflict.
On both fronts, Gorbachev and his government have retreated slightly, seeking to buy time and avoid an immediate crisis.
The shift in Gorbachev's attitude is a response to the election of the populist Boris Yeltsin to the presidency of the huge Russian Republic and the assertion of sovereignty by the Russian parliament. The Russian developments have strengthened the hand of the Baltic republics and of those opposing the government's economic plan.
Gorbachev seems to have concluded that it is better to try to use the desire of the republics for economic and political independence than to fight against it. In a meeting June 12 with the presidents of the 15 republics, he offered to begin immediate talks on a new treaty of federation. And he gave his general approval to the idea, strongly pushed by Mr. Yeltsin, of horizontal economic links between republics, bypassing the central government.
The economic reform plan, presented three weeks ago by Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, ran into a storm of protest, mostly aimed at proposals for large increases in the subsidized prices of basic commodities. But critics from the left also charged the government with failing decisively to create the basis for a genuine market economy.
The Supreme Soviet, the national parliament, was presented with a new approach on June 13 formulated by committees of the parliament with the government's backing. The plan effectively postpones a decision until Sept. 1, when the government is again to present the parliament with a detailed program, one that takes into account the views of the parliament and the population.
A full package of legislation to create the basic structure for a market economy, including legalizing private property, creating a banking system, and freeing state enterprises from central control is to be presented by the fall. In the meantime, the plan says, Gorbachev can use his presidential powers to begin such steps by decreeing temporary laws.
The controversial price increases have also been put off, until at least Aug. 1. Yuri Maslyukov, chairman of the State Planning Committee, told reporters at the parliament that consumers would receive full compensation for the increase, paid 10 to 15 days before it is put in effect.
Moreover, the government is attempting to spread the responsibility - and the blame - to the governments of the individual republics of the Soviet Union, which will each design their own plans for the price increases. According to Mr. Maslyukov, nine of the 15 republics agreed to raise bread prices as of Aug. 1, but the huge food-producing republics of the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Russia have not yet agreed.
The new plan was immediately criticized by left-wing deputies who see it has a continuation of the flawed compromise between the radical steps they say are needed and conservative opponents of change. In an atmosphere of confusion, the Supreme Soviet failed to vote an approval June 13, but it is expected to do so later.