Gorbachev Ousts Top Party Officials
Meeting Brings Historic Change as Gromyko, Ligachev Exit
MOSCOW--Mikhail S. Gorbachev retired President Andrei A. Gromyko from the Politburo and fired other top leaders yesterday in a quick-paced Kremlin shake-up that brought Gorbachev closer to assuming a new, more powerful presidency.
An extraordinary meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee made the biggest changes in the Soviet hierarchy since Gorbachev became party general secretary in 1985. Top party ranks were virtually stripped of appointees made by his predecessors.
Kremlin No. 2 Yegor K. Ligachev apparently was demoted in the meeting, which lasted only one hour. He was named party chief for agriculture.
Ligachev, a member of the 12-man ruling Politburo who earlier was replaced as party chief for ideology, was widely seen as a potential conservative rival to Gorbachev.
The party's top job in agriculture, once held by Gorbachev himself, is key under the Communist Party chief's ambitious plan for economic reform. But it carries far less prestige than the portfolio for ideology, the post customarily held by the party's No. 2.
The 300-member policy-making Central Committee also named Vadim A. Medvedev a full Politburo member and gave him responsibility for ideology.
Medvedev told reporters afterward that Mikhail S. Solomentsev, 75, also was retired from the Politburo.
The retirement of the 79-year-old Gromyko from the Politburo set the stage for his removal as president during a special session of the Supreme Soviet legislature scheduled for Saturday in the Kremlin.
"He is still the president for today," Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov told reporters at the United Nations in New York. "But tomorrow the Supreme Soviet will be convened to decide" on the presidency, Gerasimov added.
Gromyko's retirement would clear the way for Gorbachev to seek election himself to a new, more powerful presidency that he has advocated. The more powerful post would include responsibility for defense, foreign affairs, and formation of the government.
This week's Central Committee meeting and the parliament session were called in haste, indicating Gorbachev may have decided to act before opposition to the personnel changes could gel. The meetings brought officials like Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze and Defense Minister Dmitri T. Yazov scurrying back to Moscow from trips abroad.
At the meeting, Gorbachev lauded "the merits and achievements" of the dour-faced Gromyko, indicating he was leaving in good standing.
Two alternate members of the Politburo also lost their posts: Vladimir I. Dolgikh and Pyotr N. Demichev.
Dolgikh, 63, and retiring Politburo member Solomentsev were considered experts in heavy industry, and their retirement may indicate dissatisfaction with efforts to increase efficiency in that key area of the economy.
The changes left only two pre-Gorbachev appointees on the Politburo: Vitaly I. Vorotnikov, chief of the Russian Republic; and Vladimir V. Shcherbitsky, head of the Ukraine. The ruling body dropped from 13 to 12 members.
One official brought to Moscow by Gorbachev, Anatoly F. Dobrynin, former ambassador to the United States, also retired as a secretary of the party Central Committee.
The plenum also named KGB chief Viktor M. Chebrikov a secretary of the Central Committee to go along with his Politburo status.
Alexandra P. Biryukova, the highest-ranking woman in the Soviet hierarchy, gained an alternate, or non-voting, Politburo spot, as did Anatoly I. Lukyanov and Interior Minister Alexander. V. Vlasov, the nation's top policeman.
Biryukova, who was responsible for the consumer sector, becomes the first woman named to the Politburo since Culture Minister Yekaterina Furtseva was a full voting member from 1957 to 1961 under Nikita S. Khrushchev.