MOSCOW, NOV. 23 -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev circulated a historic proposal today to remake the country into a "Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics" and then warned Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the Baltic states that he is prepared for a "political struggle" if they reject the new treaty out of hand.
The draft of the new Treaty of the Union, obtained by The Washington Post, calls on the existing 15 republics to form a voluntary federation. One crucial ideological change is the country's new name, dropping "socialist" from its present name and substituting "sovereign."
Although the treaty envisions an unprecedented degree of authority for the individual republics, it also retains so much power for Moscow that Yeltsin and their other leaders will probably find it too conservative. Gorbachev warned the republics: "Let them make their proposals and suggestions, but if they merely make ultimatums, then they will further destabilize the situation in the country."
Leaders of the three Baltic states and Georgia already have said they intend to win their independence outright and have no intention of signing the treaty. Leaders of the Ukraine, a republic of 53 million people, say they will not sign a treaty until they have rewritten their constitution. And Russian leaders insist that the current draft represents only a pallid reform.
When asked at a news conference about the Baltic states, Gorbachev reacted sternly. He said that if the Balts want independence, then their leaders should call a referendum. As for the treaty, Gorbachev said, "They should and they shall agree."
The draft treaty is expected to be published in the Soviet press soon. The legislatures of the republics will then consider it, but with so much opposition already declared, the treaty is not likely to win quick approval.
Under the new treaty, the central government in Moscow would continue to control the state's military and security organs, formulate foreign policy, organize the financial and credit systems and control gold, energy reserves and other resources it deems necessary.
Without mentioning socialism in any way, the treaty provides for the individual republics to choose their own "forms of property and economic system."
Although the treaty gives general guarantees about the right of the republics to control their own resources and write laws, the document also makes clear that Moscow and the president will have far-reaching authority.
And while the republics' leaders will comprise the president's cabinet, the Federation Council, one of Gorbachev's closest advisers, Georgi Shakhnazarov, said that the president will have the final word. Yeltsin has called for a "coalition" government.
A constitutional court in Moscow would settle conflicts between Moscow and individual republics or between two republics.
Although the republics would have the right to use their own languages, anthems and symbols, the all-union language would remain Russian and the capital would still be Moscow.
Gorbachev has shown his impatience with the Baltic states so frequently in recent weeks that the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia met this week and issued a joint statement calling on Moscow not to "destabilize" the situation.
At his news conference, Gorbachev showed particular anger at Latvia's attempts to cut off all food, fuel and other supplies to Soviet army troops stationed on its territory. Latvia has called on Moscow to remove all of its troops from the republic.
"I should say that as president, I have limits," Gorbachev warned. "In this case, the center and the president will have to consider the situation and react."
The Soviet leader said he had reviewed seven drafts of the Treaty of the Union, beginning with a proposed constitution written by human rights activist Andrei Sakharov just days before his death last December. Sakharov's idea for a confederation of "European and Asian states" was far more radical than this final draft, giving much greater and more specific power to the republics.
Gorbachev said the draft treaty, which was handed out to members of the Supreme Soviet, the federal legislature, would be published soon in the press "for nationwide discussion" and that the republics, including the Baltic states, were "welcome" to work on it further.
In the Supreme Soviet, legislators gave Gorbachev two more weeks to fill out his plan to reorganize the country's executive powers. The 11-page draft treaty makes clear that Gorbachev intends to create a strong executive presidency, with a vice president and a cabinet that includes the leaders of the 15 republics.
Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak said he hopes Gorbachev will form a coalition with Yeltsin by making the Russian president his vice president. Considering the strained personal relations between the two men, such an outcome would be surprising.
The Soviet press, which has broken with tradition and begun publishing political rumors, has also speculated on who might be Gorbachev's vice president. The labor newspaper Rabochaya Tribuna said the most commonly mentioned name was Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, who has been attacked by reformers for his views on economic policy, told reporters that he realizes that he will soon be out of a job. The draft treaty says there still will be a prime minister, but he would have little of the power the office has now.
In the halls of the Kremlin today, legislators from the Baltic states and other republics said that while the Treaty of the Union would have seemed radical a year or two ago, it falls short of the current aspirations of many republics. The legislature of every republic except Kirghizia has passed resolutions of sovereignty or independence, and the authority of Gorbachev and the central government has plunged.
The newly elected president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, said his republic would sign no treaties "until it attains a genuine independence and the rights of a party to international relations."
Gorbachev reacted sharply today to suggestions, including some published in the Communist Party youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, that he is accumulating more power while ceding little to the republics. The paper said, "This president already has vast powers that none of his predecessors had."
Gorbachev struck back, saying, "On the one hand, I'm accused of a paralysis of power. So then we try to break free of this paralysis of power. Then I'm criticized for trying to create some sort of dictatorship."
The Soviet leader also expressed frustration with Yeltsin and said the Russian leader is trying to fan differences between them even when they are "80 percent in agreement."
"I accept the challenge of my opponents and intend to pursue a political struggle, all in the framework of the constitution," Gorbachev said.
The Soviet leader said the new Treaty of the Union is the "key" to stabilizing the current conflicts over power and the collapse of the national economic system. It also represents his attempt to keep the union from splitting apart; the dismantling of the union, he said, would end only in "bloodshed."
The preamble of the draft treaty says the document "proceeds from the lessons of the past and pays attention to the changes in the life of the country and in the entire world." The treaty would, if enacted, replace one signed in 1922 that essentially created what is known here now as Moscow's "internal empire."