Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev said this week that ousted Moscow Communist Party chief Boris Yeltsin will be asked to account for an interview with Western news organizations in which he criticized a member of the ruling Politburo.
In an unprecedented public airing of high-level Kremlin disputes, Gorbachev also denied reports of a rift between himself and Yegor Ligachev, 67, the party's theoretician and No. 2 figure in the Politburo.Gorbachev answered reporters' questions at a news conference, broadcast live from the Soviet Foreign Ministry, at the close of his summit talks with President Reagan. It was the first time that a Soviet leader had held a news conference in Moscow.
Yeltsin told CBS-TV and the British Broadcasting Corp. in interviews broadcast Monday that Ligachev was blocking reforms and should resign. Yeltsin said on ABC-TV Wednesday that he had been misquoted in the BBC interview.
Gorbachev said Yeltsin's "position is at variance with that of the Central Committee," to which Yeltsin still belongs.
"We at the Central Committee will demand from Comrade Yeltsin explanations as to what it is all about and what he is after," Gorbachev said.
Yeltsin, 57, was ousted as Moscow party boss in November and from the Politburo in February after he made an angry speech before the Central Committee, which has more than 300 members and meets several times a year to vote on party policy.
Gorbachev denied Yeltsin's charge that Ligachev was blocking reform, and sought to quell rumors of friction between himself and Ligachev, who is widely believed to be leading a conservative faction on the ruling Politburo.
"As for Comrade Ligachev and his resignation, no such problem exists, either in the Central Committee or in the Politburo. That is all. That is what you should proceed from and that is the way it will be," Gorbachev said emphatically.
In his interviews broadcast Monday, Yeltsin said Ligachev should step down "because processes in the party are too slow, because the party is still lagging behind, because the process of democratization is not developing . . . and Comrade Ligachev is the main person responsible."
In an interview taped Tuesday and broadcast Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" show, about the time that Gorbachev was answering reporters' questions, Yeltsin said the transcript of his BBC interview was "an outright fabrication."
He said there was "absolutely no talk of resignation whatsoever." And he denied telling the BBC interviewer that he was upset with Gorbachev.
"Also apart from politically being, well, outright fabrication, I would say this is not the first time they've let me down from purely a human standpoint," Yeltsin said.
Gorbachev Wednesday offered some details of the Central Committee meeting at which Yeltsin gave the speech that led to his ouster.
"Just as you are asking me questions, the statement he made at that meeting had not been planned. We had an exchange, a free-for-all," Gorbachev said.
The Soviet leader said that besides Yeltsin, 27 committee members spoke. "The opinion of all 27 speakers was that the generalizations made by Comrade Yeltsin regarding the Central Committee, its secretariat and the Politburo were wrong, and his statement was recognized as being politically erroneous," he said.
Soviet officials have refused to release the text of Yeltsin's speech, citing Communist Party tradition and rules.
In his earlier interviews, Yeltsin denied the authenticity of versions of the speech that circulated in Moscow, but confirmed he had urged that the reforms be accelerated.
Gorbachev said he had not read the Yeltsin interviews.
"I have asked for the exact wording of what Comrade Yeltsin has said," Gorbachev told reporters.
In the ABC interview broadcast Wednesday, Yeltsin said those who are opposing and trying to slow down Gorbachev's policy of perestroika, or economic restructuring, are unorganized.
"Since each of them is going it alone, then of course it's just a group of people which, no matter how you try to estimate its numbers, is not organized," he said.
"That is, it's not the kind of organized opposition who has its own program, or is an organized kind of opposition to perestroika or its thesis or anything like that," Yeltsin said.