Embattled Ukrainian Party Leader Retains Post

Times Staff Writer

Vladimir V. Shcherbitsky, the last of the Brezhnevites on the ruling Soviet Politburo, has confessed error but still retained power as Communist Party secretary in the Ukraine, it was learned Saturday.

Shcherbitsky, a clear target of forces backing Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, was reelected at a meeting of the Ukrainian party Central Committee, the republic's party newspaper said.

But he kept his post only after acknowledging that he and his deputy, Alexei A. Titarenko, had done too little to carry out party strategy and supervise party officials in the Ukraine, the newspaper Pravda Ukrainy said. Copies of the March 26 edition containing a report on the meeting arrived in Moscow on Saturday.

Western diplomats believe that Gorbachev would like to see the 69-year-old Shcherbitsky removed from power but cannot overcome strong political support for the former associate of the late Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev.

Gorbachev has made it plain that he blames Brezhnev for a period of "stagnation" starting in the late 1970s and has maneuvered to oust at least four former Brezhnev allies from the Politburo since taking office two years ago.

Shcherbitsky, however, has more staying power. He became a member of the Politburo in 1971 and took over leadership of the party in the Ukraine in 1972.

Even so, the reports of his admissions of error indicated strongly that he still was in political trouble, Western observers said.

They recalled that the Ukraine, once known as the Soviet breadbasket, was sharply criticized for shortfalls in grain production at the January plenum of the national party Central Committee.

Yegor K. Ligachev, the No. 2 to Gorbachev in charge of ideology, said the Ukraine was now a net importer of grain and had failed to meet industrial production targets as well.

In an unprecedented move, KGB chief Viktor M. Chebrikov recently acknowledged that a senior KGB agent in the Ukraine had conspired to frame and jail a journalist who was exposing local corruption.

Recent Ousters

Three regional leaders in the republic recently were ousted from office on charges of high-handed leadership. One of them, Viktor G. Boyko of Dnepropetrovsk, is a close associate of Shcherbitsky, but that did not save his job.

Meantime, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda published a report of the Ukrainian party's Central Committee full session that was critical of Shcherbitsky's leadership.

It quoted Vasily M. Kavun, a regional leader in the Ukraine, as telling the meeting that Shcherbitsky and his deputy, Titarenko, were responsible for the party's inadequate performance.

Unless they are in disfavor, Politburo members are almost never criticized in the party-controlled newspapers.

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