MOSCOW — Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, fighting to keep his continent-sized country intact, unveiled his blueprint Saturday for a new and voluntary union of "sovereign" Soviet republics, but his brand of federalism concentrates so much power in Moscow that some republics have already rejected it.
In the meantime, Boris N. Yeltsin, the populist and crowd-pleasing president of the Russian Federation, continued to steer his own political course, single-handedly revoking a Soviet government decree that would have led to price increases on a wide array of luxury goods.
A draft constitution that Yeltsin helped prepare for Russia was also made public. Echoing the words of the American Founding Fathers, it solemnly begins: "We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation . . . ," and declares Russia's laws superior to national ones. It also proclaims Russia's right to raise its own army.
Friday night at the Foreign Ministry press center, Gorbachev's frustration over Yeltsin's independent actions, and those of other recalcitrant republic leaders, was plain to see. In a fervent pitch for his political power-sharing scheme, Gorbachev told a news conference that the breakup of the Soviet Union along ethnic lines would produce "a tragedy for the people, civil conflicts with grave consequences."
Major state-run newspapers on Saturday printed the 59-year-old Soviet leader's formula for healing the nation's ethnic and economic wounds and ending the paralysis of its government--a proposed treaty establishing the "Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics" to replace the Dec. 30, 1922, accord that founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Besides jettisoning the label \o7 socialist \f7 at a time when the Soviet Union, goaded by Gorbachev, has set itself the goal of creating a market economy, the 23-article treaty contains many provisions that are truly revolutionary when compared to the last 73 years of Soviet rule.
It proposes, for the first time, the creation of a vice presidency, puts Gorbachev in control of a Cabinet that will replace the Council of Ministers, and creates a Constitutional Court that for the first time in Soviet history would exercise independent judicial review over laws to ensure their constitutionality.
More significantly, given the eruption of nationalism and ethnic hatreds in the country, the treaty makes significant concessions to the Soviet republics, which were long ruled directly from Moscow or by its plenipotentiaries under the Leninist concept of "democratic centralism."
"Membership of a republic in the U.S.S.R. is voluntary," Article 1 states, a tacit repudiation of the 1922 accord that simply welded other Communist-governed territories onto Bolshevik Russia. "Each republic that joins the union is a sovereign state enjoying full state power over its territory."
The pact's concessions, however, will be too little for many republican nationalists. For the treaty, which is being circulated to lawmakers in the Supreme Soviet legislature and the republics, retains a great sphere of responsibilities for central authorities, although some republics--including the independence-minded Baltic states--now claim such powers for themselves.
For instance, the national government, the treaty says, will defend the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of the U.S.S.R., guard its borders, run the KGB and armed forces, declare war and conclude peace. Although the republics, along with the Kremlin, would jointly hammer out economic development strategy, it would be in the context of a single financial, credit and banking system and a common currency.
Such centralization, especially in economics and trade, flies in the face of many of the demands for "sovereignty" that have been made by 14 of the 15 Soviet republics, including Yeltsin's Russia, the biggest and most populous.
Although the republics would be made masters of their lands and natural resources, Moscow would have final say over the nation's gold and diamond reserves, air and rail service, the pipelines that carry natural gas from Siberia to Europe and space research.
"I want to remind you that 12 out of 14 representatives of the republics speaking on the Union Treaty did not express their readiness to sign it," liberal member of Parliament Alexei Yablokov said, summing up criticism expressed in the Soviet legislature.
The proposed pact, which took up about half a page in Moscow dailies, also omits any mention of a republic's constitutionally established right to secede, a fact that advocates of local sovereignty or independence will find ominous.
As one indication of the jitters now being felt over Gorbachev's intentions, Lithuania's President Vytautas Landsbergis warned his countrymen Friday that "our motherland, the Lithuanian Republic, is in danger," and charged that Gorbachev has become the leader of Soviet rightist forces.