Gorbachev Close to Accord With Republics on Anticrisis Program
As the Soviet president seems on verge of a breathrough in relations with rebellious republics, the parliament drags its feet on passage of a travel law crucial to maintaining foreign support
SOVIET President Mikhail Gorbachev has switched from confrontation to cooperation with renegade republics in an attempt to solve his nation's economic problems, easing opposition to the Kremlin's anticrisis program. But while a compromise with the republics appeared within reach, the normally pliant Soviet parliament has balked at approving a bill allowing citizens to travel freely abroad. The delay could stall the influx of foreign aid and investment, which Mr. Gorbachev said was needed to overcome the economic crisis. Such assistance, at least from the United States, will be hard to come by without a travel law in place.
In presenting a revised anticrisis plan Wednesday, Gorbachev offered several concessions designed to placate sovereignty-minded republics, especially the giant Russian Republic led by Boris Yeltsin, an often fierce critic of Kremlin policy. During two days of meetings ending Tuesday, the Soviet president and republican leaders reworked the original reform blueprint.
The anticrisis plan, based on proposals already adopted by parliament, combines authoritarian measures, such as a ban on strikes for the rest of 1991, with incentives to ensure the active participation of the republics. For example, each republic would be allowed to set its own pace for privatization. In addition, republics and the Kremlin would split revenues generated from natural resources, but in turn would share the nation's debt burden.
The program also would slash government spending and give top priority to production of food and consumer goods.
That 13 of the 15 republics in the Soviet Union participated in Wednesday's meeting indicated that they, too, were ready for a compromise. Only Georgia and Estonia did not attend.
Some republican leaders, including the Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitold Fokin, say the program still does not contain enough incentives for the republics to cooperate with the Kremlin. But the plan appears to have the support of Russia, whose participation is essential if the recovery effort is to succeed.
Russian Prime Minister Ivan Silayev has voiced cautious satisfaction with the program.
At the same time, Mr. Silayev expressed concern about the plan's dependence on central government regulation. Soviet Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov on Wednesday said strict discipline was needed for the transfer to a market economy, adding a ``law on unfair competition'' would be considered as a way to defeat the thriving black market.
``We must get out of the crisis through the market, not through administrative methods,'' Silayev said in a television interview.
Russia has been the leader in advocating market-style reform. Silayev said some points in the program needed clarification, specifically control of foreign-currency earnings, adding he expected them to be settled shortly.
Though Gorbachev seems on the verge of a breakthrough in relations with the republics, the long-awaited domestic bliss could be offset by difficulty in getting the travel law passed. He told the Cabinet meeting that foreign aid and investment was badly needed, while reassuring conservative supporters the nation should not be exposed to exploitation by foreign businessmen.
``On the one hand, we really cannot save anything without our own work,'' Gorbachev said. ``But it is impossible to underestimate the importance of cooperation with foreign countries.''
The United States Congress made Soviet parliament passage of the law on entry and exit a condition for extension of most-favored-nation trading status and further eligibility for trade credits. The parliament debated the bill for two days earlier in the week but was unable to pass it. Most parliament members said the law would eventually be passed, but that an accompanying resolution on the implementation date may be frozen indefinitely.
Many deputies say it would cost too much to implement the law by the July 1992 target date. However, some political analysts said the delay suggested Gorbachev was having an increasingly difficult time controlling the hard-line Soyuz, or Union, faction, which is opposed to opening the borders out of concern this would accelerate a ``brain drain.''