Soviets Swap Blame as Economy Stalls
Charges fly among radicals and conservatives over reform plan, coup rumors
MOSCOW — AS the Russian winter approaches, store shelves are empty. Only talk of catastrophe is in abundance.
Radicals and conservatives daily hurl charges at each other, laying blame for the economic crisis on their opponents and accusing them of plotting to use this time of troubles to launch a coup.
The always-confident Mikhail Gorbachev stands amid the storm, freshly armed with vast powers to legislate and decree changes granted to him last week by a confused and paralyzed parliament.
He used that authority last Thursday to try to will a collapsing economy back to stability, commanding all enterprises to fulfill state-directed contracts through 1991, with penalties on those that fail to do so.
``We must stop the decline,'' Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov said in a televised address Saturday night. ``It is impossible to live without discipline, order, and responsibility.''
Radical democrats have responded with angry charges that Mr. Gorbachev is creating one-man rule, undermining democracy, and usurping the powers of the republican governments. In statements issued on Friday, the radical Interregional Group of Deputies, including leaders of the Moscow city government and the Russian government of populist Boris Yeltsin, attacked Gorbachev for retreating from his commitment to a market economy and reverting to command methods.
The group accused Gorbachev of ``capitulation ... before the conservative forces'' by failing to make a clear choice between two opposing plans for transition to a market. Gorbachev instead insisted last week on a renewed effort to combine the cautious path proposed by Mr. Ryzhkov's government and the more-rapid shift backed by Mr. Yeltsin.
That decision, the radical statement said, would only lead to ``more tensions between the center and the republics, especially Russia, and the breakup of a fledgling center-left coalition that promised a way out of the crisis.''
The radicals repeated their demand that the Ryzhkov government resign and called for creation of a parallel parliament of deputies selected by the republican governments.
Yeltsin himself has been silent at this stage of the political battle. His quietude may be partly tactics, waiting to see what Gorbachev does when the new version of the economic plan is presented on Oct. 15. But it may simply be the product of illness - his aides revealed this weekend that Yeltsin was more seriously injured than previously stated in a car crash last week.
Liberal advisers and supporters of Gorbachev argue privately that the Soviet leader is simply maneuvering to avoid a confrontation with Ryzhkov and his backers in the military and the defense industry. In two weeks, they say, Gorbachev will back the radical 500-day economic plan, with a few minor concessions to the government for face-saving.
Stanislav Shatalin, the Gorbachev adviser and economist who headed the group that created the 500-day plan, went on television Saturday and publicly backed Gorbachev's new decree. It does not, he told an interviewer, contradict his program, which also calls for ``tough'' measures during an initial transition period.
Similar measures are in the 500-day plan, agrees Moscow Mayor Gavril Popov, but only through the first half of next year. By continuing them beyond that, he argued to reporters, the market will never get off the ground. The radicals say the new decree is actually in step with Ryzhkov's views.
Indeed, Ryzhkov has repeatedly argued that the collapse of the economy requires maintaining the control of the system of state-supplied production quotas and supplies through 1991.
``I am very bothered about 1991,'' he said in a television interview on Sept. 7. ``In the thick of all these debates ... we have totally forgotten that the winter lies ahead.... There have to be state orders which must be fulfilled firmly.''
In a open letter to the Communist Party daily Pravda the day before, representatives of the defense industry complained that ``plan regulation of the economy has been destroyed,'' endangering national security. They, too, demanded ``preservation'' of the command system through 1991.
The democratic left sees such statements as evidence of the power of the ``military-industrial complex,'' a term that encompasses the axis of the military, the vast defense-related industry, and the centralized government ministries that run them. These forces, they believe, are the basis of resistance to a market-based economy.
Radical democrats rose in the parliament last week and detailed charges that the military was moving armed troops here in preparation for a coup. The conservative Communist establishment responded with an orchestrated wave of propaganda, quoting from a purported radical document plotting violent revolution.
``The rumors about a military coup are spread by those who themselves go against the people, who risk the people's destiny in order ... to gain power and to overthrow the existing system,'' Defense Minister Dimitri Yazov told the conservative daily Sovietskaya Rossiya on Saturday.
A widely printed article from Tass news agency last week cited a ``Program of Action - 90'' of the Russian Democratic Forum as evidence of a radical ``countercoup.'' These charges are now repeated as fact, including by Marshal Yazov.
The party-controlled media are ``whipping up rumors'' with the aim of creating a ``provocation which could be used as a pretext to introduce emergency rule in the country,'' Moscow Mayor Popov told reporters on Friday. The document and its authors are a fabrication reminiscent of the Stalinist era, added Mikhail Poltoranin, information minister for the Russian government. The Communists almost gleefully use the advent of radical-led governments in cities such as Moscow and Leningrad and the entire Russian Republic to point a finger of blame elsewhere for a change.
The radicals only want ``to divert people's attention from bare shelves in vegetable shops or in order to shirk responsibility for ill-preparations for winter in future,'' Yazov said.
The democrats retort that the difficulties in their cities are being deliberately exacerbated by sabotage from the party apparatus.
``Our business today is to start implementing the 500-day program,'' Mr. Poltoranin said. ``And the apparatus is trying to interfere with this.''