Gorbachev's counselors. They're hardheaded thinkers who want to reform system

After 16 months of speculation, observers here are beginning to work out who advises Mikhail Gorbachev on foreign policy. The superpower summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, this month indicated who the Soviet leader turns to for help in critical situations.

None of the names were new, but the prominence of some came as a surprise. The unexpectedly important role played in Iceland by Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sergei Akhromeyev, for example, may indicate that Mr. Gorbachev's standing with the military is better than many observers had thought.

Little is known about the influence Gorbachev's advisers have on him, however. The chances are that it is less than under previous leaders. Gorbachev appears to be the main strategist in both foreign and domestic policy.

From what is known about them, it appears clear that Gorbachev's advisers are not the Soviet equivalent of liberals or Eurocommunists; rather, they are highly intelligent, hardheaded thinkers who want to streamline their system to allow it to compete more effectively with the West.

Even before Reykjavik, it was becoming clear that the adviser closest to Gorbachev was Alexander Yakovlev. In theory, Mr. Yakovlev handles propaganda and ideology for the Soviet Communist Party. In practice, one well-placed Soviet source says, ``he is exceedingly important in all fields,'' including foreign affairs.

Soviet sources believe that Yakovlev played a major role in formulating the new package of arms proposals presented by Gorbachev in Reykjavik. Yakovlev's strong support for arms control, however, is coupled with a deep distaste for the social, economic, and political system of the United States.

Yakovlev has written extensively on the US, often depicting the country in vitriolic terms similar to those that Gorbachev employed in a televised speech on arms control last Wednesday. According to an informed Soviet source, the two men ``see eye to eye politically.'' Yakovlev is ``a close personal friend'' of Mr. Gorbachev's, the source adds.

The members of Gorbachev's new team seem to have several points in common:

None of them are new to the upper reaches of the Soviet system, but some of them fell afoul of previous leaders.

Several were close to former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, the secret police chief who was widely viewed as Gorbachev's mentor.

Most came from the Communist Party structure rather than from the government.

Yakovlev, for example, was promoted at the 27th Party Congress in March from relative obscurity to membership in the party Secretariat, the group of 11 senior leaders who handle day-to-day affairs for the nation's ruling Politburo.

Gorbachev probably first met Yakovlev during his 1983 trip to Canada. At the time Yakovlev, who had incurred former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's displeasure in 1973, was concluding his 10 years as ambassador to Ottawa. He was brought back to Moscow by Andropov.

In theory, Yakovlev should defer to the US expertise of Anatoly Dobrynin, a fellow Secretariat member who served as ambassador to Washington for more than two decades. In practice, his responsibilities seem to be more broadly defined.

The surprisingly prominent roles played in Reykjavik by Yevgeny Primakov and Nikolai Shishlin -- two officials with close ties to Yakovlev -- seems to underline his influence.

Also surprising was the important role played in Iceland by Marshal Akhromeyev. Before Reykjavik, many Soviet and foreign observers believed that Gorbachev's following in the military was obedient but unenthusiastic. Akhromeyev proved a pleasant surprise for the Americans, who would clearly enjoy doing business with him again.

A senior Western source said that he was the most ``sensible and direct'' Soviet arms negotiator the US had met in some time. The same source commented that the marshal, who chaired a US-Soviet arms control subcommittee in Reykjavik, was a ``very good chairman, [who] shut up people when they tried to make speeches.''

One of the people Akhromeyev is said to have silenced was Georgi Arbatov, long viewed in the West as one of Moscow's top US specialists. Under Gorbachev, however, Mr. Arbatov's prominence seems to have waned.

Akhromeyev overshadowed two other men who were thought to be playing key roles in arms control. Viktor Karpov, the chief arms negotiator at the Geneva talks and the head of the Soviet Foreign Ministry's arms control and disarmament department, is said to have played a relatively minor role in the discussions. Lt. Gen. Viktor Starodubov, who reportedly works on the same questions for the party Central Committee, did not even attend the summit.

The prominent role played in the arms talks by Valentin Falin, a senior journalist, also came as a surprise to Western observers. Mr. Falin, a former diplomat, became head of the Novosti Press Agency in March with the rank of candidate member of the Central Committee, a rank not given his predecessor. Informed Western sources say he played a ``helpful'' and ``creative'' part in the Reykjavik discussions.

One other person to emerge from the shadows in Iceland was a member of Gorbachev's personal staff, foreign policy specialist Anatoly Chernyaev. For the first time, Mr. Chernyaev was publicly included in the list of officials accompanying the Soviet leader to Iceland. This was, a Soviet source said, ``a clear sign to our foreign policy establishment that Gorbachev is very pleased with his work.''

But, the source continued, Chernyaev's importance lies more in his position than in his ideas: Chernyaev is the funnel through which all foreign policy proposals pass on their way to Gorbachev.

Four other officials whom Soviet and Western sources identify as Gorbachev's personal advisers have yet to achieve the same public prominence.

They are Anatoly Lushchikov, who has been with Gorbachev since the late 1960s and whose responsibilities are said to include party issues; Viktor Sharapov, who is in charge of relations with socialist-bloc countries; Valery Boldin, who handles domestic affairs; and Georgy Smirnov, who is believed to specialize in ideology and propaganda.

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