Controversy Marks Step to Transform Soviet Union UNION TREATY

By Justin Burke, | The Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 1991 | Go to article overview

Controversy Marks Step to Transform Soviet Union UNION TREATY


Justin Burke,, The Christian Science Monitor


PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev says the Soviet Union will take a giant step on the road to recovery when the leaders of three powerful republics sign the new union treaty tomorrow.

But other influential Soviet leaders, including Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, have attacked the treaty, saying it could exacerbate problems in the country.

The agreement will drastically alter the relationship between the Kremlin and the Soviet Union's 15 republics, distributing significant decisionmaking authority to the republican governments.

After three arduous months of negotiation, the leaders of the giant Russian Federation, along with the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, will be the first to sign the treaty at a Kremlin ceremony tomorrow. Six other republics have indicated they will sign later, but one, the Ukraine, is balking at the proposed time frame.

The six remaining republics - Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia and the three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia - are seeking independence from the Soviet Union and have refused to sign the new treaty. Armenia, however, may change its position depending on the outcome of a referendum in September. The republics that don't sign the new treaty will still be bound to Moscow by the 1922 union treaty.

The new treaty's text doesn't contain the word "socialism" but transforms the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics into the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics. Perhaps most important, the republics are given control over their economic resources.

The treaty also allows the republics to collect taxes, then pass on a fixed percentage to Kremlin coffers. The central government will retain control over security and defense, but the republics will have a voice in military policy and foreign economic relations.

The treaty's completion provides the impetus for further reforms of the Soviet Union's fast-sinking political and economic system, including a new constitution and fresh elections at all levels, according to Mr. Gorbachev. "The treaty creates the prerequisites for profound changes for the better in all spheres of public and state life," he said in a recent nationwide television address.

Though less enthusiastic about the treaty than Gorbachev, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin is supporting it.

"We favor the signing of the union treaty, although we are not quite satisfied with those provisions based on compromise," said Mr. Yeltsin, a former bitter political rival of Gorbachev, at a news conference Saturday.

Other influential leaders from across the political spectrum are gloomy about the treaty's ability to heal rifts and get the country going again.

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