The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

THE KGB--THE CURRENT GUARANTOR OF GORBACHEV'S REFORMS SEPTEMBER 1989

Once again we see the KGB emerge from the shadows and step into the
frame as Gorbachev's savior--a role it has occupied in previous snapshots.
It was becoming clearer, however, that the KGB could protect Gorbachev
only from the leadership and not from the masses, who posed a far greater
threat.

The April 21 meeting of the Central Committee, during which Mr. Gorbachev ousted three conservative members of the Politburo, has left most Kremlinologists in a state of despair and confusion.

Before this purge, the Politburo consisted of eleven members, including conservatives such as Zaikov, Ligachev, Vorotnikov, and Sliunkov. These conservatives, in conjunction with the three members sacked on April 21, clearly held the majority in the Soviet Union's highest political body.

If one assumes that democratic procedures continued to reign in the Politburo (as Gorbachev insists), it is difficult to understand the conservatives' move to oust their allies, especially when those remaining faced a similar fate in the near future.

Other circumstances make the developments in the Kremlin even more mysterious. Gorbachev scored his brilliant victory not while riding a wave of success (as was the case with Khrushchev when he ousted the Politburo's conservative majority in 1957), but at a time when his domestic policy was regarded as bankrupt, not only by neo-Stalinists but by the majority of the Soviet population as well. In addition, the speakers at the meeting of the Central Committee who, without even the appearance of discussion, rubberstamped Gorbachev's wishes, were almost unanimous in either directly or indirectly condemning his domestic policy, especially in regard to the national republics and glasnost.

So how was Gorbachev, a ruler whose policies were openly denounced by both the party and the public, able to manage this stunning victory over his enemies in the Politburo?

Perhaps the answer lies in the rapid advancement of Vladimir Kriuchkov, the chairman of the KGB, to the position of full member of the Politburo. It is remarkable that the KGB general skipped the intermediate position of non-voting member (a rarity in a Moscow political career), while Defense

____________________
This article originally appeared as " Gorbachev Secret Asset: The KGB" in The Washington Post on October 1, 1989.

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