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Kremlin will find it hard to replace influential Suslov

By Ned TemkoStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 27, 1982


The Kremlin will find it hard to replace Mikhail Suslov.

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The indirect effects of his passing Jan. 25 are likely to be substantial, even if they are not immediately visible in Soviet policy.

Although the No. 2 man in the Kremlin, Suslov in some respects was more influential than President Brezhnev.

A member of the Soviet leadership since Harry Truman was in the White House, and since Brezhnev was a regional party leader in the Ukraine, Suslov could claim unparalled experience at the center of power.

A series of recent interviews by the Monitor with senior Soviet officials suggests that in addition to his Politburo influence Suslov had a more direct role in the day-to-day running of this superpower than did Brezhnev. (The interviews, including some with officials who worked with Suslov, were for a series of articles on Soviet politics and power to appear in the Monitor next month.)

In addition, Suslov played an important role in the transition from the discredited leadership of Nikita Khrushchev to the rule of Brezhnev. And foreign diplomats here assume that the transition from the ''Brezhnev era'' will be a more difficult process for the Soviets without Suslov. (There are widely published, if ultimately unconfirmable, reports that Suslov turned down the post Brezhnev now holds.)

Meanwhile, his disappearance from the scene may bring the Soviet leadership to do something it resolutely resisted at the five-yearly Communist Party Congress here last February: to add to, or otherwise rearrange, the roster of elderly men at the top.

In at least one sense, Suslov is irreplaceable. Russians, even Soviet Russians, have an inbred respect for age and experience, a fondness for father figures. Mikhail Suslov fit the bill. He was the only one of the current members of the Politburo who had walked the corridors of power since Stalin's time.

For Suslov, the ''Polish crisis'' was but one in a line, a long line including upheavals in East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), and Czechoslovakia 12 years later. He was the only member of the present leadership in a position to talk to Mr. Brezhnev as an equal, even, conceivably, as a superior.

His practical influence is a question complicated by Soviet secrecy. (Typically, word of Mr. Suslov's passing Jan. 25 reached foreigners here only around noon the next day. Typically, also, many Muscovites knew something serious was afoot when a popular, early morning satirical show on Moscow radio was inexplicably replaced by somber music.)

But officially published information on Suslov's functions and speeches, together with the Monitor interviews, provides some pointers.

At the time the interviews were conducted, both Suslov and Brezhnev were among only six people in a nation of some 268 million who held seats on the Politburo and on the Central Committee Secretariat. Officially, the Secretariat is supposed to ''direct current work, chiefly the selection of (party) cadres and verification of the fulfillment of party (that is, Politburo) decisions.''