MOSCOW, JAN. 29 -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin, making his debut on the international stage as a major world leader, called today for sweeping cuts in nuclear arsenals and announced that he has halted production of several long-range nuclear weapons systems.

In a television address on the eve of a visit to the United States, Yeltsin said Russia is striving for "minimum sufficiency" in nuclear and conventional weapons. He welcomed arms control proposals made by President Bush in his State of the Union address just hours earlier and suggested that Moscow could join Washington in creating and jointly operating a global defense system against nuclear attack in place of the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Soviet political commentators said Yeltsin's proposals appeared designed in part to project a statesmanlike image prior to a two-day trip to the United States, during which he will address the U.N. Security Council. Yeltsin went out of his way to depict Russia, the largest and most powerful member of the new Commonwealth of Independent States, as the rightful successor to the defunct Soviet Union in the military field.

The Russian leader said he would propose deep reductions in strategic offensive weapons when he meets with Bush at Camp David on Saturday. Under his proposal, each side would be left with only 2,000 to 2,500 strategic nuclear weapons -- roughly 20 percent of the present Soviet strategic arsenal.

Like Bush, the 60-year-old Russian leader stressed that his arms control initiatives could produce tangible material benefits for a population preoccupied with domestic economic troubles. He said resources saved from cutting armaments would be channeled to "civilian needs" and to easing the transition to a market economy from the communist system of central planning.

"The steps we are taking in no way undermine the security of Russia and the states of the commonwealth," said Yeltsin, in an apparent attempt to reassure hard-line military officers disturbed by the breakup of the Soviet military. "If they can be realized, our lives can become not only calmer and more secure, but also more prosperous."

The Russian disarmament package includes a halt in the production of long-range air- and sea-based cruise missiles and some heavy strategic bombers, as well as deep reductions in tactical nuclear weapons. Yeltsin said that Russia would refrain this year from holding army maneuvers involving more than 13,000 men and air exercises involving more than 30 heavy bombers.

Yeltsin described the latest disarmament positions of Russia and the United States as "close," but he did not directly respond to Bush's proposal for the elimination of all land-based missiles with multiple warheads, where Russia has an advantage. According to U.S. defense specialists, such a plan would leave each side with between 4,000 and 5,000 strategic warheads.

Welcoming the Yeltsin initiative at a news conference at the Kremlin, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said that both the U.S. and Russian proposals were "worthy of consideration." He said they reflected "new political realities and the changed circumstances of relations between the United States and Russia."

Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev told reporters that a recent promise by Yeltsin to stop aiming nuclear weapons at American cities also applied to U.S. military targets. But he also made clear that the political decision would take some time to implement in practice, saying that "scientific, technical and military people" would have to be consulted.

Asked whether the United States would reciprocate on the Russian targeting initiative, Baker hedged, saying that Washington is "still awaiting implementation." In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that Yeltsin's proposals "set the stage for very productive talks" at Camp David this weekend and would be studied "for their impact on the strategic balance."

{NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner also welcomed Yeltsin's proposals, saying, "Clearly, he has committed himself to a path of large and swift cuts in nuclear weapons."}

Yeltsin's statement today marked the first time he has paid any substantive attention to arms control and international security issues since becoming president of Russia in June. Most of the former Soviet arsenal of 27,000 strategic and tactical nuclear weapons -- as well as key nuclear production facilities and the command-and-control systems -- are located on Russian territory.

At several points during his speech, Yeltsin appeared to be speaking on behalf of the entire 11-nation commonwealth. He said that Russia regarded itself as "the legal successor to the Soviet Union in the field of responsibility for fulfilling international obligations."

"We confirm all obligations under bilateral and multilateral agreements in the field of arms limitations and disarmament that were signed by the Soviet Union and which are now in effect," Yeltsin said.

Two other republics on whose territory nuclear arms are stationed, Ukraine and Belarus, have announced their intention to become nonnuclear by destroying their nuclear warheads or transferring them to Russia. The fourth nuclear republic, Kazakhstan, has hinted that it also is prepared to dismantle its warheads but has delayed a public announcement in an apparent attempt to preserve a bargaining chip with Russia.

"Yeltsin is trying to demonstrate that he is the man in charge of Soviet nuclear weapons," said Andrei Kortunov, a military analyst with the U.S.A. and Canada Institute in Moscow. "He is either presenting the other leaders with a fait accompli, or he has some kind of understanding with them that amounts to their recognition of Russia's pre-eminence."

The other former Soviet republics agreed that Russia should be allowed to assume the Soviet Union's permanent U.N. Security Council seat, but there were clear signs of unhappiness when Yeltsin took over control of the briefcase that contains the Soviet nuclear codes. Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk insisted that he should be given the technical possibility of preventing the launching of nuclear weapons from Ukrainian territory.

In his statement today, Yeltsin reiterated Russian support for the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which bans the use of space weapons. He said Russia was ready to eliminate existing anti-satellite systems on a reciprocal basis with the United States and was also prepared "to develop, create and jointly operate a global defense system, instead of the SDI system." But he did not elaborate on the idea.

The Russian leader also proposed creating an international agency for supervising all aspects of nuclear arms reduction, including non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He said the agency would gradually extend its authority to "control the entire nuclear cycle" from the production of fissionable materials such as uranium to the dumping of nuclear waste.

Yeltsin said Russia would reduce the number of strategic weapons in combat readiness to levels determined in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty within three years, rather than seven as originally agreed to with the United States, and he confirmed U.S. intelligence reports that Russia has ceased production of heavy Tu-160 and Tu-95 MS bombers.

"He appears to have been making a virtue out of necessity. There were serious technical problems with some of these programs, and they were very expensive," commented Kortunov.

Yeltsin said that the number of nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles on patrol duty already had been cut by half and would continue to be reduced. He said that Russia was willing to stop such patrolling altogether on a reciprocal basis, a proposal that seems unlikely to appeal to the U.S. Navy.

Yeltsin made his TV appearance a day after visiting the Black Sea fleet to prepare for the U.N. meetings. The previous day, the Russian leader had canceled appointments, giving rise to concerns over his health.

{In an interview with Barbara Walters to be aired Friday on ABC-TV's "20/20," Yeltsin termed reports that he may have a drinking problem as "pure provocation." Yeltsin said he played sports twice a week for an hour and a half and exercised morning and night, adding that he found athletic activity and alcohol incompatible. "I am not an ascetic, but I categorically deny all those rumors," he said.}

Washington Post staff writer John M. Goshko in Moscow contributed to this report.