WASHINGTON — Nationality conflicts in the Soviet Union threaten the reform process and could explode into civil wars unless the disputes are resolved by constitutional changes, visiting deputies from the new Soviet parliament said Thursday.
Their candid appraisal came amid reports from Moscow of a hardening attitude by the Kremlin leadership toward challenges by the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Demands for greater autonomy have also led to nationalist unrest in Moldavia, Georgia and other regions.
"The (political) system as it is cannot be preserved or it would lead only to tragic consequences," said Nikolai V. Fyodorov, a newly elected deputy of the new Supreme Soviet, a parliamentary body of 500 members set up to replace its rubber-stamp predecessor.
'Equal Partners' Doctrine
A new Soviet constitution under consideration, he said, would establish a union based on an "equal partners" doctrine that would attempt to satisfy nationalist feelings in the Baltic republics and elsewhere.
"Without a solution, there will be a great sharpening of the situation, with emergency procedures or martial law in certain republics, with counteractions," Fyodorov added. "It would be very similar to a civil war."
Andrei E. Sebentsov, an electrical engineer from Moscow who is also a new deputy, agreed that the nationality disputes are "very serious and create the possibility of great conflicts" that he said would strengthen the position of conservatives who oppose President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's program of \o7 perestroika\f7 , or restructuring.
But Sebentsov said it is childish for groups in the Baltic republics to think that secession from the Soviet Union is the only way to achieve their nationalist aspirations. Greater autonomy, he said, could resolve many of their demands.
Konstantin D. Lubenchenko, head of the visiting delegation, added that the crisis over nationality problems requires creation of a new Soviet economic system that would include greater use of market incentives and introduce the concept of private property as well.
Such changes, he said, would create an economic incentive for the Baltic republics to remain part of the Soviet Union.
The delegation, together with three staff aides, came to the United States to study the day-to-day workings of Congress in hopes of applying some American techniques to the new Soviet parliament. The deputies spoke to reporters through an interpreter.
Lubenchenko said that he and the two other deputies are members of a Supreme Soviet committee on legislation, legality and law and order that will have a strong influence on the procedures adopted by the new body.
Electronic voting, he said, will be used to speed its work and also let Soviet citizens know, for the first time, how their representatives vote. In the past, the Supreme Soviet almost invariably gave unanimous approval to recommendations of Soviet leaders.
Impressed With Data
"About two-thirds of the deputies did not want roll calls published," said Sebentsov. "It may be hard for some deputies, but they'll just have to get used to it."
Fyodorov said the delegation is impressed by the amount of information that members of Congress have available to evaluate executive proposals and help them draft legislation.
"Until we establish independent sources of information, . . . we will not be able to establish freedom and democracy," he said.
The Soviet delegation went to the Supreme Court as well as Congress and will spend Labor Day weekend in Salt Lake City to meet with Rep. Wayne Owens (D-Utah) and city and state officials.
Describing their pioneering efforts to construct a democratic legislature, Lubenchenko said: "You should think of us as bricklayers, building a house without a blueprint, but we desire to build a very good house."