MOSCOW, AUG. 30 -- The Kremlin leadership and representatives from all 15 Soviet republics began a series of meetings here today that is expected to yield a legislative package designed to change the economic and political direction of the Soviet Union.
Led by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the government leaders are likely to send to the legislature an economic-reform package providing for widespread privatization of business and industry and the creation of new economic links among the republics that will give them far greater independence from Moscow.
The program is based largely on a "500-day plan" for stabilization of the current economic crisis and transition to a market system put forth earlier this summer by Boris Yeltsin, president of the Soviet Russian republic.
Yeltsin, who initiated the Russian republic's recent declaration of sovereignty within the Soviet system, appears to have won Gorbachev's support for a plan that is far more radical than the one proposed three months ago by Gorbachev's prime minister, Nikolai Ryzhkov.
After years of public and private feuding, Gorbachev's new alliance with Yeltsin is born of political necessity and the promise of mutual benefit. However, it is obvious that the two men, by far the leading politicians in the Soviet Union, are wary of one another.
In televised remarks tonight, Gorbachev clearly had Yeltsin in mind when he warned against leaders of Soviet republics who would "ignore" national law. Last week, Gorbachev issued a presidential decree declaring illegal Russia's declaration claiming control of all its natural resources.
Yeltsin's plan calls for a price freeze on some essential foodstuffs and goods and a gradual transition to market prices on most other commodities. After several hours of meetings with Gorbachev on Wednesday, Yeltsin said the two men had reached accord on a series of "radical, resolute proposals."
Gorbachev, for his part, has acted to defuse one of the country's most serious consumer crises -- a shortage of cigarettes that has triggered rioting around the country. He fired a deputy minister in charge of distribution and has ordered the quick importation of trainloads of cigarettes from Bulgaria.
But the bad news seems never to stop: Soviet Health Minister Igor Denison announced today that by early next year the country may run so short of medicines that the domestic drug industry will be able to meet only about 30 percent of demand. The labor newspaper Trud suggested that "cigarette riots could be followed by aspirin riots if the situation is not rectified."