Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev dismissed one of his top ministers Thursday, blaming him for an acute shortage of cigarettes that has caused demonstrations in Moscow and other cities.
Vladilen Nikitin, a first deputy prime minister and head of the State Procurement Commission, was relieved of his duties a day after Gorbachev summoned him and other officials to demand an explanation for the recent shortages.
Tass news agency said a presidential decree linked the dismissal to “the failure to take measures to halt the decline in tobacco production and allowing disruption in the tobacco industry, leading to irregularities in supply in many parts of the country and unplanned expenditure of foreign currency.”
Tass did not say who would replace Nikitin but indicated his dismissal would be submitted to Parliament for approval.
As head of the State Procurement Commission, Nikitin was responsible for monitoring Soviet agriculture and sales of farm commodities to the state, including tobacco.
The decree urged the government and other state bodies to adopt without delay measures to correct the situation, including the introduction of new prices for tobacco producers to boost production.
Soviet authorities tried to ease the shortage last week by bringing in a trainload of Bulgarian cigarettes for Moscow smokers. But long lines have still been forming each morning outside the pavement tobacco kiosks dotting the capital.
The patience of Soviet consumers, already severely tried by chronic shortages of food, clothing, gasoline, furniture and other basic goods, has snapped with the disruption of cigarette supplies.
Demonstrators have repeatedly halted traffic in Moscow and other cities, even erecting barricades and building bonfires on Leningrad’s principal thoroughfare.
Gorbachev said Wednesday that he considered the explanations offered for the shortages “unconvincing and insubstantial.” Officials, he said, had been guilty of “irresponsibility and negligence affecting millions of people.”