MOSCOW, NOV. 12 -- The leaders of several of the Soviet Union's restive republics accused the Kremlin today of trying to pressure them into surrendering much of their economic power to the central government.
Speaking after a meeting Sunday with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian republic, said he had resisted attempts to rush the country's 15 republics into signing a new union treaty without clearly defining the extent of their political and economic powers. Gorbachev would like the republics to sign a new document this year to replace the 1922 treaty that set up the Soviet Union.
A similar complaint was voiced by the leaders of the three breakaway Baltic republics, who met Sunday with Soviet Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov. According to Baltic participants in the meeting, Ryzhkov told them bluntly that they must recognize the laws and taxation system of the Soviet Union or face the consequences.
"Our three-hour meeting ended in a conflict," said Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene. "They are insisting that we follow Soviet economic laws, which are unacceptable to us."
The Baltic republics, which earlier this year declared the restoration of their pre-World War II independence, have insisted that they will not sign a new union treaty, and several other republics, including the Ukraine, are dragging their feet. Many republics are also attempting to introduce their own programs to dismantle the centralized economic system in favor of a market economy.
Commenting on his meeting with Gorbachev, Yeltsin said today that he was in favor of a "strong alliance with the Soviet Union and for a federal treaty," but not at any price.
"Pressure was put on us first to sign the new union treaty and then to decide all the outstanding questions, while in the meantime allowing the center to run everything. This we could not and cannot accept. We agreed these questions will be resolved before signing an agreement," Yeltsin said, according to the independent Interfax news agency.
Gorbachev and Yeltsin agreed to set up two parallel commissions in the Soviet and Russian legislatures to discuss such issues as the division of property, control over valuable raw materials and the creation of a new banking and monetary system. The failure to set up a joint commission, as they did last August to draft plans for the transition to a market economy, indicates they are still far apart on key points.
The weekend meetings suggest that Gorbachev and Ryzhkov, while prepared to make concessions to the republics on political matters, are determined to maintain control over the main economic levers, such as banking, monetary policy and the formulation of a central budget.
Indeed, they apparently regard the power to allocate economic resources as their trump card in forcing the republics into line and preventing the breakup of the Soviet Union.
A commentary by the official Soviet news agency Tass today said Gorbachev and Yeltsin were "doomed to cooperate" with each other despite their personal rivalry. "Yeltsin has suddenly discovered that, without Gorbachev's support, it is impossible to implement any reforms in Russia," Tass said.