Ever since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his policy of reform five years ago, a titanic battle has raged behind the walls of the Kremlin. Reformers led by maverick Russian President Boris Yeltsin have waged a struggle to rid the Soviet empire of Communist rule. Conservatives have fought back with determination. And Gorbachev has tried to straddle the two camps, attempting to rein in, first, those who want to push the country back towards Stalinist-style domination from the top and, more recently, those who would propel the country towards a Western-style free-enterprise democracy. The new alignment of contending forces has remained largely unknown in the West. Among the most prominent participants in the current drama:
Ivan Polozkov: At 56, Polozkov is the ranking Communist hard-liner in the Soviet Union. Born into a peasant family in the southern Russian city of Kursk, he rose through the ranks of party apparatchiks (functionaries). Last May, he ran unsuccessfully for chairman of the Russian republic’s Supreme Soviet, ef-
fectively the Russian presidency, a post that Yeltsin eventually won on the third ballot. A month later, Polozkov ran for the post of first secretary of the Russian Communist party. That time he won, and he has used his position as a counterpoint to Yeltsin and other reformers in the Russian legislature. A champion wrestler during his service in the Soviet navy, Polozkov is a tenacious opponent who frequently delivers florid speeches devoted to bashing liberals and exposing what he says are pernicious, foreign-backed plots.
The liberals have exacted a peculiarly Soviet revenge. Before Polozkov became Russia’s party chief, he lived in Krasnodar, in southern Russia. To date, the reformist Moscow city council has refused Polozkov permission to register as a resident of the city—meaning that he is not entitled to a Moscow apartment.
Col. Victor Alksnis: Dubbed the “black colonel” by reformers, Alksnis appears to relish his role as one of the dark forces behind Gorbachev’s recent shift to the right. He is leader of the conservative Soyuz (Union) bloc of people’s deputies in the Soviet parliament. Born in Latvia in 1950, Alksnis is also a senior military
officer in the Latvian capital of Riga, and he openly supported the crackdown against proindependence demonstrators in the Baltics, in which 21 people have been killed since the beginning of the year. “The army,” he says, “has been pushed to the limit by nationalists.”
An outspoken supporter of the military, Alksnis has said that the Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe humiliated the troops. Along with his ally, Col.
Nikolai Petrushenko, Alksnis openly attacked then-Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who shaped Soviet policy towards Eastern Europe. When he resigned last December, Shevardnadze warned the nation of an “impending dictatorship.” (Shevardnadze has since gone on to establish his own foreign policy think-tank in Moscow.)
Alksnis also has threatened to call for Gorbachev’s resignation if he fails to hold the union together.
Boris Gromov: A popular hardline military leader, Gromov, 46, served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and was commander of the 110,000 Soviet soldiers there from 1984 to 1989. That won him the official distinction of Hero of the Soviet Union, and he became famous for his widely publicized walk across the Friendship Bridge as the last Soviet warrior to leave Afghanistan in February, 1989.
Last December, Gorbachev promoted Gromov from commander of the Kiev military district in Ukraine to deputy interior minister in charge of the police. Progressives maintained that his appointment, along with that of the new interior minister, former KGB Gen. Boris Pugo, was an ominous sign of a growing right-wing crackdown. But Gromov’s ascent won applause from the largely demoralized troops, who regard him as a soldier’s soldier. Gromov is also a military representative in the Supreme Soviet. Although he has kept a relatively low profile, Gromov has openly opposed suggestions by some republics, including Russia, to create their own militias. Such action, he says, would be “disastrous” for the union. Last fall, amid rumors of a possible military coup, there was speculation that the army would replace Gorbachev with Gromov.
Sergei Stankevich: On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Moscow’s well-tailored, 36-year-old deputy mayor is the perfect foil to rumpled, professorial Mayor Gavriil Popov. Together, they face a formidable task in trying to feed and house a population of eight million. Since their election a year ago, the two have demonstrated good intentions—but have achieved few results. Among other reforms, they advocate creating a free market for housing and providing soup kitchens for the poor.
