The survivability of Mikhail Gorbachev in the face of the Soviet Union's deepest internal crisis is enhanced by the imminent purge of his enemies in the Kremlin and the sidetracking of his critics in the White House.
In Moscow, President Gorbachev is displaying surprising strength after his victory at the superpower summit. Bolstered by an unexpected U.S. trade pact and President Bush's refusal to press him publicly on Baltic independence, Gorbachev is heading toward a triumphant Communist Party Congress that may give him almost everything he wants. That includes a vastly revamped Soviet Politburo.
In Washington, two senior National Security Council staffers who are skeptical about the decision by Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III to prop up Gorbachev are switching out of U.S.-Soviet policy-making. Deputy national security adviser Robert Gates, Bush's foremost Soviet expert, is working on lesser issues and may soon quit the NSC staff. Soviet specialist Robert Blackwill has quietly dropped word that he is returning to Harvard.
The changes at the Kremlin demonstrate Gorbachev's heightened mastery of the Soviet apparatus of government. The revised Politburo is expected to be without hard-line leader Yegor Ligachev and up to half a dozen other top Communist leaders who are regularly portrayed in the Western press as foes of Gorbachev.
There is also high expectation in Moscow that Gorbachev will take populist reformer Boris Yeltsin, his presumed enemy as the leader of the Russian Republic, back onto the Politburo to show solidarity.
Finally, Gorbachev may strip from that most powerful political body in the Soviet state the very name of "Politburo," which has generated fear and hate throughout the West for 70 years. If he gives it the new, anodyne name of Presidium, that would be in keeping with Gorbachev's perestroika practice of adopting new political procedures and names more familiar, and therefore less scary, to parliamentary democracies. By dropping the trademarks of Bolshevik revolution and totalitarianism, he hopes to reinforce his claim of moving toward parliamentary forms.
A large part of Gorbachev's expected success at the Party Congress starting July 2 must be attributed to his success at last month's summit. That in turn resulted from the Bush-Baker policy to prop him up, the treatment that disturbed hard-headed policy advisers like Gates.
Gates is renowned as a Soviet analyst who does not mince his words. When he was deputy CIA director, he was attacked in the last days of the Reagan administration by then-secretary of state George Shultz for publicly questioning Gorbachev's motives and the high level of Soviet arms spending. Shultz fired off an angry letter to CIA Director William Webster complaining that Gates was defying the secretary's policy.
Gates is believed to be concerned now that Baker and his top aides treat Gorbachev as though he were an innocent victim of past Soviet sins whose struggles with perestroika must have full U.S. support. In public, Gates is quiet. But when privately advising the president, his intimate knowledge of U.S.-Soviet relations and his tendency to talk bluntly make Gates a tough adversary for Baker.
Blackwill has also been troubled by the Bush administration's high level of confidence in Gorbachev and has taken a surprisingly tough line. Hard-liners worry that without the cautionary advice Bush has been getting from Gates and Blackwill, Baker will move U.S. Soviet policy to even closer alignment with Gorbachev if necessary to make diplomatic deals.
At the summit, that alignment was close, indeed, and not just on trade and the Baltics. During a critical Oval Office meeting suddenly called by Bush to consider a final, last-minute Gorbachev offer on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Bush asked his advisers what he should do. Baker strongly counseled him to accept Gorbachev's proposal. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney just as strongly advised him to say no, arguing the United States would pay too high a cost.
When Bush ruled in favor of Baker, Cheney said: ''Mr. President, I am not going to quit over this.'' The reason, he added, was that he regarded his job as far too important to walk away from it.
Cheney stays, but he is losing two allies in the shrouded policy battle over Gorbachev's true intentions. Whatever they may be, the Soviet leader has a freer hand with the support of erstwhile American adversaries in Washington and the departure of his rivals in Moscow.