Gorbachev and Ligachev Appear Together to Stem Rumors
MOSCOW (AP) _ Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Yegor K. Ligachev chatted amiably at a televised ceremony Friday, apparently trying to stem reports that they had fought about reform and Ligachev was on his way out as No. 2 in the Kremlin.
Reports of a confrontation in the Communist Party Politburo circulated for several days before they made the display of unity for thousands gathered at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses and millions watching television at home.
Ligachev’s fate and his relationship with Gorbachev have been subjects of gossip and debate in official and intellectual circles since a newspaper published a letter to the editor a month ago defending dictator Josef Stalin.
The 67-year-old No. 2 man in the hierarchy is known to espouse milder reform than Gorbachev’s plan for a restructuring of Soviet society, which inspired speculation that he was behind the letter in Sovietskaya Rossiya.
It appeared in the name of a Leningrad teacher and was interpreted as a sign that conservative opposition to Gorbachev was gaining strength.
Pravda excoriated the pro-Stalin letter. The Communist Party daily made clear that the ″glasnost″ policy of more openness does not authorize opposition to ″perestroika,″ Gorbachev’s word for his reform program.
In Moscow, the newspaper exchange was seen as an allegory for the struggle between Gorbachev and Ligachev. When the heavy hand of Pravda came down against the defense of Stalin, speculation began about what revenge Gorbachev would exact.
Some sources report that Gorbachev called a special meeting of the Politburo to reprimand Ligachev for opposing his reforms, and that his responsibility for ideology and party personnel were given to Alexander N. Yakovlev, a Politburo member who is a staunch Gorbachev ally.
Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze held a news conference Friday night and told reporters in response to questions that there were no serious disagreements in the leadership.
″Sometimes we differ but this is only an indication of the fact that our society is undergoing a process of democratization,″ he said. ″There is no sign of any conflict situation.″
Foreign Ministry spokesman Vadim Perfiliev was asked about the rumors earlier in the day and said ″there has been no change in the distribution of duties″ among party leaders.
Perfiliev appeared unsure of Ligachev’s status, however, and said he thought the No. 2 man was on a ″short vacation.″
When the Politburo filed into the Kremlin hall Friday for a ceremony on the 118th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s birth, Ligachev had the position accorded the chief ideologist and second-ranking leader: after Gorbachev, President Andrei A. Gromyko and Premier Nikolai I. Ryzhkov.
Several shots on television showed Ligachev and Gorbachev in animated conversation while non-voting Politburo member Georgy P. Razumovsky spoke for nearly an hour about perestroika’s merits.
Gorbachev and supporters of his reforms have acknowledged resistance at the highest levels but have not named opponents.
Both Ligachev and Yakovlev were elevated to the Politburo after Gorbachev, now 57, became Communist Party chief in March 1985. Yakovlev is said to have fostered the popular glasnost policy.
Ligachev’s speeches have shown him to be more conservative than Gorbachev and Yakovlev. He is reported to feel glasnost has gone too far in denouncing most economic and social policies of the past.
Editors and other officials who have periodic contact with party leaders have given conflicting hints to Westerners about the fate of Ligachev, a stocky, white-haired man with a booming voice.
Ligachev was brought into the Moscow power structure in 1983 by Yuri V. Andropov, then the Soviet leader and also Gorbachev’s mentor.
He was made a full Politburo member in April 1985, at the first Central Committee meeting under Gorbachev, without having served the customary term as a non-voting member.