MOSCOW, AUG. 15 -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev today ordered the restoration of citizenship to "a number of individuals" exiled from the country since 1966, a list likely to include Nobel Prize-winning novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Gorbachev's decree did not name the individuals affected, but the director of the official news agency Tass, Leonid Kravchenko, said it applied to Solzhenitsyn, who was forced to leave the country in 1974, novelist Vassily Aksyonov and other well-known artists and political activists exiled during the rule of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The evening television news program "Vremya" said the Foreign Ministry would contact the people affected.

In a separate action, the Communist Party leadership denounced a wave of "disrespectful" incidents in which local legislatures and unofficial groups across the country have dismantled or defaced statues of Lenin, founder of the Soviet state. In the far eastern city of Petropavlovsk, the word "Hangman" was painted on one such statue.

The restoration of Solzhenitsyn's citizenship would be an extraordinary step in the official effort to heal a culture scarred by decades of censorship and persecution. But the novelist's wife, Natalya, said that after listening to the announcement on the radio, her husband felt that the decree was "insufficient" and failed to address his "specific legal case."

"In Solzhenitsyn's case, the original decree was not only a deprivation of citizenship, but first of all a forced expulsion from the U.S.S.R. that was accomplished through arrest and the accusation of treason," she said by telephone from the couple's home in Cavendish, Vt. "Since nothing has been said about that in today's decree, it does not apply to Solzhenitsyn."

Natalya Solzhenitsyn said the government was trying to avoid addressing the issue of her husband's case "publicly and specifically. After all, there were only two men in Soviet history who were forcibly removed from the country -- Solzhenitsyn in 1974 and Leon Trotsky," Joseph Stalin's rival for power in the late 1920s, who was exiled to Mexico and later assassinated, reputedly by Stalin's agents.

Ever since the first days of his exile, Solzhenitsyn has expressed confidence that a time would come when he would return and eventually "be buried in Russian soil." Most of Solzhenitsyn's literary works have been published in journals and book form here this year after years of censorship. He has refrained so far from comment about Gorbachev and the current Soviet reform drive.

Aksyonov, author of "The Burn" and now a resident of Washington, said in a telephone interview that the return of his citizenship "will mean that I can spend a lot more time in Moscow. I won't move back for good -- I have teaching commitments and a life here -- but, who knows, maybe I can get a retirement place in the Crimea."

The list of other well-known figures who lost their citizenship for political reasons is long. It includes the Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky and human-rights activists Valery Chalidze, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Pavel Litvinov and Vladimir Bukovsky. The government also restored citizenship recently to a number of other exiles, including cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, singer Galina Vishnevskaya, biologist Zhores Medvedev, theater director Yuri Lyubimov and novelist Alexander Zinoviev.

Rostropovich, who has conducted the Washington's National Symphony Orchestra for 13 years, returned to Moscow in February for a triumphant concert. He promptly held a press conference and called on the government to drop treason charges against Solzhenitsyn and apologize to the writer.

Sergei Kovalyov, a former political prisoner who is now chairman of the Russian republic's legislative committee on human rights, complained that Gorbachev's decree "leaves too many things unsaid, and it really sounds to me like a contest over who can seem more liberal now, Gorbachev or {Russian President Boris} Yeltsin.

"Not just a few people should be given back their citizenships," Kovalyov declared. "It should be a very general decree, one that applies to any kind of political case. What about people who were told they should leave or face jail? What about people who left for Israel in fear of antisemitism?"

Minutes after the decree was announced on television, the ideology chief of the Communist Party, Alexander Dzasokhov, appeared on the screen to ask Soviet citizens to refrain from "desecrating" party monuments, especially statues of Lenin. He compared attempts to dismantle, deface or destroy statues of Lenin to Stalin's destruction of churches in the 1930s. "It's a sacrilege," he said.

In Soviet Georgia, Lithuania, Moldavia and the Ukraine, statues of Lenin have been taken down or vandalized as the Bolshevik leader's prestige continues to decline. The one statue of Lenin left standing in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, is under 24-hour guard.

City legislatures in Ternpol, Chervonograd and other regions have ordered that statues of Lenin be taken down, an action that Communist Party officials complained shows "disrespect not only for the founder of the Soviet state but also for history itself."

The party appealed to the government for what it called "a decisive rebuff to manifestations of a disrespectful attitude to works of art embodying heroic pages in our revolutionary, military and labor chronicles." The party leadership also asked for an investigation of similar "desecrations" in East Eurpean countries.

Gorbachev's own historical and ideological connection with the Lenin legacy appears to be weakening. Although as leader of the party he is ostensibly obliged to praise Lenin the way American politicians routinely pay homage to the Founding Fathers, his policies grow more opposed to Lenin's communism with every passing week.

And as Gorbachev and public opinion drift away from Leninism, the cult of Lenin, with all its gigantic busts and official portraits, is crumbling and fading.

In the last two years, some leading cultural and political figures have even suggested that Lenin's embalmed body be removed from the mausoleum on Red Square and be given what one legislator called "a decent Christian burial."