Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev completed his sweeping shakeup of the Kremlin the past weekend with his elevation to the post of president of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev thus became the fourth leader in a row to combine the far more potent post of Soviet Communist Party leader with what is now the largely ceremonial presidency.This change, together with the shakeup that replaced several aging opponents with younger allies of Gorbachev, sends the Russian people the unmistakably clear message that he is committed to reshaping Soviet society - and to grasping the power it takes to do the job.
The message should become even stronger if Gorbachev achieves his ambition of turning the presidency into a much more powerful position, with responsibility over defense and foreign policy plus the authority to name the prime minister.
But the very suddenness of this past weekend's shakeup in the Kremlin is a reminder that Gorbachev's encouragement of open discussion of problems and more democratic electoral procedures have done little to change the Kremlin's penchant for secrecy.
Moreover, plenty of other Soviet leaders have managed to amass impressive amounts of personal power without its making life better for the Russian people. In fact, the result has been just the opposite.
Despite Gorbachev's attempts at economic reform, life in Russia is still characterized by dreariness and inefficiency. Stores are barren of groceries and consumer goods. Living conditions, especially in rural areas, are often miserable. The bureaucracy remains sluggish. And various parts of the Soviet Union are beset by serious ethnic conflicts.
In his new and more powerful role, Mikhail Gorbachev clearly has his work cut out for him.