President Mikhail Gorbachev on Saturday offered the 15 Soviet republics a treaty giving them control over virtually all affairs except defense. But his draft was dead on arrival in nearly half the republics.
The long-awaited draft union treaty, published in major newspapers, is Gorbachev's attempt to stop the rapid splintering of political unity in this huge and diverse country of 285 million people.It is his blueprint for saving a degree of central authority. It addresses some of the issues behind bloody ethnic conflicts and a "paralysis of power" hindering economic reform and worsening shortages of food and consumer goods.
The proposed treaty, drafted by Gorbachev and other members of the Federation Council, would rename the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics the "Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics." The treaty said the union would be "voluntary" but did not identify who in each republic - voters or legislators - would decide whether to join.
Each republic, "as a sovereign state, has full state powers over its territory. Treaty participants regard the Soviet Union as a sovereign federative state formed as a result of the republics' voluntary union," the draft says.
The blueprint was sent to the legislatures of the union and the 15 republics for approval.
It is there that more trouble lies ahead for Gorbachev, whose influence and power over the country is eroding.
"Not only the Baltic states, but also many Soviet republics, will not sign this treaty," Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said in a television address to his republic, which is in the forefront of drives to break from Moscow.
At least six republics have already indicated they will not sign: Armenia, Ukraine Georgia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The participation of other republics is in doubt because of drives for sovereignty or independence that have swept all but one - Kirgizia.
Instead, many republics have been bypassing the Kremlin and signing treaties with each other governing trade, cultural and political ties.
According to the draft treaty, the Kremlin would continue to control defense and borders. It would administer jointly with republics an economic development program, the space program, transportation and energy system.
The treaty rebuffs plans by several republics to introduce their own currencies to replace the ruble, whose value has plummeted. The draft says the union will join the republics in setting monetary policy "based on a single currency."
The draft also says the republics will own land and natural resources, except for those the union needs to exercise its powers. Many republics claim the central government has taken their land and resources and used them for wasteful and polluting factories.
The treaty would leave virtually all other issues - such as management of the economy, education and culture - to the republics. In the current system, central ministries in Moscow supervise factories nationwide, often in disregard for local conditions.
The draft presents a formula for resolving jurisdictional disputes that have paralyzed and confused the country for weeks, especially holding up the transition from a centrally planned to a market economy.
The treaty, which would replace a 1922 accord that united the 15 republics but gave them few powers, says nothing about how a republic might secede.