MOSCOW, FEB. 24 -- A close adviser to Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev published in the Soviet press today the most extensive and admiring profile of Nikita Khrushchev to appear here since his downfall in 1964.

The author of the article, political commentator Fyodor Burlatsky, was a speech writer and policy adviser in the Central Committee under Khrushchev in the 1960s.

In today's article published in Literaturnaya Gazeta, Burlatsky described for the first time for Soviet audiences the vicious power stuggles that led to Khrushchev's rise and fall and praised the deposed leader for his "secret speech" at the 20th party congress in 1956 denouncing the crimes of Joseph Stalin.

"This speech was one of the rare instances in history when a political leader put his personal power and even his life on the line for the sake of the greater public good," Burlatsky wrote.

Although the speech was leaked to the West just three weeks after it was delivered to the Central Committee, it has not yet been published in the Soviet Union. Dissident historian and Khrushchev biographer Roy Medvedev said in an interview today that Burlatsky's article is "encouraging, but we will have to wait and see what the historical committees finally do."

But the account was seen as important, given the fact that Burlatsky has become a prominent spokesman for Gorbachev's reforms. Burlatsky frequently accompanies the Kremlin leader on his trips abroad.

Of Khrushchev, Burlatsky noted that since he was deposed in 1964, his "name was taboo for nearly 20 years" in a country that he dominated for 11 years.

While he criticized Khrushchev for using inaccurate statistics to claim the Soviet Union would overtake the United States and for surrounding himself with "flatterers" who sometimes used him as a "plaything," Burlatsky praised Khrushchev for strengthening relations with the West, improving agriculture and industry and reforming the legal system.

The new awareness and appreciation of Khrushchev, many scholars in the Soviet Union and the West believe, stems from Gorbachev himself.

Gorbachev is the first political leader to have come to political maturity during Khrushchev's "thaw." And while he is more polished, educated and politically adroit than Khrushchev was, many analysts agree that Gorbachev's plans for political and economic reform grow out of Khrushchev's own aborted efforts.

Peter Reddaway, a historian at the Kennan Institute in Washington, said in an interview that he discussed the Khrushchev manuscript with Burlatsky in Moscow last month.

"The general line, and one that Gorbachev himself expressed as a young man, is that Khrushchev's reforms in the areas of economics and disarmament were worthy and well-intentioned, but were not carried out very well," Reddaway said.

There have been reports that the Politburo may soon authorize moving Khrushchev's remains from Novodevechny Cemetery to the place of highest honor, the Kremlin Wall.

"Khrushchev was overthrown," Burlatsky wrote, "not so much for 'hare-brained scheming,' but because he was too thirsty for change."

Burlatsky criticized Khrushchev's successors for renouncing reforms in favor of stability and, eventually, stagnation.

Burlatsky wrote that Khrushchev's most important achievement was his historical role in revealing the execution and imprisonment by Stalin of millions of people.

And yet, Burlatsky said, Khrushchev could not go all the way because he knew that he and many of his closest advisers were themselves guilty of complicity in the ruthless investigations of party organizations in Moscow and the Ukraine.

"He couldn't tell the truth about others without telling the truth about himself," the article said.

The article described how after Stalin's death leaders of the Central Committee met at a dacha and stood in silence by the dead body. Anastas Mikoyan, the deputy prime minister, noticed that the secret police chief, Lavrenti Beria, had left the house.

" 'Beria's gone to Moscow to grab power,' " Mikoyan was quoted as telling Khrushchev. And Khrushchev replied, " 'Until this {Beria} is in jail, none of us will be able to feel at peace.' "

Burlatsky also described the police chief's arrest, an account never before published in the Soviet Union:

Beria came into the Kremlin office where the Politburo was meeting, leaned back in his chair and said, "So, why must we all be convened so quickly?"

According to Burlatsky, Khrushchev accused Beria of being an imperialist agent. Burlatsky wrote that Beria reached for a gun hidden in his briefcase, but Khrushchev, who also was armed, held down the briefcase and summoned the police using a concealed buzzer.

Khrushchev led the Politburo in a victory toast after Beria had been dragged from the room following a Politburo vote approving his execution as an "agent of imperialism," the article said.

Burlatsky had Khrushchev saying: "I want to drink to that which will never again be repeated."

In his memoirs published in the West in 1971, Khrushchev gave a similar account of Beria's arrest, except that in his book the former Soviet leader said the police later discovered that there was no gun in Beria's briefcase. No account of the incident, including the memoirs, ever has been published in the Soviet Union.

Burlatsky faulted Khrushchev for his clumsy dealings with the intelligentsia and suggested that his image as a reformer is somewhat overrated in the West.

Analysts here said the signals are clear. Such an article presages not only a fuller discussion of Khrushchev, but also a more anecdotal and descriptive sort of writing about historical events and power struggles in the leadership.

According to Reddaway, Burlatsky will come to the Kennan Institute to research one of Khrushchev's greatest debacles, the Cuban missile crisis.

At a public discussion tonight, sponsored by Ogonyok magazine, the editor-in-chief, Vitaly Korotich, said he had been thinking recently about publishing an article critical of Khrushchev but then reconsidered. Korotich said, "Here was the first time we had a leader we were not afraid of."