MOSCOW (AP) _ The Kremlin appointed an economist and Communist Party propagandist as culture minister on Saturday.

In announcing the appointment of Vasily G. Zakharov, the official news agency Tass said his most recent job was second secretary of the Communist Party in Moscow.

Previous changes in the administration of Soviet arts since Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power in March 1985 had prompted some intellectuals to suggest that a writer, artist, film or theater director or someone involved more intimately with the arts might head the Culture Ministry.

Relatively little is known about Zakharov, and it is unclear what, if any, changes he might make in the administration of Soviet arts.

Zakharov succeeds Pyotr Demichev, a conservative who headed the Ministry of Culture for 12 years. Demichev was given the largely ceremonial job of deputy to President Andrei Gromyko in June.

A brief Tass biography said Zakharov was born in 1934 and graduated from Leningrad University in 1957. He holds a doctorate in economics and has worked as a professor at the Polytechnical Institute in the Siberian city of Tomsk and at the Institute of Technology in Leningrad.

He began work as a party functionary in 1973. He headed a group of lecturers before becoming chief of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation in Leningrad, Tass said.

Zakharov rose to deputy head of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party Central Committee in 1983. That position would have involved monitoring the ideological content of arts and the news media.

At the party congress last March, he was made a full member of the central committee. Tass said he had held the Moscow party job only since January.

Under Gorbachev, some new plays and previously censored films and poetry have been put before the public. Intellectuals have been more outspoken about themes such as environmental conservation, and some have called for a loosening of bureaucratic reins on the arts.

There have been no public calls, however, for abolition of censorship or for free political depate.

Zakharov is among 40 people on a committee to organize a major cultural conference this fall. The event is intended as the debut of an umbrella organization called the Soviet Culture Fund.

Though Demichev was removed as culture minister June 18, he was named to preside over the commiteee, an indication his views on the arts still hold considerable sway.

Other committee members include Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, and many of the nation's leading arts figures.

Soviet officials and media have offered no explanation as to why it took almost two months to announce a successor to Demichev.