Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, Soviet Premier Who Presided Over Economic Chaos, Dies at 94

Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, a premier of the Soviet Union who in 1990 took the brunt of the blame for economic chaos that engulfed the last years of Communist rule, leading to the nation’s political collapse and the end of the Cold War, has died. He was 94.

His death was confirmed on Wednesday by Valentina Matvienko, the head of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper chamber of Parliament, in a statement on Telegram. The statement did not say where or when he died.

Starting as a welder in a factory in the Urals, Mr. Ryzhkov rose as a party loyalist with economic expertise to peaks of success as a protégé of the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The general secretary of the Communist Party, Mr. Gorbachev in 1985 named Mr. Ryzhkov as chairman of the Council of Ministers — a title more commonly known as premier — the second-most-powerful post in the Soviet hierarchy.

For millions of citizens, Mr. Ryzhkov was a figure of command and compassion at the scenes of two disasters — the 1986 nuclear power plant accident in Chernobyl, where he ordered the evacuation of a 19-mile radius contaminated with radioactivity, and the 1988 earthquake that killed 25,000 people in Soviet Armenia, where he coordinated relief efforts and comforted survivors.

It also fell to Mr. Ryzhkov to share, with Mr. Gorbachev and other senior officials, responsibility for a national economy battered by the costs of a long arms race with the West and teetering on disaster after seven decades of corruption and mismanagement under a succession of dictators.

The task was urgent. Food and fuel, as well as clothing, housing, medical aid and other economic necessities, were in short supply for the 286 million people living across the vast expanse of the 15 Soviet republics. Mr. Ryzhkov and Mr. Gorbachev understood the problem and were well aware that a solution lay in a move toward a Western-style market economy.

In a speech to a Communist Party congress in Moscow in 1986, Mr. Ryzhkov put the case candidly. “Of all the dangers,” he said, “the biggest is red tape. Creating the appearance of work. Taking cover behind hollow rhetoric. Bureaucracy may hold back the improvement of the economic mechanism, dampen independence and initiative, and erect barriers to innovation.”

He spoke of a need for “radical reform” and “a profound restructuring,” and said that prices had to be more closely linked to production costs and consumer demand, and that incentives for workers had to be improved. “To speak plainly,” he said, “the insistent need for improving the system of control was in many ways underestimated until recently.”

Mr. Gorbachev agreed with those objectives. But from his standpoint, the major questions were how fast to proceed with changes, and how to introduce them successfully to a people unaccustomed to free markets.

The road ahead, to Mr. Gorbachev, was strewed with obstacles: independent-minded republics; local officials and factory managers protective of their prerogatives; farmers who might hoard rather than sell their harvests; and bureaucrats fearful of changes that might expose their comfortable intransigence and cost them their jobs.

By 1990, the need for action was acute, and the political landscape had changed. Most of the 15 republics, whose economic problems had grown more severe, were in a hurry to adopt the free-market reforms, while the national government had grown more anxious about yielding its powerful central economic controls.

Under growing pressure to act, Mr. Ryzhkov unveiled a proposed package of changes in May 1990 that would combine a small dose of free-market liberalization with continued heavy government regulation. It stopped far short of the systemic transformation many experts said was needed to halt the Soviet Union’s worsening economic crisis.

Amid growing lines at markets and shortages of food — particularly potatoes, a national staple — demonstrators began appearing outside the Kremlin, demanding Mr. Ryzhkov’s resignation. Protests soon spread to other cities. Warning that the country was sliding into chaos, Mr. Gorbachev in July dropped Mr. Ryzhkov from the Communist Party’s policymaking Politburo.

In September, Mr. Gorbachev announced a plan to scrap the Communist economic monolith and install a free-market economy within 500 days. Prices were to be gradually loosened from state control, industries were to be denationalized, farms and companies were to be sold or leased as private property, and job guarantees were to be abolished in favor of a labor market.

Boris N. Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, sided with Mr. Gorbachev’s 500-day plan and urged even stronger measures, including a banking and stock exchange system and greater autonomy for the politically restless republics.

