The name of the Soviet interior minister was incorrectly reported yesterday. He is Boris Pugo. (Published 1/17/91)

MOSCOW, JAN. 15 -- The Soviet ambassador to Washington, Alexander Bessmertnykh, won swift legislative confirmation as foreign minister today, and he immediately pledged to continue the diplomatic "new thinking" of his close friend and predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze.

President Mikhail Gorbachev's nomination of Bessmertnykh, a veteran diplomat with a strong reformist background, came as something of a surprise in the light of the Soviet leader's seeming shift in recent months to hard-line domestic policies. Diplomats here speculated that the appointment may be part of a strategy to ease Western criticism of the violent Soviet crackdown on independence sentiment in the Baltic republics.

Gorbachev indicated that he had tried and failed to persuade his "good friend" Shervardnadze to stay on as foreign minister after his dramatic Dec. 20 resignation to protest hard-line reaction to political reform in the country and what he called "the coming dictatorship." Shevardnadze told the newspaper Moscow News later that he would have found it impossible to deal with the West if Moscow executed a violent crackdown on nationalist movements in the Soviet Union's constituent republics, including Shevardnadze's native Georgia.

Although conservative legislators were said to be hoping for appointment of someone from outside the Foreign Ministry apparatus, Bessmertnykh was approved by an overwhelming vote of 421 to 3, with 10 abstentions.

Victor Pugo -- a former KGB official who had been acting Interior Minister, and thus chief of internal security forces -- won formal confirmation to that post today by a vote of 315 to 75, with 40 abstentions. Pugo has been in the forefront of putting out the official version of the bloody army action in secessionist Lithuania Sunday that left 14 people dead and more than 200 wounded.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Vitaly Churkin looked extremely uncomfortable today as he tried to explain and justify the bloodshed in Lithuania. "Sometimes in the history of political processes, you have to choose not between good and bad, but between bad and worse," he said, an apparent hint that some in the Soviet leadership advocate even tougher methods. Asked to explain the killings in Lithuania, Churkin said, "You are trying to make us out as a bloodthirsty people trying to satisfy our thirst for blood."

Bessmertnykh seemed eager to distance himself from the army action. He acknowledged that "the events {in Lithuania} would inevitably affect our policy" but added: "We must work out ways to prevent and avoid such things and keep in mind the foreign-policy aspects as well."

The United States and most European governments have denounced the violent army takeover of several buildings in Lithuania and raised doubts about future amicable relations with Moscow and deliveries of promised food and financial aid. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Monday that a scheduled meeting between Gorbachev and President Bush in Moscow next month is now "up in the air."

Bessmertnykh, 57, an experienced arms negotiator who has spent more than 14 years in various roles at the Moscow's Washington embassy, was named ambassador last May.

Gorbachev and Shevardnadze's initiatives in foreign policy over the past six years -- the speedy conclusion of strategic- and conventional-arms agreements with the West, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the encouragement of political pluralism in Eastern Europe, the rapid reduction of East-West tensions -- have been the regime's greatest successes, and Bessmertnykh vowed today to hold to the same course.

"The policy we have followed until now was the policy of the president and the state," he said. "The policy will be continued and preserved, and it will develop and be dynamic."