Born in Moscow into a military family, Stankevich is a historian and the author of numerous papers on foreign parliaments. He was
elected to the Soviet parliament in the country’s first democratic elections last year and, along with Russian leader Yeltsin, he founded the reformist Democratic Russia bloc of people’s deputies. But he swiftly became disillusioned. During last summer’s dramatic Communist party congress, Stankevich joined Yeltsin and others in quitting the Communist
party as a gesture of protest. Although he remains a parliamentary deputy, he turned to local politics, he said, “as the only hope for radical change.” An opponent of Gorbachev, Stankevich accused the Soviet leader of a power grab when he created an executive presidency for himself. That move, according to Stankevich, “was part of the great totalitarian tradition in this country.” Recently, Stankevich has called for Gorbachev’s resignation.
Nikolai Travkin: A former bricklayer, Travkin once won the Order of the Red Banner of Labor for being a hardworking Communist. He was elected to both the Russian and the federal parliaments, but quit the Communist party, calling it an “anti-people force.” At its founding congress last December, the Democratic Party of Russia elected 44-year-old Travkin as its chairman. The Democratic party, which sprang from such loosely organized groups as the Democratic Russia bloc in the Soviet parliament, is the first and largest organization to officially declare itself an opposition party.
Although he is an advocate of economic reform, Travkin says that “we need to change
the political system first.” The party’s purpose, says Travkin, is to provide the “first viable alternative” to Communist rule. But critics have accused Travkin of being a tough party disciplinarian who is too eager to expel anyone who does not submit to his leadership.
Ivan Drach: A Ukrainian nationalist, Drach, 54, began his political life as a dissident in the
1960s. He is now chairman of Rukh (Movement), Ukraine’s pro-independence group. A poet, he is also chairman of the Kiev chapter of the Writers Union. Rukh, which was barely two months old when elections were held in Ukraine in March, 1990, captured more than a quarter of the seats in the republic’s Supreme Soviet. The organization now claims the support of more than half of the republic’s population of 52 million.
Rukh has the strong support of the Ukrainian Students’ Movement. The students’ 16-day strike last October led to the resignation of the republic’s pro-Moscow prime minister. Rukh aims for an independent Ukraine, with strong economic links to other sovereign republics. “No matter how much bread and vegetables, energy and iron we produce,” says Drach, “life is not going to be any better unless Ukraine gets rid of its status as a union republic.”
Galina Starovoytova: One of the most influential women in Soviet politics, Starovoytova is a leader of the reformist Interregional Group in the Supreme Soviet. She is also a member of Yeltsin’s group of close advisers. She actively
campaigned for Armenians in their dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in neighboring Azerbaijan that both republics claim. Armenians rewarded Starovoytova by electing her to the Supreme Soviet, although her critics in the democratic movement claim that her support for the Armenian cause was politically calculated only to win her entrance to parliament.
Since her election, Starovoytova has been an outspoken advocate of a free market and a multiparty system. She has also aimed frequent barbs at the Soviet president: last year, she accused Gorbachev of tacitly supporting the exodus of Jews to Israel by failing to speak out strongly against anti-Semitism.
Nursultan Nazarbayev: The president of the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev, 51, is a man in the political middle. A metallurgist by profession, he rose through Communist ranks to become the local party chief in mid-1989. And he came to national prominence as a member of the once-powerful Politburo. Last spring, he was elected to the republic’s Supreme Soviet in a landslide victory. Widely viewed as a progressive president, Nazarbayev led the republic to declare its sovereignty last g October, and has urged Gor§ bachev to delegate some fed| eral powers to the republics, i Unlike the leaders of more á restive republics, however, Nazarbayev does not advocate secession from the Soviet Union. “We are for the preservation of the state’s unity,” he said recently. “But the powers of the centre and the republics should be clearly delineated.”
Nazarbayev is in the midst of a tug of war with Moscow over control of the republic’s rich natural resources, including the vast Tenghis oilfields. While the rest of the union teeters on the brink of economic collapse, Nazarbayev has undertaken impressive economic reforms. And he has secured the help of a number of bluechip companies, including British Petroleum and America’s Chevron Corp., to launch a number of joint ventures. He has signed an economic agreement with Russia, but pulled back from a once-close alliance with Yeltsin after the Russian leader called for Gorbachev’s resignation last month. Last fall, there was widespread speculation that he would win the plum post of Soviet vice-president. But his accusation that the Kremlin was “totally bankrupt” of new ideas likely cost him the job.
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