SOVIET President Mikhail Gorbachev is intensifying efforts to conclude a new union treaty reshaping the nation's power structures after picking up two much-needed endorsements for the plan.Shortly after United States President Bush left the Soviet Union on Thursday after a three-day visit, Mr. Gorbachev announced on nationwide television that the treaty will be ready for signing Aug. 20. Among the first republics to sign will be the giant Russian Federation, headed by President Boris Yeltsin, along with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. "The treaty creates the basis for deep changes for the better in all spheres of state and public life," Gorbachev said. So far, nine of the Soviet Union's 15 republics have indicated they will sign the treaty, which is based on the so-called "nine-plus-one" agreement reached in April. The pact would grant greater powers to the republics, while retaining a strong center with authority over security and defense. The six republics refusing to sign are Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia, and the Baltics - Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
Two key treaty backers As the most popular politician in the Soviet Union, Mr. Yeltsin's backing for the union treaty has long been considered essential. Yeltsin and Gorbachev had wrangled over some issues, such as the taxation system, but the two settled all their differences last week. Yeltsin now is firmly backing his once bitter political rival. "We can't destroy the state. It should be united, with united, unchanged borders," Yeltsin told reporters Friday. Key support for the treaty also came from Mr. Bush, who wrapped up his Soviet visit in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of the nation. In a speech to the Ukrainian parliament, Bush backed Gorbachev's plan, warning republics against "pursuing the hopeless course of isolation" by going their own way. Bush's endorsement of the union treaty in Kiev is significant because the Ukraine, where nationalist sentiment has risen sharply, has been reluctant to sign the pact. Bush's speech had a devastating effect on independence-minded, nationalist leaders in many republics, from the Ukraine to Lithuania. Many had looked to Mr. Bush for support. Now they feel angry and betrayed, charging Bush sacrificed the sovereignty-seeking republics for an agreement reducing strategic nuclear weapons that was signed during the Moscow summit. "He should stand for democracy and independence for those who want it, but instead he was speaking as though he was Gorbachev's personal envoy," Ale xander Lavrinovich, leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, Rukh, said of Bush's speech. Yeltsin and others have said they expect the Ukraine to sign the union treaty in September, but Mr. Lavrinovich said Rukh will continue to fight for what he says a majority of Ukrainians want: independence. "Regardless of [what] President Bush says, we'll keep fighting for independence, and in the end we'll achieve our goal," he said, adding that the movement would try to use the influence of Ukrainian-Americans to get Bush to rethink his position. But after a friendly summit with Gorbachev, the US president is unlikely to be easily swayed. Lavrinovich said there was a mistaken belief in the US administration that keeping the Soviet Union together was the best way to maintain stability in the region. "If the Soviet Union is kept together it will only lead to more instability, not less," he said. "And empires by nature are incapable of being democratic."
Baltics' reaction cool Bush's statement was also received cooly in the independence-minded Baltic republics, especially Lithuania. "Our reaction is not good," said Rita Dapkus, spokeswoman for Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis. Lithuania was seeking clarification of Bush's stance on the independence movements in the Baltics. The US has never recognized the incorporation of the region into the Soviet Union and Bush's speech only referred to the "nine-plus-one" treaty, which the Baltics didn't sign. Lithuania has been the leader among republics in the effort to break away from the Soviet Union. Since declaring its independence last year, Lithuania often has been the scene of what republican officials claim is Kremlin-inspired violence, including the execution-style slayings of seven border guards that occurred Wednesday during the Bush-Gorbachev summit. Flags were flying at half-mast as the funeral for the seven slain border guards took place in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, on Saturday. So far, no suspects have been apprehended, but Ms. Dapkus said attention was focusing on special Soviet Interior Ministry troops, known as black berets. The black berets have been responsible for about 20 raids on border posts across the Baltic republics, but there were no casualties in those attacks. Black beret officials have denied involvement in Wednesday's attac k. During his television speech, Gorbachev offered the republics that have so far refused to discuss the union treaty, including Lithuania, a chance to reconsider their stances. Dapkus said Lithuania might discuss the union treaty if the Kremlin recognized the republic's independence and extended an official invitation to Vilnius to enter into treaty talks. Continued violence is far more probable, Lithuanian officials added, as Bush's support for the union treaty could serve to bolster the forces trying to stop Lithuania from breaking away. At the funeral for the seven border guards, Mr. Landsbergis hinted that Lithuania may fight back in the future. "The time is coming that we will have to defend ourselves," Landsbergis said. "We will have to use all means that a state has to defend itself."