MOSCOW — Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, emerging weary but triumphant from 12 hours of tough negotiations, announced early Wednesday that a new federal treaty designed to hold together most of the country's republics is finally complete and ready for signing.
The agreement, known as the Union Treaty, launches a historic transformation of the Soviet Union from a tightly centralized empire to a looser federation of sovereign states bound together on a voluntary basis. The treaty, in effect, lays a new constitutional foundation for the country.
The treaty's signing, which officials said should come in the next three months, will give Gorbachev's reforms a major boost by smoothing the Kremlin's relations with the country's 15 restive republics and clarifying the respective powers of the federal and local governments.
The treaty's completion also strengthened Gorbachev on the eve of his expected battle today at a plenary meeting of the Communist Party's policy-making Central Committee, which is to debate the party's future.
Gorbachev, who is the party's general secretary, reportedly plans to call for the committee's endorsement of a new party platform promoting "democratic, humane socialism"--a phrase that party hard-liners see as the abandonment of their Marxist faith.
Twelve prominent Communist conservatives, including high-ranking military figures, in a toughly worded statement this week blamed party reformers--and, by implication, Gorbachev himself--for bringing the country to ruin, and they called on the army and other "healthy forces" to save it.
The Soviet president appeared unperturbed, however, as he spoke on Soviet television at about 2 a.m. Wednesday, proclaiming his vision for the Communist Party's "program for the '90s."
"We've finally reached agreement," Gorbachev said at an elegant government dacha in Novo-Ogaryovo, a Moscow suburb where he and the leaders of nine republics have been meeting periodically for negotiations since April. "And today we can say that the work on the Union Treaty is completed.
"I won't say that this discussion has been easy," the Soviet president added. The dark bags under his eyes and the shadow of stubble on his cheeks and chin bespoke the long ordeal of stormy arguments and tedious haggling over taxes and the number of seats each republic and autonomous region will have in the new Parliament.
But obviously heartened by this climactic negotiating success with republic leaders, Gorbachev seemed to feel that he was finally developing the momentum that could carry the Soviet Union out of its profound crisis.
"This is a big day, a big event of great importance, and great progress (has been made) toward mutual understanding and a new Soviet Union," Gorbachev said.
The six Soviet republics that refused to participate in the negotiations--Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova--are still invited to sign the treaty, Gorbachev said.
"The Union Treaty is open to all republics," he said. "A process is under way."
Armenia's president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, took part in the final talks but said later through a spokesman that Armenia's future will be decided in a September referendum on independence.
Grigory I. Revenko, the president's adviser on the Union Treaty, said in an interview Wednesday that the Kremlin is willing to delay the signing of the treaty for weeks in hopes that public pressure will mount in some of the recalcitrant republics and that they will then choose to sign.
Those republics that opt for full secession, Revenko said, will have to go about it according to Soviet law, which requires a five-year separation period. Separatist leaders in the Baltic republics have broached the possibility of pursuing political independence but signing purely economic agreements with the Soviet Union.
"No one can be held on a chain to the Soviet Union," said Revenko, his voice hoarse with fatigue. "We have to take into account the lessons of Yugoslavia and our own lessons. Only through consensus and mutual understanding can we begin to move this country."
Under the Union Treaty, in what would be called the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics, republics would be declared fully sovereign but then formally delegate some of their powers to the center in such key spheres as defense, transportation and nuclear power.
In contrast to the old days of near-total Kremlin dictatorship, the republics would control their own resources and decide their own social and economic policies, including such touchy issues as the private ownership of land.
The treaty also freezes all current borders, allowing for no alterations, and emphasizes the creation of a "common economic space" with a single currency, free trade and an absence of tariffs within Soviet territory.
The republic leaders reached a key compromise in the late night negotiations on one of the main economic snags they had hit--whether there should be federal taxes or only republic levies.