President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, confronted with growing unrest across the Soviet Union and conservative demands for tougher measures to counter it, replaced his liberal interior minister on Sunday with a hard-line Communist Party official and appointed an army general as deputy.
Although Gorbachev gave no explanation for the changes, conservative members of the Soviet Parliament on Saturday had demanded the removal of Vadim V. Bakatin as interior minister on grounds that he had failed to halt separatist movements, reduce economic crimes and arrest the social chaos that is rapidly enveloping the country.
Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, himself an embattled and increasingly lonely figure, on national television Sunday evening underlined the conservatives’ call with a demand of his own for greater discipline in Soviet society.
“I think that the situation today calls for discipline and order in the country,” Ryzhkov said. “This will be by different methods, not those used for 30 years (under dictator Josef Stalin), for those times will not come back. But we have to find methods and approaches for our society to become highly organized. . . .
“We have movements that are on the path of destruction, whose activities are just political rallies, which simply arouse people’s emotions. Everyone must understand that we suffer together if we fail. We need stability in the country and confidence in tomorrow.”
Replacing Bakatin, 53, interior minister since October, 1988, and a member of Gorbachev’s Presidential Council, will be Boris K. Pugo, also 53, chairman of the party’s central control commission. Pugo’s first deputy will be Col. Gen. Boris V. Gromov, 47, the last Soviet commander in Afghanistan and currently commander of front-line forces in the Ukraine.
The Soviet Interior Ministry is responsible for enforcement of the country’s criminal code and most of its other laws. It controls all the country’s police, including an estimated 400,000 internal security troops.
Gorbachev’s latest decree follows earlier orders authorizing workers’ groups to police the distribution of food and other scarce commodities and prohibiting the formation of paramilitary units under republican and regional governments that would challenge the Red Army.
He had pledged a week ago to make broad changes in the country’s top posts as part of a realignment of the government to deal with the present crises and promote further reform. He is due to present an overall plan later this week.
But the Soviet president appears increasingly to be attempting to placate conservatives, notably the military, while attempting to work out the next phase of his political and economic reforms.
The country’s multiple crises--the increasingly evident economic disintegration, the breakup of the Soviet Union as a state and a political system incapable of dealing with either--have intensified the pressure on him for fast solutions to halt the country’s growing systemic collapse.
“I have a firm belief that any society, any state, even a small workers’ collective, cannot live without discipline and order,” Ryzhkov said, appearing to voice the concern of most political moderates and conservatives. “Today, we have left the strict discipline that was based on such severe measures. We are moving in a more human direction.
“But, unfortunately, the economic measures and moral values do not enable us to maintain discipline and order in the country in the required degree. I am deeply convinced that until we have such order and discipline in the country at all levels, starting from the government and extending to every working collective and individual, we will not progress.”
Ryzhkov recalled the brief rule in the early 1980s of the late Yuri V. Andropov, who succeeded President Leonid I. Brezhnev and tried to yank the country out of its decay and apathy with tough measures.
“He was very demanding,” Ryzhkov said. “But his demands and his call for responsibility fell in prepared soil, and the people supported him.”
Bakatin, an engineer by training and a party official for the past 15 years, has been one of the most prominent members of the “ perestroika generation” to emerge under Gorbachev and was regarded as a possible successor to Ryzhkov as one of the most liberal members of the present government.
Gorbachev’s decree that replaced Bakatin said he was being transferred to “other duties,” and a promotion, perhaps even to the new post of vice president, could not be ruled out, for his popularity remains high with reformers.
Pugo’s reputation, by contrast, remains largely sinister from his years with the KGB, the state security and intelligence agency.
Also an engineer by training, Pugo turned to politics almost immediately, becoming a party official. In 1976, he joined the KGB where his energetic pursuit of Latvian nationalists and other dissidents won him promotion to the head of the Latvian KGB in 1980 and to the local party leadership in 1984.
Swept aside as first secretary of the Latvian party by a wave of nationalism in 1988, Pugo was given a job at party headquarters in Moscow as the head of the watchdog control commission, which is charged with maintaining party discipline, preventing the abuse of authority and fighting corruption.
Gromov, who was the last Soviet soldier out of Afghanistan after commanding the expeditionary force there in its last two years, has emerged as an important political as well as military leader. Now a three-star general, Gromov commands immediate attention whenever he speaks at meetings of the party’s Central Committee or legislative bodies.
Yet, he has been linked frequently in rumors--he dismisses them as “rubbish"--to a possible military coup d’etat that would oust Gorbachev and install a conservative leadership to restore order.