MOSCOW — Recognizing that they are united by more than now-discredited Communist ideology, the 12 remaining republics of the Soviet Union proclaimed their intention Tuesday to form an economic community on the ruins of state socialism.
"There is nowhere to retreat anymore," Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's president and the meeting's host, told his guests, the republic leaders, as he urged concerted action to prevent general economic collapse and misery.
The one-day conference in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan's capital, showed that the presidents and prime ministers of even the most independence-minded republics now admit that almost three-quarters of a century of membership in the Soviet Union--and in some cases centuries more as subjects of the Russian empire--have made them dependent on other regions for supplies and markets.
The failed August coup d'etat left the centralized Soviet administration a shambles, and re-establishing sundered economic links has become so urgent that eight of the republics--the Russian Federation, the Ukraine, Byelorussia and the five Central Asian lands--announced Tuesday that they intend to initial or sign a treaty creating the economic community no later than Oct. 15.
Four other republics, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova--all of which have proclaimed their independence--would join later, after supplementary agreements or consultations with their parliaments.
Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, who did not attend the meeting in Alma-Ata but sent a deputy prime minister, Yevgeny Saburov, as Russia's representative, told Nazarbayev by telephone that Russia is even prepared to sign an accord immediately, the Soviet news agency Tass said.
The talks in Alma-Ata had been planned to last four hours but took eight. They focused on a draft project for economic cooperation between the republics, prepared by a group of economists headed by Grigory A. Yavlinsky, who was instrumental in past Soviet plans for a 500-day forced march to a market economy and a "grand bargain" to secure Western aid by offering specific reforms in exchange.
Although little was revealed about the draft treaty, the 12 republics agreed in a communique issued in Alma-Ata that the only way out of their economic problems is the "accelerated transition to market relations" and development of entrepreneurship.
The republics also agreed to coordinate policies in the field of money and credit and stipulated that, if republics want their own currencies, they should be introduced in such a way as not to damage the Soviet ruble any further.
The meeting in the Kazakh capital, 2,000 miles southeast of Moscow, highlighted the reduced stature of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Although the session reached a decision that seems crucial for the republics that once constituted what had been the Soviet Union, Gorbachev did not attend.
The leaders of the republics concurred "almost unanimously," Tass said, that it was better that Gorbachev had stayed away. They were originally invited by Nazarbayev to come to Kazakhstan to watch the blastoff of a manned space mission today from the republic's Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan's president, told reporters after the unexpectedly successful meeting that its motto had been, "Let's work in a new way, without ideological blinders or politics."
Gorbachev's spokesman, Andrei S. Grachev, told reporters in Moscow that the draft treaty will be presented in the next three days to the prime ministers of those republics intending to sign. After they agree on the text, the document will be submitted for approval to the State Council, on which Gorbachev sits with the presidents and other heads of state of the republics, Grachev said. Meantime, work proceeds on a draft treaty of political union to replace the 1922 agreement that created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Latvia, which the Kremlin now recognizes as an independent country along with the other two former Soviet Baltic republics, Lithuania and Estonia, sent a delegation to Alma-Ata but made it clear it will not join the new economic community.