MOSCOW, JULY 12 -- The election Wednesday of Vladimir Ivashko as deputy leader of the Soviet Communist Party is intended to help President Mikhail Gorbachev deal with three key problems facing the party, officials here said.
As a Ukrainian, Ivashko is the party's answer to continuing ethnic strife. As a moderate Communist, he is viewed as the type of leader who will unite feuding fractions. And as a true believer in the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, he is also emerging as the party's choice to help lead it out of ideological crisis.
"I think Ivashko is very close to the center," Col. General Dmitri Volkogonov, deputy president of the Russian republic, told a press conference today. "He's very close to Mikhail Gorbachev. He's neither left nor right. . . . That Gorbachev chose him means that he is expected to lead the country from the center into democracy."
Yet Ivashko's election, upstaged today by the departure from the party of the popular Boris Yeltsin, is far from certain to provide the quick fix needed to heal the party's woes. In an ominous note, Ivashko -- until Wednesday president of the Ukraine -- conceded that he was resigning from that post out of frustration.
"I have drawn the conclusion that I do not have . . . the reliable support needed to implement a program for the economic, social and cultural revival of the Ukraine," he said.
A Ukrainian national, Ivashko is viewed by party leaders as a fireman for the ongoing conflicts among Soviet nationalities. He brings an ethnic element to a Soviet leadership long dominated by Russians. The Ukraine is home to the country's biggest nationality group after the Russians. So far, Ukrainians have stopped short of adopting radical positions taken by their counterparts in the Baltic republics and Transcaucasia. As deputy leader of the party, Ivashko will clearly be expected to keep Ukrainians -- and other Soviet ethnic groups -- in check.
As a political centrist, Ivashko will also try to unify a party that is split into radical and conservative fractions and quickly losing support. He received 3,109 votes from deputies at the 28th Party Congress -- compared to 776 votes for his opponent, Politburo hard-liner Yegor Ligachev -- suggesting that he has the support of a clear majority of the party leadership.
Ivashko was made first secretary of the party in the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk in 1986. He became party chief of the Ukraine last fall, replacing conservative leader Vladimir Shcherbitsky. But he resigned from the post last month after being elected president, saying that he wanted to concentrate on his new duties.
In a press conference today, Ivashko seemed eager to find middle ground on controversial issues. "I will make every effort to consolidate the party to the maximum," he said, "to accommodate different views and opinions." He added that some proposals put forward by Yeltsin, who urged that the party combine with newly emerging political forces, should be considered.
Finally, Ivashko seems to be one of the last true believers in a party wracked by doubts about the survivability of communism as an ideological force. As party leader and then president of the Ukraine, he has held closely to Marxist-Leninist doctrine.
Despite Gorbachev's hopes, Ivashko will have difficulty attracting widespread public sympathy for a party that seems to be losing support by the day. Among Ukrainians, he was viewed as less a symbol of reform than of old-time Soviet politics. During a rally Wednesday in the Ukrainian mining city of Donetsk, when a jubilant spokesman announced that Ivashko had resigned as the republic's president, the crowd cheered long and hard.