SOVIET President Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin have put aside long-standing differences and joined forces to beat back threats from both radical strikers and hard-liners. By allying with Mr. Yeltsin, who enjoys broad popular support, Mr. Gorbachev aims to restore some semblance of order that would give his newly approved ``anticrisis'' economic program a chance for success. It reinforces him politically at a time when he is under attack by orthodox communists angry at his inability to contain political and economic unrest.
The deal is not without risk for Yeltsin, however, as it could alienate a large segment of his power base - the workers. But the alliance also helps Yeltsin, in that in recent weeks he has been seeking a rapprochement with his often bitter political enemy.
``An alliance is mutually beneficial,'' says a Western diplomat. ``It's in both Gorbachev's and Yeltsin's best interest to have order.''
To that effect, a joint declaration published in the Communist Party daily Pravda on Wednesday called for an end to nationwide strikes that are distrupting the Soviet Union's economy. The strike movement is being spearheaded by coal miners, who are demanding that Gorbachev and the government resign. In the past, miners in the Siberian Kuzbass coal region have said they would return to work at Yeltsin's request.
Hours after the publication of the appeal, Gorbachev followed up with a hard-hitting speech at a meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee.
``The existing constitutional order shall never be allowed to be dismantled,'' Gorbachev said, opening the two-day meeting.
Members of the hard-line Soyuz faction of the Soviet parliament have been calling for imposition of a state of emergency and for Gorbachev's resignation. Conservatives had been expected to challenge Gorbachev at the Central Committee plenum, possibly trying to remove him as party leader by convening a special party congress - the only body with the power to take this action. Though severe criticism was voiced, a discussion of Gorbachev's party leadership was kept off the plenum's agenda, Central Committ ee members said.
Though the hard-liners have been quieted, at least temporarily, it's too early to tell if the joint declaration can roll back the strikes and ethnic unrest.
The appeal, agreed upon at a meeting of republican leaders with Gorbachev on Tuesday, calls for the introduction of a ``special regime'' in key sectors of industry to ensure production and reliable transportation of consumer goods. It also provides for the use of Interior Ministry troops to squash ethnic conflicts.
``All actions of this kind should be firmly curbed by law enforcement agencies,'' the statement said.
Setback for Gorbachev
In a political setback for Gorbachev, the appeal hints at cancellation of a 5 percent sales tax on consumer goods, as well as a review of the overall price increases introduced earlier this month.
In addition, the declaration says a quick conclusion of a new treaty ``among sovereign states ... is a top priority for overcoming the crisis.''
After a union treaty is signed, a new constitution would be drawn up, followed by elections.
Though the agreement is basically a compromise between the Soviet Union's two most powerful political figures, Yeltsin did gain a concession that the Kremlin cannot solve the crisis ``without radical enhancement of the role of union republics.'' Yeltsin and Gorbachev have long been battling over the degree of sovereignty to be granted the republics. Gorbachev had been fighting to retain sweeping central powers.
Some republics dissent
But putting the statement into practice may be difficult. Six republics did not sign the document - Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, and Moldavia. All six republics are trying to break free of the Kremlin's rule.
Meanwhile, nationalists conducting strikes in Byelorussia have indicated they have no intention of stopping until their demand for a special session of the republic's parliament was met. Parliament leaders have said they will not call a special session.
``The demands of the strikers basically concern local issues,'' said Vladimir Panada, a journalist for the Byelorussian National Front newspaper Novini. ``The statement doesn't really concern us.''
The Gorbachev-Yeltsin alliance may prove temporary, as happened last summer when the men briefly joined forces to try to create a market economy.
A future point of contention could be the Yeltsin-proposed ``round table,'' which would bring all the warring political factions together to discuss the nation's problems. The forces of radical reform, which Yeltsin heads, have made the round table a top priority.
``The cooperation of various forces in society is critical,'' said Yeltsin's deputy, Ruslan Khasbulatov, in an interview with the Russian Information Agency.
Gorbachev has indicated that he is against the idea, however, saying the current power structure has the means to solve fractional differences.
``We face a coalition in every elected organ from top to bottom,'' Gorbachev told journalists recently. ``So let them cooperate, let them interact, let them compete.''
Finally, the hard-liners remain a threat. Soyuz is the most organized of all political factions and it recently expanded its movement to included republican and local legislatures. Gorbachev may be safely ensconced as party leader, but Soyuz leaders have hinted they may try to remove him as president by calling a special session of the national Congress of People's Deputies.