Washington reads Russian tea leaves after latest shuffle. Gorbachev seen pumping up reform
Washington — Deep public discontent over perestroika appears to be driving Soviet General Secretary's Mikhail Gorbachev sudden shake-up of the party and government bureaucracy, say US experts on the Soviet Union. In their opinion, Gorbachev is seeking: To streamline and energize the Communist Party from the center to the provinces, getting rid of the old Brezhnevites and bringing in a young guard attuned to his reform efforts.
To strengthen government bodies and get the party out of day-to-day management of the economy, reserving for it the role of setting broad policy.
To move ahead rapidly with agricultural and other economic reforms.
``Gorbachev is forcing everyone to bite the bullet and reorganize the institutional structure,'' says a State Department analyst. ``Perestroika is his goal and he has to be able to bring everyone along with him.''
Diplomats note that Gorbachev, since returning from vacation recently, has found a sour mood in the country, from Moscow to the cities of Siberia. Glasnost, the policy of ``openness,'' has unleashed a torrent of debate about everything from Bolshevik history to policy on the nationalities. Intellectuals are intoxicated with the new freedom.
But perestroika - the policy of ``restructuring'' the economy - has not put more bread on table or more consumer goods in the stores. The question is whether the modest consolidation of Gorbachev's power will translate into the implementation of reforms. After preaching perestroika for three years, say experts, the Soviet leader quickly needs some concrete results.
``Ultimately it's what happens on the ground,'' comments Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a specialist on Eastern Europe and a former aide to Henry Kissinger. ``Political changes may be necessary, but you have to get production up, devolution in agriculture, price reform, and so on. The central changes may give them a push but they do not guarantee it,'' he says.
Among the recent changes, none is seen as more important than that affecting Yegor Ligachev, Gorbachev's conservative opponent on the Politburo. Shifting Ligachev from the key ideology portfolio and putting him in charge of agriculture is viewed as advantageous to Gorbachev for political and practical reasons.
``Gorbachev has shown he's the most resourceful politician in the Soviet Union,'' says Charles William Maynes, Foreign Policy magazine editor and a former US diplomat in Moscow. ``Ligachev mounted the greatest challenge to him and he now has him working in an area where his toughness can have a constructive effect.''
While Ligachev has spoken primarily about such ideological matters as the ``class struggle,'' say American experts, he has also echoed Gorbachev's agricultural reform proposals.
``On agriculture they're on the same wave length,'' says Mark Garrison , director of Brown University's Center for Foreign Policy Development. `` So this was a brilliant stroke - not demoting him but shifting his focus.''
Dimitri Simes, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, sees the political changes as largely an act of desperation to maintain the appearance of momentum. ``He's been acting like Nikita Khrushchev,'' says Mr. Simes. ``When you're unable to do what counts, you replace the bureaucracy - you reshuffle the chairs to push your opponents a bit sideways.''
Most US analysts, however, believe Gorbachev has emerged stronger politically and is in a better position to push perestroika along.
Both US and Soviet spokesmen said over the weekend that the Kremlin reshuffle should have no adverse impact on US-Soviet relations.