Yanayev: A Man for Other Seasons

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Just a few years ago, Gennadi Yanayev would have had the perfect credentials for high office. A ho-hum bureaucrat and stout Communist Party functionary, he would have seemed a natural for the newly created Vice President's post. But the very attributes that in the past propelled people like Yanayev are a political liability today. Moscow lawmaker Alexei Yemelyanov dismisses him as a party apologist who defended the existing system "like a robot."

An ethnic Russian, Yanayev, 53, was born in the village of Perevoz, near Gorky, some 250 miles east of Moscow, and followed a career path uncommonly similar to Gorbachev's. He came up through the Komsomol Communist youth league, obtained a degree in agriculture and went to law school.

At 25, he joined the Communist Party, making his career deep in the labyrinth of youth bureaucracies and peace and friendship committees. In 1986 he moved to the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, ascending to the chairmanship last spring. His time there coincided with a precipitous decline in the organization's prestige, but Yanayev's career did not suffer. Last July he was elected to the party's Central Committee and given a secretarial post and a seat on the Politburo. A member of Congress, Yanayev heads the Communists' 730-member bloc there.

Yanayev is loosely associated with Soviet conservatism. In his address to the Congress, he endorsed both Gorbachev and perestroika and said he was "sure of the necessity of radical changes in society." But he also parroted two conservative credos: the need for law-and-order and the rejection of economic shock therapy.

In anointing Yanayev, Gorbachev was clearly looking for a competent but unthreatening second fiddle. But the new V.P. would have to be much more should the President die or become incapacitated, in which case he would take over as chief executive. Many Soviet lawmakers doubt the unimaginative Yanayev is up to the task. "I'm a normal guy, I assure you," Yanayev told his colleagues last week. That was exactly the problem.