SOVIET PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev has won another political victory with his plan for a restructured government, but grave doubts remain as to whether he will be able to use his new powers to end the economic chaos in the country.
Ever since Gorbachev took office in 1985, he has moved with consummate skill to press for new political structures and new economic plans. Every few months, it seems, there is a new reform. While he has irrevocably changed the nature of the Soviet political system and introduced elements of real democracy, his success on the economic side has been much more limited.
Under the new plan overwhelmingly approved by the supreme congressional body, Cabinet ministers will be directly subordinate to Gorbachev, instead of to the congress. In an attempt to end the current stalemate between the federal government and the 15 restive constituent republics, the republics will be given a voice in federal policy by membership in a new Federation Council.
Gorbachev already had enormous powers on paper, including the right to suspend civil liberties in times of crisis and to impose presidential rule. But the problem in recent months has been the difficulty in enforcing federal decrees in the rebellious republics. Already, Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian republic, has denounced Gorbachev's new plan for granting him too much power.
Meanwhile, the running political battle between reformers and the old guard continues, with Gorbachev, as usual, in the middle. In the past week, two key figures in the developments since 1985 have faded from the picture. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardadze resigned, warning of the danger of a return to "dictatorship," and Prime Minister Nicolai Ryzhkov, who has attempted to slow economic reforms recently, is recovering from a heart attack.
Gorbachev's failures in the economic area now appear to be forcing him to rely more on conservative political figures. The KGB chief, Vladimir Kryuchkov, recently warned that Western economic aid could be a means of imposing an alien capitalist ideology. Later, he said his words had been misinterpreted and that he was "profoundly grateful" for Western help.
Gorbachev's choice for vice president, a new post under the reorganized system, is Gennady Yanayev, a member of the party hierarchy and hardly another Shevardnadze, who had previously been in line for the post.
While Shevardnadze's warning concerning dictatorship is worrisome, the survival of Gorbachev is the best way to prevent the emergence of a new Soviet strongman. His admittedly tentative economic reforms have been tarnished by the economic chaos and shortages now plaguing the country.
The economic aid now flowing from the West, mostly from Germany, could mean the difference in the current struggle between reformers and the old guard. The United States has offered the Soviet Union loans for the purchase of food, and it can do more in the future, if Soviet policies continue on a constructive course.