Gorbachev, Yeltsin Meet for Six Hours, Planning a Smooth Transition of Power

Laurie Hays, Staff Reporter
The Wall Street Journal

December 24, 1991

Moscow -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev met for six hours in the Kremlin with Russian President Boris Yeltsin but then didn't deliver an expected evening television address to the nation.

While reports spread that Mr. Gorbachev would step down any day from the presidency of his now nonexistent country and turn his office -- including the briefcase that controls the country's 27,000 nuclear weapons -- over to Mr. Yeltsin, there are indications that Mr. Gorbachev is planning a smooth transition to help Mr. Yeltsin.

The two men were said to have reached understandings on the future. Interfax, an independent Russian news agency, said Mr. Gorbachev would make his decision public within the next two days.

In Washington, the Bush administration expects Mikhail Gorbachev to resign as president of the expiring Soviet Union tomorrow, clearing the way for the U.S. to recognize the independence of Russia and the 11 other republics of the old union the following day, administration officials said.

Russia is to be recognized as the "continuation state," immediately replacing the Soviet Union in its diplomatic ties to the U.S., an official said. As a result, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Robert Strauss, would become ambassador to Russia, and the U.S. would support a move by the United Nations to give Russia the seat on the Security Council previously held by the Soviet Union.

Five other republics -- Ukraine, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kirgizia -- are to be recognized with the expectation that full diplomatic relations would be established shortly. The remaining six republics -- Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Turkmenia and Uzbekistan -- would be recognized as independent, but the U.S. would delay establishment of diplomatic relations until it is satisfied that those republics have met principles laid down recently by Secretary of State James Baker to encourage a peaceful transition to democracy and free markets.

The official Tass news agency reported that the Kremlin meeting was interrupted by a telephone call from British Prime Minister John Major, and that Mr. Gorbachev had said he and Mr. Yeltsin had a common understanding of what was going on in the country. Mr. Gorbachev described the transformation of the former Soviet Union into the new, looser Commonwealth of Independent States as "complicated." He said it required maximum consolidation of all the forces of society, and that he saw his job as maintaining the political process.

Among other things, Mr. Gorbachev has hinted in earlier interviews that he still controlled the country's nuclear weapons, though Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, the newly appointed commander-in-chief, is now supposed to be in charge of the country's nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Gorbachev also reportedly said to Mr. Major that he hoped the new commonwealth would become a viable formation, and that foreign countries needed to help Russia lead it. Television news reported that Mr. Gorbachev said this was a hard time for Mr. Yeltsin. "We'll help him here, and you help him over there," Mr. Gorbachev is reported to have said.

In turn, Mr. Major promised to help the commonwealth, and in particular the Russian leadership, in overcoming economic difficulties this winter by supplying food and medicines, Tass reported. Reuters reported from London that Mr. Major then wrote a letter to Mr. Yeltsin and said that Britain would soon recognize Russia with all the rights and obligations of the old Soviet Union.

Eleven former Soviet republics have joined the commonwealth, which was founded by Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia earlier this month. The agreement between the three republics purposely cut out Mr. Gorbachev because he had maintained that some central government control still needed to exist over the union. When the commonwealth agreement was signed by eight other republics this past weekend, it effectively ended the existence of the Soviet Union and left Mr. Gorbachev without a country to preside over. The only republic to refuse to sign is Georgia, where fighting approaching civil war has left as many as 50 people dead in the past two days, according to Tass.

Rebel troops demanding the resignation of Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia continued to pound Georgia's parliament in Tbilisi with rocket and artillery fire for a second day. The president, who the rebels accuse of autocratic policies since his election in May, was reported to be hiding in the parliament building's basement. Interfax said the building's right wing was destroyed.

The three former Baltic republics, which are now independent countries, have signed bilateral trade agreements with Russia.

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