Gorbachev's New Union Plan Faces Strong Opposition in Republics
SOVIET President Mikhail Gorbachev has unveiled his vision of a new pact between the Soviet republics on Saturday, but it is already clear that many republics do not share it. Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis strongly assailed the published draft treaty of union on republican television, according to press reports. The Lithuanian leader reiterated that the Baltic republic first must be recognized as an independent state, ending the forced occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940.
The new treaty ``does not refer to Lithuania from a legal point of view,'' Mr. Landsbergis said. Estonia and Latvia, the other two Baltic states, have also refused to discuss signing the treaty, a stance taken by the new nationalist government of Georgia.
A combative, even angry Mr. Gorbachev showed little interest in conciliation toward such opposition at a suddenly called press conference Friday evening. Earlier that day the Soviet parliament voted in favor of a resolution giving him vaguely defined new powers to halt economic chaos and restore ``law and order.''
He lashed out at critics on the democratic left, clearly including Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, who accuse him of wanting to be a dictator. But the Soviet leader saved his toughest remarks for the Baltics, particularly for Latvia which demanded the cessation of Soviet Army activity on its territory.
``If they try to impose [their ideas] and give ultimatums, they will complicate the matter, destablize the situation,'' Gorbachev retorted to the Latvians. Vowing that he too had his ``limits,'' he threatened to use his powers if there is ``a threat to the life of people and security.''
Despite the existence of a new proposed union treaty, Gorbachev reiterated his position that republics which wished to leave the Soviet Union must follow a procedure in the existing constitution. That process, which requires a referendum followed by a five-year transition period and another referendum, has been rejected by the Baltics and others as a deliberate obstacle to independence.
``In the Baltic countries, one can exercise the powers given by the Soviet parliament to the President only with the help of brute military force,'' Landsbergis commented. In this case, he said, ``the Baltic countries will defend themselves.''
Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, a nationalist who recently came to power in the Caucasus republic, warned in more careful terms against such a confrontation in an interview with the Communist daily Pravda on Nov. 23.
``Some people believe that if power is strengthened and law and order are secured, everything will be all right,'' Mr. Ter-Petrosyan said. ``It is an illusion. In such a case, the center will face the serious resistance of the republics because sovereignty is a reality for us.''
Even more moderate republican leaders such as Mr. Yeltsin who accept the need for a united country have raised fundamental objections to the new draft, focused on the division of powers with the union. The draft, for example, retains union control over key resources such as gold and diamond reserves and energy. While republics own all land and resources, the union reserves that part needed to conduct its responsibilities. (See story below.)
The republics are given a say in common economic policies through an enhanced Federative Council, but the powerful central ministries that run most of the country's factories and enterprises remain.
Much of the operation of that Federative Council remains unclear in the document. Relatively conservative Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov told Pravda as well that the version of the draft treaty ``cannot be signed by us.'' The treaty does not guarantee ``the parity and equal rights of all subjects of a future federation.''
Mr. Karimov accused the central government of wanting to control the treaty ratification process, including discussing the treaty at the Supreme Soviet and the larger legislative body of the Congress of Peoples Deputies which holds its semiannual meeting starting Dec. 17.
``Today they want to impose the union upon us,'' Karimov said. ``We need the opposite process,'' in which the republics should work out the treaty and sign it.