RUSSIAN Federation leader Boris Yeltsin faces a tough struggle to persuade striking miners that his newly forged alliance with President Mikhail Gorbachev is worth supporting. Mr. Yeltsin was expected to fly to the key Kuzbass coal-producing region of Siberia today for several days of talks with miners aimed at ending an eight-week-old strike that threatens to collapse the already shaky Soviet economy.
Some suspect Yeltsin's joint declaration with Mr. Gorbachev compromises the miners' interests, strike leaders say.
The Kuzbass miners, along with counterparts in the Ukrainian Donbas region, spearhead the strike movement that is perhaps the last obstacle blocking the implementation of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin pact. The Russian leader won support from reform-minded political activists Saturday, when Democratic Russia, the Soviet Union's largest opposition group, nominated him as their candidate in the republic's presidential election, scheduled for June 12.
Yeltsin and Gorbachev, bitter political rivals, signed the joint statement last week along with the leaders of eight other Soviet republics. It calls for the end of strikes and the introduction of a "special regime" in some branches of industry to ensure a steady supply of consumer goods. Other provisions include the quick signing of a new union treaty and promulgation of a new constitution followed by elections.
The Siberian strikers have been demanding fundamental political change, including the resignation of Gorbachev. Yeltsin met with Moscow-based representatives of the Kuzbass strikers Saturday, working out measures "for a legal and financial settlement of the existing problems," the official Tass news agency said.
The Siberian visit is necessary, however, because few miners know the details of the pact, since the full text hasn't been published in local newspapers, said Ravil Vakhitov, head of the worker's committee in the coal-mining center Novokuznetsk.
"Yeltsin will have much to explain before we return to work," Mr. Vakhitov said, adding the "special regime" clause is a source of much apprehension.
Similar sentiments were voiced at the Democratic Russia meeting, which ended up nominating Yeltsin for the presidency.
Radical leader Yuri Afanasyev said the joint declaration could be a setback for reform by upsetting efforts to integrate the democrats with the worker's movement to bring about lasting change. But democrats really have no choice but to continue supporting Yeltsin, Mr. Afanasyev continued, because no other leader was capable of challenging the communists' 73-year-old grip on absolute power.
There are signs that, like the democrats, the striking miners will find they have no other option but to go along with Yeltsin. Already the joint declaration seems to have taken the wind out of the strike movement's sails.