American Sovietologists said yesterday that Mikhail Gorbachev had picked a new foreign minister cut from his own mold, a man of political wit and will who will allow Gorbachev to shape his own foreign policy over the long term.
According to several American students of Soviet politics, Eduard Shevardnadze, 57, the new foreign minister, may lack experience, but the former leader of Soviet Georgia has shown himself to be "imaginative," "breezy" and forceful.
Dimitri K. Simes, a Sovietologist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here, predicted that Shevardnadze would likely change the conduct and style of Soviet foreign policy first and, with time, changes in substance.
Jerry Hough, a Soviet specialist with the Brookings Institution here added: "If you want to bring in your own man, at the time of complicated foreign policy, that's how you do it. It's very much a break with the old."
"It's one thing to move Andrei Gromyko," who has headed the foreign ministry for nearly three decades, Hough said, "and another to replace him with your own man." Hough expressed some surprise that Gorbachev had been able to go so far outside the Soviet foreign-policy establishment to find a new minister.
Gorbachev and Shevardnadze have similar political roots. As Simes put it, both "come from the school of dynamic and ambitious angry young men of the 1960s."
Shevardnadze was a Komsomol (Communist youth league) leader in Georgia during the 1950s and early 1960s, when Gorbachev occupied a similar job in neighboring Stavropol. Western analysts say such proximity means the two must have known each other, and probably had close contacts dating back 25 years.
The two men forged similar careers. Shevardnadze was elevated to the leadership of the Communist Party in Soviet Georgia in 1972 in an anticorruption shake-up. Since then he has spoken out forcefully against corruption and bureaucratic listlessness and for changes in the economy.
Gorbachev, too, has promoted these themes in speeches during his first four months in power. But Shevardnadze, from his bully pulpit in Georgia, spoke out against corruption even before Gorbachev, one U.S. government Kremlinologist noted.
Besides political kinship to his boss, U.S. Sovietologists emphasize that during his leadership in Georgia, Shevardnadze built up a strong reputation as a doer with a sense of style -- "a tough cop who knows how to flatter," one State Department official put it.
Hough said that Shevardnadze's speeches show a "breezy" gracefulness, "a nice, light style," with "a touch of humor."
"If you're looking for a foreign minister who's going to present himself well to the public, to hold some press conferences and make them work, he's clearly a good choice," Hough said.
While emphasizing the contrast between the manner of Shevardnadze and that of his predecessor, Gromyko, several Sovietologists said Soviet foreign policy was unlikely to change markedly in the short run. They noted that Gromyko would still have a high-level job with at least ceremonial responsibilities and -- at least for a while -- his staff will be retained.
Sovietologists at the U.S. State Department, who asked not to be quoted by name, played down propects for early change in the substance of Soviet foreign policy. In their view, Gromyko was not ousted from the foreign policy scene; he was promoted.
But they noted that having a Soviet foreign minister who has never been to the United States, and does not appear to have strong knowledge of American politics or policy, might put the United States at a disadvantage, considering the strong knowledge of Washington that Gromyko brought to the job for 28 years.
Robert Legvold of Columbia University, emphasized that Gromyko still carries a strong foreign-policy portfolio and keeps his seat in the Politburo, where the most important Soviet political decisions are made. Whether Gromyko will keep his seat in the coming months is uncertain, Legvold said. "Until that shoe falls," he added, "it will be hard to determine what the implications of the move are for Gorbachev's leadership and for Soviet foreign policy."
Others predicted substantive changes over the long run.
Hough said he thought that Shevardnadze's breezy style would eventually develop into a knack for dealing with the West on its own terms. Others have pointed out that the new minister's strong appeal and ability to respond well to changing situations will play well in the court of public opinion, mainly in Western Europe.