BY all accounts, the meeting this past weekend between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his Russian rival Boris Yeltsin was no lovefest. The two men, first alone and then accompanied by their deputies, engaged in five hours of hard bargaining about how to share power, between themselves and their governments. The outcome will determine the shape of a new treaty of union between the Soviet republics.
The Nov. 11 talk was ``constructive,'' Mr. Gorbachev's spokesman said in diplomatic language, but, he admitted, the discussion was also ``sharp and polemical'' at times.
Despite their apparent dislike of each other, Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin are brought together by political necessity. Neither has the power to do without the other.
Gorbachev can issue decrees from behind the walls of the Kremlin, but he cannot hold the Soviet Union together without the agreement of Yeltsin, the more popular leader of the Russian parliament who represents the majority of the Soviet population. Yeltsin, for his part, can speak defiantly of Russian sovereignty and the preeminence of Russian authority, but in reality he does not have the power to act independently.
``I'm not a supporter of Russia's secession from the union,'' Sergei Stankevich, deputy mayor of Moscow and radical democratic leader, commented after the meeting to Interfax, an independent Soviet news service. ``If Russia remains in the union, something its leaders have promised more than once, we are doomed to cooperate by the logic of history.''
Such ``logic'' drove Gorbachev and Yeltsin together last August when they agreed to draw up a new economic reform plan based on a more radical Russian document. The odd man out was Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, whose own more moderate plan reflects the interests of the still-powerful central ministries and their allies in the Communist Party apparat and the military. Yeltsin openly demanded Mr. Ryzhkov's resignation as part of the price of the coalition.
But that deal collapsed two months later when Gorbachev backed off and, under pressure from the Ryzhkov camp, opted for a vague combination of the two plans. Yeltsin's supporters claim the result, evidenced in the Gorbachev economic plan and in the decrees emanating from his office, is virtually indistinguishable from the conservative path.
The Kremlin's decrees have uniformly asserted the authority of the central government, from claiming control over almost all foreign currency earnings to drawing up the budget for next year. Yeltsin's Russian government has retorted with counterclaims of authority, and even initiated its own radical reform plan on Nov. 1. But on Nov. 13, Yeltsin personally admitted that they had not begun to carry it out, because this could only be done on a countrywide basis.
IN the background of this battle is the broader issue of the fate of the entire union, as republics from the Baltics to the Caucasus seek outright independence. Gorbachev's Presidential Council is finalizing a draft union treaty, in essence a new constitution and agreement on union between the 15 republics. It will be published within days, followed by a nationwide debate.
Presidential Council member Grigori Revenko outlined the draft last week, although he did not speak about many crucial details. He described it as a three-part document covering rules for entering the union, and a bill of human rights; defining the union's powers; and defining the structure of the state, including the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers.
Mr. Revenko told reporters a republic may decide not to sign the treaty and still have a ``special status'' within the union. The structure of the national parliament will be reorganized; there would be national direct elections for president and vice president.
Yeltsin told the Russian parliament that he proposed to Gorbachev the formation of a coalition government, with Russia providing the prime minister and defense and finance ministers. He sought a Russian say on foreign and domestic policies, from treaties with Germany to issuance of money and formation of the budget. The division of powers and control over resources between the center and Russia would be decided in talks before the union treaty is finalized.
According to Yeltsin, Gorbachev signed off on all of this, agreeing ``in principle'' to a new government and to all the rest, with the exception of how to handle taxation.
Neither Gorbachev nor his spokesman would confirm this; they denied plans to reshuffle the government soon. Most observers see such a new government coming only early next year, after the new union treaty is signed, with the change in the formal government structure as the excuse for a shift in personnel. A formal protocol of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin ``agreement'' is to be drafted and published, a measure Yeltsin says will prevent Gorbachev from backing out again.
Gorbachev presented a partial version of events in a speech on the same day to a meeting of about 1,100 military men who are members of legislatures at all levels. Both he and Yeltsin agreed, he said, ``that the present Soviet Union should be changed. It should be transformed into a union of sovereign states but the union should not be dissolved.''
Gorbachev's address followed speeches by a string of military men complaining about the diminution of the Army's prestige and authority, and the decay of central order. Col. Pavel Krutikov reminded Gorbachev that in times of crisis, the Army is ``the last state institution still maintaining a high degree of organization and combat efficiency.''
Gorbachev himself described continued union as a economic necessity which, if ignored, will lead to a bloodbath worse than the Cultural Revolution in China. He staunchly opposed formation of republican armies and called for maintaining a national draft.
Gorbachev was severely criticized Nov. 14 in the Soviet parliament, particularly by military deputies. The parliament voted to hold an emergency discussion, beginning Nov. 16, with a report by Gorbachev on the draft treaty and his meeting with Yeltsin.