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Right in Step With Leader, Ligachev Says

Times Staff Writer

Yegor K. Ligachev, the foremost conservative in the Kremlin’s leadership, said Thursday that he fully agrees with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on the need for fundamental political and economic reforms despite speculation for more than a year of a deep rift between them.

“There are efforts to set Ligachev against Gorbachev and against other people as well,” Ligachev declared. “But the position of Ligachev totally and fully coincides with that of Gorbachev.”

Ligachev made his remarks at an unusual press conference, his first with foreign journalists, after the close of a two-day party Central Committee meeting on agricultural reforms. He arrived from the daylong meeting appearing dour, but at the end of the two-hour session he was smiling and joking.

Also at the press conference, Vadim A. Medvedev, who succeeded Ligachev last autumn in the key post of the party secretary in charge of ideology, announced that the Central Committee has appointed a special commission to look into the behavior of Boris N. Yeltsin, a former alternate member of the Politburo who has clashed with both Gorbachev and Ligachev in the past.

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Yeltsin, who many observers believe will win election to the new Congress of People’s Deputies, was removed from the Politburo early last year after complaining that Ligachev behaved dictatorially and that Gorbachev’s reforms were proceeding too slowly.

The relationship between Gorbachev and Ligachev, who had stood second in the ruling Politburo until last autumn when he was shifted from being the party secretary in charge of ideological issues to party secretary for agricultural policy, has been widely discussed in political circles here; Ligachev is often viewed as the voice of caution and conservatism as Gorbachev has tried to broaden and accelerate his reforms.

Ligachev the Defender

He and Gorbachev have appeared to differ most recently over the agricultural reforms, with Gorbachev advocating the leasing of farmland, equipment and other assets to small groups of farmers and even individuals in an effort to expand agricultural production and Ligachev defending the 60-year-old system of state and collective farms although they are unable to feed the nation.

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Earlier, he and Gorbachev had diverged significantly in their public statements on the scope and speed of the whole program of political, economic and social reforms, on the ideological basis for Soviet foreign policy and on the way that the Communist Party leads the country.

But at Thursday’s press conference, Ligachev wagged a finger at questioning journalists and said: “Please understand me. We have full unity on all basic questions, not only in agriculture but on other matters of principle as well.”

Gorbachev, he added, “carries out his duties splendidly” and has the Politburo’s full support.

“I know they call Ligachev a conservative, sometimes even a reactionary,” Ligachev said. “But this arises from misunderstanding of the matter, or sometimes also out of a desire to see a divided Soviet leadership. Ligachev’s positions are fully in line with the Politburo’s positions.”

Ligachev expressed confidence that the new agrarian policies will resolve the country’s acute food shortage by 1995.

Despite Ligachev’s unusual remarks on the much-debated issue of his relationship with Gorbachev, Radio Moscow gave more prominence in its late evening news report to the appointment of the special party commission on Yeltsin, even though the report on Yeltsin will not be ready until well after the March 26 election.

The commission, appointed on the complaint of a Central Committee member from a Moscow electrical engineering plant, is to review the former Moscow party chief’s statements to see whether he had broken with party policy and whether he should be further disciplined.


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