WASHINGTON — Mikhail S. Gorbachev has already assured his place in history by ending the Cold War. Now he faces an even more difficult and perilous task as he attempts to lead the Soviet Union to democracy for the first time in its history.
Boris N. Yeltsin's visit to Washington this week, following his decisive election as president of Russia, has unleashed a frenzy of misguided and naive anti-Gorbachev advice from Americans who ought to know better. The best hope for a transition to democracy and to a market economy is for Yeltsin and Gorbachev to successfully implement the agreement they concluded April 23.
Many conservatives in the Bush Administration and in Congress are encouraging Yeltsin to withhold cooperation from Gorbachev. Some urge him to break with Gorbachev and to lead Russia out of the Soviet Union. This seems unlikely: Yeltsin, though an opportunist, now has major responsibility for policy in Russia. He knows he needs Gorbachev as much as Gorbachev needs him.
The April 23 agreement is known as the "nine-plus-one," because it includes the leaders of nine Soviet republics, plus Gorbachev representing the central government. Six republics--Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Georgia and Moldavia--have not participated.
"Nine-plus-one" calls for a new Union treaty that grants much greater autonomy and power to the governments of the republics. The central government shall be responsible for national defense, international security and interstate transportation and communications. Negotiations are being completed on such issues as taxation, control of resources, proportion of revenues to be allocated to the center and to the republics, and control of the police function in the republics.
After the Union treaty is adopted, a new constitution will be drafted. When the constitution becomes law, the Congress of People's Deputies will be dissolved, followed by nationwide elections for a new parliament representing all the member republics. The six republics that have not participated in the negotiations may remain outside the union if they wish, but it is likely that the enhanced power for the republics, plus economic reality, will persuade some to reconsider. The Baltic states may continue to opt for independence, but they certainly will want to negotiate basic economic ties with a new union.
The proposal for dissolution of Parliament has alarmed and angered members of the Congress of People's Deputies, most of whom are Communists. Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov, a reactionary Communist in charge of the huge communist bureaucracy, this week recommended that the Supreme Soviet, the country's legislature, transfer some of Gorbachev's authority to government ministers. Reportedly, Pavlov's moves are part of a coordinated campaign to give the Cabinet new powers that would, in effect, limit Gorbachev's authority so that he could not fulfill his agreement with Yeltsin and the other republics. Pavlov is supported by KGB chairman Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, Defense Minister Dimitri T. Yazov and Interior Minister Boris K. Pugo.
Clearly, the full cooperation and collaboration of Gorbachev and Yeltsin are indispensable to the success of their plan. They have had a contentious rivalry. During a TV interview shortly after he arrived in Washington, Yeltsin expressed his dislike of Gorbachev; however, on several subsequent occasions he has tried to soften the rift.
Both men provide strengths that the other lacks. Yeltsin is popular among the 94% of Soviet citizens not members of the Communist Party. Gorbachev provides a bridge from the centers of authoritarian power--the military, the KGB, the party apparatus--to reform and democracy.
Even with Gorbachev and Yeltsin working together, a fierce struggle lies ahead. The power apparatus, though weakened, will not give up. Until much of the officer corps, the KGB and the nomenklatura have been replaced by the democratic process, they will remain a barrier. It will require time to remove them, because they still control most of the guns.
Furthermore, the KGB continues to control the secret operations of the Soviet government. The old pattern of KGB surveilance of delegations and groups traveling abroad continues. Early this year, for example, minister of justice of the Russian Republic, Nicholi V. Fedorov, visited the United States for meetings, among others, with the U.S. attorney general and the director of the FBI. A key member of Fedorov's delegation was a high-ranking KGB official.