Gains Seen for Soviet Leader in Politburo Shift

Times Staff Writer

The Kremlin shake-up strengthens Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in his drive not only for internal reform but also for less confrontational relations with the United States, many American experts on the Soviet Union agreed Friday.

“An obvious win for Gorbachev in the scope of the change and his packing of the Politburo,” one senior U.S. official said.

At the United Nations, Secretary of State George P. Shultz told reporters that the meaning of the changes is that “Mr. Gorbachev is a strong and determined person who has a major reform program he is working on. If there is any message to that (shake-up), it is that he intends to push through that program.”

More Allies in Politburo


“Three Politburo changes, three votes changed,” said Arnold Horelick, a former intelligence analyst who is now director of the RAND Corp.-UCLA Center for Soviet Studies, describing what Gorbachev did to the 12-man group that rules the Communist Party and the Soviet Union.

Noting that several non-voting members believed sympathetic to Gorbachev’s policies were added to the Politburo, Horelick said:

“That’s a lot at one time for such a small group. You have to go back to (former Soviet leader Nikita S.) Khrushchev to find such changes happening.”

The one shadow over what most experts saw as an important victory for Gorbachev was the continued presence in the Politburo of Yegor K. Ligachev, who has been the focus of opposition to Gorbachev’s program of perestroika , or restructuring.


The outcome, said Princeton Prof. Stephen Cohen, was “a compromise at best. Some aspects look like very serious setbacks.” And Soviet expert Condoleezza Rice of Stanford University contended that the reshuffling was only “a weak victory” for Gorbachev.

2 Opponents neutralized

But many others said they viewed both the shifts of Ligachev and Viktor M. Chebrikov, chief of the KGB security force and also identified as a perestroika critic, as neutralizing two of key Gorbachev’s opponents.

Horelick, who described Gorbachev’s actions as the biggest Kremlin shake-up since Khrushchev ousted the “anti-party clique” in 1957, conceded that it represents “a net gain--but not a clean sweep.”

In foreign policy terms, Gorbachev’s approach to U.S.-Soviet relations is expected to continue despite the surprise departure from the Kremlin of Anatoly F. Dobrynin, Soviet ambassador to the United States for 25 years until 1986 and an influential adviser to the Soviet leader in his “new thinking” toward Washington.

Dobrynin, 68, was head of the powerful Communist Party department dealing with international affairs. This department and about 10 others were eliminated and six new commissions were created.

One of those commissions, on foreign policy, will be run by Alexander N. Yakovlev, a strong Gorbachev supporter but a harsh critic of the United States.

‘He’s Anti-American’


“If you take Yakovlev’s writings seriously, he is anti-American,” said Jeremy Azrael, a RAND Corp. Soviet expert. “In his books he favors a polycentric foreign policy, rather than one that is American-oriented.” But he added that Yakovlev also has been a key player in Gorbachev’s foreign policy approaches, which have focused on U.S. relations, for several years.

Azrael and a RAND colleague, Harry Gelman, concluded that Dobrynin may well have lost his job in a turf fight with Yakovlev and Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze. “Excessive back-stabbing has been going on there,” a U.S. official agreed.

Moreover, “there is no evidence of any serious foreign policy disagreement” in the Kremlin, Azrael said. He and most Sovietologists predict that Gorbachev’s attention to the United States, and policy toward it, will continue uninterrupted.

The State Department appeared to endorse this conclusion. “We hope and expect U.S.-Soviet relations will continue developing in the constructive direction,” spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said. “We have no reason to doubt the positive trends will continue.”

But Cohen, again in the minority, suggested that Soviet foreign policy may change now. Gorbachev’s foreign policy has been criticized as “not ideological enough,” he noted, with its emphasis on the “humanitarian basis” of foreign relations instead of the “Marxist basis” that foresaw the inevitability of conflict between capitalism and communism and justified support for “wars of liberation.”

Questions Over Snap Meeting

Meanwhile, Gorbachev presumably did not have enough power to completely get rid of Ligachev, several U.S. analysts observed, and this failure raised questions about why he had called the Central Committee meeting so suddenly. Shevardnadze and Defense Minister Dmitri T. Yazov had to cut short visits abroad to attend, for example.

At Friday’s meeting, Ligachev was shifted from overseeing ideology to running agriculture, where he will be responsible for the new “decollectivization,” or family farm, program. Perestroika’s near-term success seems to hinge on this program for improving Soviet food supplies and thus bolstering public support for Gorbachev’s overall reforms.


Ligachev has barely endorsed Gorbachev’s new approach to the Kremlin’s age-old problems with agriculture and presumably could sabotage the effort, though doing so might backfire, U.S. experts said.

Experts similarly disagreed over the implications of moving Chebrikov to head the new commission overseeing legal and judicial policies, including passage of human rights reforms. Two previous KGB chiefs have made such a move, including Yuri V. Andropov, who soon afterward became the top Soviet leader.

Cohen said he considered the move as one that makes “the fox responsible for the chickens.”