Gorbachev seen to be more hard-nosed than his predecessors
Mikhail Gorbachev has ended a period of benign neglect in the Soviet Union and is pursuing a hard line on issues affecting his country and the world, according to Western Sovietologists. Mr. Gorbachev, Soviet leader for more than six months, has shown no signs of liberalizing Soviet policies or society. His policies are the same as those of his predecessors, especially the late Yuri Andropov, except that they are being ``pursued more skillfully, more competently, and more vigorously,'' says Dimitri Simes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.Skip to next paragraph
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Kremlin watchers say Moscow's hard line can be seen in such areas as the greater status Gorbachev has given to the secret police (the KGB), the intensification of the war in Afghanistan, the Soviet leader's praise for the Stalinist economic system -- and even in the recent tit-for-tat expulsion of Britons and Soviets on espionage charges.
These experts see Soviet flexibility in only one key area: the November summit in Geneva between Gorbachev and President Reagan. There are signs that Gorbachev will submit ``an extremely forthcoming arms control position'' at the summit, says Jerry Hough of the Brookings Institution.
On Friday, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said the Soviet Union would cut its offensive nuclear arsenals in half if President Reagan would limit research on space-based weapons to the laboratory. But Mr. Reagan has repeatedly said that his ``star wars'' program is not negotiable.
Still, the Soviet desire for an arms control agreement has not led to improved relations with the United States. In fact, the Kremlin has stepped up its broadsides against the US. And Mr. Hough argues in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that Gorbachev has promoted people who are known for being skeptical about dealing with the US but who favor a major opening toward Europe and Japan. (Public debate is being carried out in the Soviet press over whether or not Moscow should tighten the reins on Easter n Europe.)
Thus, Sovietologists say, a key reason the Soviets are seeking an arms control agreement is not to renew superpower d'etente, but to allow Gorbachev to give more attention to the economy, his No. 1 priority.
Kremlin watchers identify Gorbachev as a prot'eg'e of Mr. Andropov, the former Soviet leader and long-time KGB chief. He is seen as a man who has promoted Andropov men and followed Andropov policy, such as a campaign for tighter discipline and crusades against corruption and drunkenness. And like Andropov, Gorbachev is replacing older and lackluster party and government figures with younger and energetic people who he can work with and who will be loyal to him.
The economy presents Gorbachev with complex problems. He must decide whether to move the country toward a more decentralized system of economic planning and, if so, how far the changes should go and how fast they should be implemented. In pursuing decentralization, Gorbachev would have to overcome the bureaucratic inertia and fear such a shift is likely to spark.
Although Gorbachev has called for ``revolutionary changes'' in the Soviet economy, thus far he has only tightened up the existing system and put greater stress on central planning.
``I don't know where some circles in the West have picked up the notion that he's a liberalizer or decentralizer. I think there's no evidence of that,'' says Vladimir Treml, an economist at Duke University.
Indeed, on May 8 Gorbachev praised the ``superiority'' of the late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's planned economy, saying that it had ``proved its viability.'' Yegor Ligachev, believed to be the No. 2 man in the Kremlin, has said that there will be no ``shift toward the market economy or private enterprise.''