Russia: Kicks, Upstairs & Down

His eyes hollow, his black mustache working with emotion, the last of the old Bolsheviks rose to speak. "Not everyone knows that I had an operation three years ago," began Soviet President Anastas Mikoyan, 70, his voice trem bling. "I feel this now, and it has an effect on my work. Now I find it diffi cult to carry out a big job." A frozen hush fell over the 1,443 members of the Supreme Soviet. They did not dare applaud; after all, they might be witnessing a purge.

Not so, for once. Mikoyan's retirement was, refreshingly, just that. Party Boss Leonid Brezhnev confirmed it. "Comrade Mikoyan traveled a long road in our party," he said. "The Soviet people are full of respect for the glorious working career of this outstanding Communist." With that, Mikoyan was awarded the Order of Lenin and stepped from the Soviet stage. The real news of the week lay not in his retirement, but in the changes in Russian hierarchy that followed.

Meeter & Greater. Mikoyan's succes sor as Soviet chief of state is Nikolai Viktorovich Podgorny, 62, who rose to power as a protege of Nikita Khrushchev's. A hard-bitten Ukrainian with little experience in foreign affairs, Podgorny's main claim to power in the hierarchy was his control of party cadres—a job he may well lose as a result of his "elevation." The Soviet presidency is largely ceremonial, and without strong party posts its occupant is little more than a meeter and greeter. Podgorny, in short, seemed to have been kicked upstairs, with one nagging reservation: Brezhnev himself was upstairs just before the anti-Khrushchev coup, but he found some backstairs down to power.

Most important of the shifts was the one least publicized. In brief wire service bulletins, Tass tersely announced that it had been found "expedient for Aleksandr Shelepin to concentrate his activity at the Central Committee." Shelepin, 47, was "relieved" of his posts as Deputy Premier and head of a key committee exercising vigilance over every aspect of Soviet life from the army to the arts. To many Western Kremlin watchers, the lean, strongly "positioned Shelepin seemed "the Stalin of the future." He may have looked that way to his peers in the Kremlin as well, for his removal last week from half of his jobs was brusque and unceremonious. His watchdog committee was even broken up. Shelepin, however, retained his place in the Secretariat and Presidium; unless he is stripped of those ranks in the near future, he remains a contender for power in the long run.

News from Up There. The Kremlin shake-up left Russia's two top leaders untouched. If anything, Party Boss Brezhnev was strengthened by Podgorny's isolation, while Premier Aleksei Kosygin benefited by Shelepin's removal from the government side of the Kremlin power structure. Significantly, the budget that was passed by acclamation before the personnel changes were announced once again put stress on consumer goods and light industrial development—two aims in which Brezhnev and Kosygin concur. With much snarling about warlike U.S. imperialism, they also raised the Soviet defense budget by 5%. But the hike was in keeping with overall budget increases, and the snarling was foreshadowed by a churlish interview granted to New York Times Columnist James Reston by Kosygin earlier in the week.

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