Young, Gifted and Red, Mikhail Gorbachev Injects New Blood into the Kremlin Gerontocracy
updated 03/25/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 03/25/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST
Now that Gorbachev has risen, at the tender age of 54, to the U.S.S.R.'s top political position as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Western leaders are hoping that Mrs. Thatcher's evaluation is correct. But the new Soviet leader is unlikely to make sudden changes in his country's foreign policy. Gorbachev is far from radical. He is a career Communist Party bureaucrat who has come up through the ranks, from Communist Youth League organizer to Party boss in the Caucasian city of Stavropol to Party Secretary for Agriculture to Politburo member. He did it by avoiding controversy and cultivating powerful mentors like Party ideologist Mikhail Suslov and the late leader Yuri Andropov.
In fact, Gorbachev might owe at least some of his success to the presence of mineral waters in his native Caucasia. Many Soviet bigwigs—Aleksei Kosygin and Andropov among them—have enjoyed rest and recreation in those healing waters. As local Party boss, Gorbachev had ample opportunities to impress them.
Arkady Shevchenko, the former Soviet diplomat who defected to the U.S. in 1978, wrote in his recently published best-seller, Breaking With Moscow: "Gorbachev is intelligent, well educated and well mannered.... At his post in Caucasia, he earned a reputation as an energetic regional Party leader and manager and as a competent agricultural specialist. He was also known as a reasonable man with less arrogance than most professional Party apparatchik."
While Gorbachev is no wide-eyed reformer, he does represent a striking change from his aged predecessors at the pinnacle of the Soviet hierarchy. A graduate of a rigorous program at Moscow University, he is the first Soviet leader since Lenin to possess a law degree. He belongs to a new generation of Communist leaders born after the 1917 revolution and not permanently warped by the brutality of the Stalin years. He is also, as his London visit proved, articulate, media-wise and clearly at ease in the give-and-take of international diplomacy. Gorbachev's style will bring fresh breezes to the Kremlin, but no one knows whether they will blow fair or foul. "Gorbachev can be dangerous for us," warns Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former Henry Kissinger aide now at the Brookings Institution. "He has already demonstrated that he is an effective advocate of the Soviet point of view in Europe and that he may add a spark of dynamism to the international Communist movement."