MIKHAIL GORBACHEV has apparently decided he has no choice but to move to the right as he fights to keep the Soviet Union from breaking apart. The Soviet president has lately concentrated his efforts on adoption of a new union treaty, which would keep his nation's 15 republics under central control. But Mr. Gorbachev's proposed treaty, government reforms, and appeals for unity have failed to arouse much interest outside Kremlin walls.
Radical forces in the republics, led by Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin, are more concerned with securing economic sovereignty, if not independence. The Baltic republics and Georgia have already said they won't sign the proposed treaty.
As the Soviet domestic economic and political situation becomes increasingly chaotic, Gorbachev appears to be arming for a blitz to break republican resistance. He has enhanced his standing with the hard-line Communist Party apparatus, the Army, and the KGB, putting him in a position to use coercion.
His recent actions were seen as a concession to hard-liners who are wary of changing an institution so fundamental to Communist rule as the Soviet military. (See story, Page 10, 11.)
``While we're sitting here arguing, the situation outside these walls is getting worse by the day,'' Gorbachev told the Soviet parliament Tuesday, as he outlined constitutional changes to enhance his executive power. ``I must be allowed to act.''
Mr. Yeltsin, with much less firepower at his disposal, is trying to outflank his political rival, using legislation and bilateral treaties among the republics.
Perhaps the most alarming development to many radicals is Gorbachev's firing of Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin. He was replaced by Boris Pugo, a communist hard-liner, with Boris Gromov, a popular Army general, as his deputy.
Mr. Bakatin, considered a liberal, had been a frequent target of conservatives, who accused him of encouraging separatism. Mr. Pugo headed the KGB (the secret police) in Latvia from 1980 to 1984 and headed the Baltic republic's Communist Party organization until 1988.
But the key to the shuffle may be General Gromov, the last commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan. As deputy interior minister, he may be able to use his influence to draw the Army into the domestic dispute, if Gorbachev so desires.
Gromov's new position ``increases the possibility of using the Army for the stabilization of the situation in the country,'' said an editorial in Tuesday's edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda, a leading Soviet newspaper.
Gorbachev earlier took steps to appease the Army by issuing a decree voiding any legislation passed by the republics concerning the military.
The decree was apparently aimed at the Baltics, where Latvia approved a law last month cutting off supplies to military bases in the republic. Other republics, such as the Ukraine and Russia, which have shown a desire to form their own armies, will also be banned from doing so.
Dissatisfaction with Gorbachev's policies had been mounting in the military. Particularly bothersome for the establishment was the fact that thousands of youths in the republics failed to report after being drafted.
In a move that is widely seen as conciliatory toward the Communist Party, Gorbachev has authorized the formation of ``worker's brigades'' to fight black marketeering, at a time when the country faces a serious food crisis.
As he gears up for a possible crackdown, Gorbachev is still trying to get the republics to join him peacefully.
The Supreme Soviet, or parliament, approved in principle the president's plan to reshuffle the government. It creates a presidential Cabinet and enhances the power of the Council of Federation. The council will include the heads of all 15 republics and decisions taken by a two-thirds majority would be binding on the president.
The parliament has also approved in principle the new treaty of union, which would grant greater authority to the republics, but still allots the bulk of decisionmaking to the center. Both the treaty and the government reorganization plans must receive approval from the highest legislative body in the country, the Congress of People's Deputies, which convenes Dec. 17.
In the face of the mounting threat to republican power, Yeltsin is trying to circumvent Gorbachev's thrust by concluding individual treaties. Russia, for example, has signed mutual cooperation pacts with several republics, including Ukraine. Such a strategy could create a de facto union treaty that would be more favorable to the republics' desire for economic sovereignty.
Also to this end, Russia's Congress of People's Deputies on Monday approved a law on private property, a concept that Gorbachev opposes. The legislation is allows landowners to sell their property only after 10 years, and then only to the state. Though radicals hailed the private property law as a significant first step to break central control, it will be difficult for the Russian Republic to defend the new policy against Gorbachev's offensive if the republic's parliament is not more united.
``Though we don't have total unity, there are still enough deputies for democratic reform so that we can put up a good fight,'' said Sergei Stepashin, a people's deputy from Leningrad.
Meanwhile, the Baltic states - Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia - integrated their governments over the weekend to present a united front to Moscow. But it is unlikely that even a united Baltic region would be successful against Gorbachev's overwhelming arsenal.
``Russia and the Ukraine are the big forces,'' said Lithuanian legislator Rolandas Paulauskas. ``If they can take decisive steps, then there won't be much Gorbachev can do to prevent the republics from determining the question of sovereignty for themselves.''
With his situation becoming increasingly disadvantageous, Yeltsin, who is much more popular in the Soviet Union than Gorbachev, has been trying to rally public support by playing on the population's hatred for communists.
``He [Gorbachev] doesn't want to give Russia to the Russians, he wants to hold it for himself,'' Yeltsin told a news conference.
``Gorbachev was a communist, is a communist, and will always be a communist.''