Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Friday he plans to overhaul his embattled government to restore public confidence but showed no sign he was ready to fire Prime Minister Niko-lai Ryzhkov or yield the Communist Party's grip on power.
The resignation of Ryzhkov was demanded by Gorbachev's main rival, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who told an angry session of parliament the Soviet people were fed up with food shortages and that "an explosion could come at any moment."Gorbachev told parliament that the economic and political crisis in the Soviet Union is deepening and called for an offensive to save it from falling apart.
In a bitter emergency debate on the economy, Gorbachev called for a moratorium on the power struggles between central Soviet authorities and republican governments that threaten to cripple the country.
Meanwhile, the White House is considering plans to ship emergency food and medical supplies to the Soviet Union this winter to head off political turmoil there, U.S. officials said Friday.
The officials said the issue was being actively considered within the Bush administration, and that any shipments would be coordinated with U.S. allies.Analysts said that growing public discontent over food shortages and scarce medical supplies is undermining Gorbachev's regime and threatening to trigger a dangerous breakup of the Soviet Union.
Soviet experts, alluding to fears that in that situation some of the country's nuclear weapons might fall into unfriendly or unstable hands, said they don't want to see the Soviet Union break up.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Thursday that the United States will entertain a Soviet request for help to offset food shortages this winter.
Alexsandr Yakolev, deputy trade representative at the Soviet Embassy, said Moscow had not asked for food aid from the United States.
But it does want U.S. government-backed credits to help it buy grain, poultry and other food from the United States, he said.
A U.S. official said Washington did not see food shortages leading to mass starvation in the Soviet Union. But widespread rationing of most basic foodstuffs is likely.
Shortages of basic medical supplies - aspirin, syringes and the like - are more severe, however, he said.
For the United States to be able to supply emergency food aid to the Soviet Union, Washington would first have to declare a state of emergency there, a U.S. official said. That seems unlikely.
What is more likely is that the United States would grant the Soviet Union government-backed credits to buy grain and other food from the United States, the official said.
Gorbachev, in admitting that shortages of food and other goods are worsening, interrupted his speech several times to answer shouting from the floor.
Republican leaders attacked his policies, with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian accusing him of pursuing "totalitarian ambitions."