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President Andropov

Speculating on power struggles within the Kremlin is a tantalizing pastime. So when Yuri Andropov is elected President of the USSR and Leningrad party chief Grigory Romanov is given a key post in Moscow, Western Kremlinologists naturally begin working overtime, trying to puzzle out who's up and who's down in the bureaucratic hierarchy. The art is an imperfect one, however, and the best interpretation of events is often the one which appearances present.

In this case the appearance is that Mr. Andropov has consolidated his position, acquiring the three posts which Leonid Brezhnev also held - head of the party, head of state, and head of the military council. The presidency is only a ceremonial post but it does add to his prestige. Some may wonder whether the hard-driving Mr. Romanov has been made a member of the important party Secretariat as an eventual successor to Mr. Andropov.Time will tell. But it can be said that Mr. Andropov needs the kind of dynamism and strong managerial competence which the Leningrad leader represents.

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And he needs it badly. What should interest the West most is Mr. Andropov's pragmatic style and focus. His speech to the Central Committee indicated that his main preoccupation will be with the Soviet Union's stagnating economy. He was frank about the shortcomings - low labor productivity, poor quality and shortages of consumer goods, widespread corruption, apathy on the farms. He downplayed ideology ( which also points to his political self-confidence) and warned that the whole system of bonuses and rewards had to be changed in order to get the economy moving. He even criticized the muzzling of trade unions by party and industrial managers.

It all supports the view of Western analysts that, with his domestic platter full, President Andropov is interested in stability on the foreign front and therefore in some sort of accommodation with the United States. The question is how long he and President Reagan will circle each other before getting down to the business of bargaining.

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