The Kremlin on Saturday announced the transfer of the top Soviet police official, Interior Minister Vitaly V. Fedorchuk, to unspecified other duties. Western diplomats speculated that Fedorchuk, 67, might be in line to replace Politburo member Vladimir V. Shcherbitsky, also 67, as the Communist Party leader in his native Ukraine.
But other sources said that the failure to announce another post for Fedorchuk, a longtime secret policeman who briefly headed the KGB, might indicate that he is being sidelined.
The announcement, carried by the Tass news agency, said that Alexander V. Vlasov, 53, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, was named to head the Ministry of Internal Affairs, known by its Russian initials as the MVD.
It was the latest top-level change since Mikhail S. Gorbachev assumed power as Soviet leader last March. Since then, there have been four new members of the ruling Politburo, a new foreign minister and many other changes in ministerial positions.
Fedorchuk, who once worked with the dreaded Soviet smersh to hunt down Nazi collaborators in the Ukraine during World War II, was close to the late President Yuri V. Andropov.
Although he was named head of the KGB in May, 1982, during the tenure of President Leonid I. Brezhnev, Fedorchuk was assigned to run the MVD seven months later as part of Andropov's anti-corruption campaign.
Saturday's announcement was interpreted by some Kremlinologists as a possible promotion for Fedorchuk, who also is a member of the party Central Committee.
According to this speculation, his transfer less than two weeks before the Ukrainian party congress opens on Feb. 6 may indicate that he is line to replace Shcherbitsky in that key first secretary's post.
Shcherbitsky was named to the Politburo in 1971, during Brezhnev's era, and was considered by Western diplomats to be vulnerable to a Gorbachev shake-up.
Fedorchuk, who holds the rank of an army general, has been in secret police work since he was 21 years old. He was KGB chief in the Ukraine from 1970 until his elevation to KGB director in May, 1982.
The Tass announcement about him was terse: "The Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet relieved Vitaly Fedorchuk of the duties of the U.S.S.R. minister of the interior in connection with a new appointment."
Vlasov, whose official biography shows no background in police work, began party duties with the Young Communist League. He served three years as an inspector for the Central Committee of the party and later was first secretary of the party in the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic.
Starting in 1984, he was first secretary of the Rostov regional party committee.
As head of the MVD, Fedorchuk attempted to root out corruption that was widespread under his predecessors, as well as alcohol abuse.