Vladimir V. Shcherbitsky, chief of the Communist Party in the Ukraine and dean of the ruling Kremlin Politburo, was criticized sharply in Pravda on Tuesday for not doing enough to promote Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's reform programs.
The attack on the 69-year-old Shcherbitsky by name in the most authoritative Communist Party newspaper is the latest sign that he may be dismissed despite his 17 years of seniority on the Politburo, the policy-making organ of the party Central Committee.
According to Western diplomatic sources, publication of the attack on Shcherbitsky in Pravda, with no rebuttal from him or his supporters, indicates a decision has been made to drop him.
Shcherbitsky, a close associate of former President Leonid I. Brezhnev, has managed to survive previous criticism dealing with economic performance in the Ukraine and the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.
Seen as Main Victim
But now, Soviet sources said, he appears to be the chief victim of Gorbachev's reported plan to purge opponents and "old guard" elements from the party's 307-member Central Committee at a conference scheduled to open June 28.
Pravda, which earlier attacked the Armenian party leader, Karen S. Demirchyan, and suggested that he be replaced, has lately turned its attention to the Ukraine, the second-largest republic in the Soviet Union. Accounts of lagging economic performance in the Ukraine, tales of widespread corruption and even scandals involving the Ukrainian security service have been published in recent weeks, indicating that the Kremlin is unhappy with Shcherbitsky's rule.
Tuesday's account of a plenum of the Ukrainian party's Central Committee last week contained criticism of the republic's Politburo and Secretariat by lower-level officials--an extremely rare phenomenon in party affairs.
Pravda said several speakers at the plenum charged that inefficiency and undemocratic practices are on the rise in the republic, then pointed accusing fingers.
"The reorientation of the style of work, to a significant degree, depends on the first secretary of the Central Committee, V. V. Shcherbitsky," Pravda quoted Y. Pogrebnyak, head of the party in the city of Lvov, as saying at the meeting. "The Politburo and the Secretariat must be closer to the regional party organizations, help them decide complicated questions."
The Pravda story appeared under the headline "Without Compliments." It did not include any part of Shcherbitsky's report to the plenum that would give his side.
Although Shcherbitsky has recently praised Gorbachev's proposals for perestroika , or restructuring, he has long been regarded as a lukewarm supporter--if not an outright opponent of the current leadership in Moscow. His powerful political base apparently protected him from earlier efforts to dislodge him from the Politburo, Soviet sources said.
Gorbachev, since taking office nearly three years ago, has succeeded in removing several rivals or "old guard" members. In the most recent instance, I. B. Usmankhodzhayev, the party chief in Uzbekistan, was deposed after serving less than three years.
Earlier, Kazakhstan's leader, Dinmukhamed A. Kunayev, was dismissed from the Politburo, as were the Moscow party chief, Viktor V. Grishin, Deputy Prime Minister Geidar A. Aliyev and the party chief in Leningrad, Grigory T. Romanov.