Mr. Ryzhkov still supported a slower, more cautious retreat from central controls as a more prudent course to free markets. He wanted tighter controls on prices and property ownership, warning of mass displacement from jobs if free-market proposals were adopted too quickly. But it was too late for such arguments. The Soviet Union was already dissolving in coups and rebellions in the republics.

In his book, “Gorbachev: His Life and Times” (2017), the historian William Taubman said the tensions had boiled over in a tumultuous confrontation between Mr. Ryzhkov and Mr. Gorbachev after a Yeltsin deputy crudely demanded that Mr. Ryzhkov resign.

“If I have to leave,” Mr. Ryzhkov shouted, “so should everyone else. We’ve all contributed to the collapse, the bloodshed, the economic chaos. We’re all responsible. Why should I be the only scapegoat?” And he warned Mr. Gorbachev: “Go ahead. Run the government yourself! Then the next blow will be against you.”

Western analysts said Mr. Gorbachev needed someone to blame for the economic chaos of the late 1980s and for coming dislocations in moves to reform markets. In November 1990, he created a new power structure in which he was to govern with the leaders of the republics. There was no place in the new scheme for Mr. Ryzhkov. Kremlin watchers said it signaled his forced retirement.

A month later, Mr. Ryzhkov suffered a heart attack. During his recovery, on Jan. 14, 1991, he resigned as chairman of the Council of Ministers and was succeeded by Valentin Pavlov, another Gorbachev protégé, who took the new title of prime minister.

By spring, a resilient Mr. Ryzhkov was seeking a return to power. The Communist Party wanted a strong candidate for elections to the presidency of the Russian Federation, and chose Mr. Ryzhkov to run against Mr. Yeltsin, the heavily favored candidate of the Democratic Russia reform movement. Mr. Ryzhkov won only 17 percent of the votes and conceded to Mr. Yeltsin.

On Dec. 25, 1991, Mr. Gorbachev resigned as the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union. He declared his office extinct and handed his powers to Mr. Yeltsin. The next day, the Soviet Union was dissolved in favor of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a self-governing assembly of former Soviet republics.

Nikolai Ivanovich Ryzhkov was born on Sept. 28, 1929, in Dzerzhynsk, Ukraine. Little is known of his family background. He attended the Technical School for Machine Building in Kramatorsk, and worked as a shop superintendent, railroad section head and mining foreman.

He joined the Communist Party in 1956, and in 1959 graduated from the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg). He began as a welder at the nearby Uralmash heavy-machinery plant and climbed slowly through the ranks. He became chief engineer in 1965, then deputy plant director and, in 1970, director of the factory.

Transferred to Moscow in 1975 as first deputy in the Ministry of Heavy and Transport Machine Building, he was named first deputy chairman of the State Planning Committee of the U.S.S.R. in 1979, and two years later was elected to the Communist Party’s Central Committee. In 1982, he was promoted to the party’s Secretariat to head its economic department.

Mr. Ryzhkov’s chief patron was Yuri V. Andropov, the Communist Party general secretary and Mr. Gorbachev’s mentor.

When Mr. Gorbachev became general secretary in 1985, he appointed Mr. Ryzhkov to full membership in the Politburo before naming him prime minister, replacing 80-year-old Nikolai A. Tikhonov, a remnant of the Kremlin gerontocracy left by the former Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev.

Mr. Ryzhkov quickly allied himself with the Gorbachev economic policies. But to the public, he was most visible on television responding to the Chernobyl nuclear accident, when he evacuated 336,000 people threatened with radioactivity, and the Armenian earthquake, when he embraced sobbing survivors and berated officials for ineptitude.

Mr. Ryzhkov was married to Lyudmila Sergeyevna Ryzhkova. They had a daughter, Marina. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

After his government years, Mr. Ryzhkov faded into Russia’s leftist old guard, eventually leading a small Communist faction in Parliament called Power to the People. He was a frequent critic of Mr. Yeltsin and others as they pursued their quasi-capitalist ambitions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1xbitbetvolegencobahisbetsoobetlikeJigolo ajansıtwitch viewer botbahis.comSupertotobetkralbetbetturkeySahabet GirişTarafbet GirişMatadorbet Girişbonusdayi.comtipobetm.comwiibet.combeylikdüzü korsan taksi
All Rights Reserved 2022.
Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Refined Blocks by Candid Themes.