By engineering a major shakeup at the top of Russia's ruling hierarchy, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has substantially tightened his grip on power in the Kremlin.
Assuming no backlash results from the surprisingly swift and sweeping ouster of some major Soviet figures, this shift should give Gorbachev a much freer hand to pursue his efforts to streamline Russia's bloated bureaucracy and modernize its stagnant economy.Gorbachev also wants a stronger presidency, a more active Soviet legislature, and elections that involve some genuine choices for the Russian people instead of just requiring them to rubber-stamp the hand-picked candidates of the Communist Party.
Whatever finally comes of this week's shakeup, it amounts to radical surgery.
Gone from the Kremlin's leadership is President Andrei Gromyko, at 79 one of Russia's most durable and widely known leaders. For three decades, Gromyko was foreign minister before moving into the ceremonial post of president in 1985. He served under every Soviet leader except Lenin. Though Gromyko insists he stepped down voluntarily and maintains he supports Gorbachev's policies, many experts say Russia's new foreign policy left Gromyko looking increasingly uncomfortable.
Gone with Gromyko are four other top Kremlin figures - Anatoly Dobrinin, Mikhail Solomentsev, Pyotry Demichev, and Vladimir Dolgikh. Some made the mistake of suggesting that Gorbachev's efforts at democratization were getting out of hand. All were leftovers from the era of the late and now-discredited Leonid Brezhnev.
A more precise picture of Gorbachev's efforts to eliminate internal opposition and consolidate power should come after Saturday's meeting of the Supreme Soviet, the country's parliament, which is expected to act on replacements for those ousted from the Kremlin.
Though the Free World has reason to hope the changes in personnel and policy at the Kremlin add up to less global tension and better relations with Moscow, certain facts of international life remain the same.
Regardless of Gorbachev's transcendence, Russia is still run by what amounts to a committee. Despite their increasing sophistication, the committee's members are still authoritarians who are suspicious of outsiders and sometimes of each other, who often rely on the techniques of conspiracy, and who are still bent on eventual domination of the world.
Also unchanged is the fact that Russia can't overcome its economic problems without greater acceptance of individual initiative - and of the freedoms that must accompany it. Sadly, the impulse toward more individual initiative is still at odds with Russia's long history of authoritarian rule and with its citizens' desire for cradle-to-grave security. Old habits die hard.
In short, Russia needs to accompany this week's shakeup in the Kremlin with a shakeup in the country's system of values, a shakeup that must extend from the top down to the grassroots.