MOSCOW — Boris N. Yeltsin, the outspoken leader of Moscow's Communist Party and a strong backer of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, has admitted making political mistakes and asked to resign, a senior party official said Saturday.
The statement by Anatoly I. Lukyanov, a party secretary, indicated that Yeltsin's fate is now in the hands of the ruling Politburo and the Moscow party hierarchy.
"He's in serious trouble and may have to go," said one Soviet source. It is possible, however, that Yeltsin may get off with a reprimand and be asked to continue in his post.
Denies Reports of Rift
Despite the embarrassing flap, Lukyanov asserted that Yeltsin and other members of the party's Central Committee reached a "full consensus" behind the policy recommendations of the Politburo and Gorbachev.
He denied reports of a rift in the top Soviet leadership, saying, "There are no such differences."
Yeltsin, 55, was named a candidate member of the Politburo less than two years ago when he was assigned to replace the discredited Viktor V. Grishin as the Moscow party chief.
He apparently antagonized other key leaders at the last meeting of the party Central Committee on Oct. 21 by criticizing the slow pace of reform and accusing the Kremlin's No. 2 leader, Yegor K. Ligachev, of being partly responsible.
Lukyanov said only that Yeltsin made "erroneous assessments" about the style of work of leading party organs and the speed of perestroika , or restructuring.
Members of the Central Committee, the party's 300-member policy-making group, objected to Yeltsin's speech, Lukyanov said at a news conference. Other sources said Ligachev responded by accusing Yeltsin of doing a poor job to improve Moscow city services.
One Soviet source said that during the five-hour debate, Yeltsin was criticized for talking too much about matters outside of his field by Viktor M. Chebrikov, director of the KGB.
Lukyanov, who was presiding at a news conference on another subject, was asked to tell what happened at the Central Committee's meeting, which was the source of rumors that have swept Moscow for the past week.
He answered the question, in general terms, and added that he personally was critical of Yeltsin's remarks.
"I must say for him he recognized that he made a mistake," Lukyanov said.
Indicating the sensitivity of the Yeltsin affair, however, the official news agency Tass, in its Russian-language service, virtually directed Soviet editors not to use the story. Tass "categorically recommended" against it.
Other Soviet sources said Yeltsin was vulnerable to counterattack since there is a widespread impression that Moscow has not seen much improvement during the two years he has been in charge here.
Yeltsin, who has a hard-boiled style reflecting his career in the construction industry, has been a vigorous advocate of reform and a leading proponent of glasnost , or openness.
"It is necessary to stop the lies," he once said in one of his milder criticisms of the performance by his predecessor in Moscow, who was banished in disgrace from the Politburo by Gorbachev.
For an alternate member of the Politburo, Yeltsin has high visibility in Moscow, a show window of the party. He recently spoke for three hours to ambassadors and heads of missions and gave an interview to an American television network last spring.
He came to attention early in 1986 at the 27th Party Congress when he asked why the Soviet Union had not been able to root out bureaucracy, abuse of power and social injustice after so many years.
"Why is it that even now the demand for radical change gets bogged down in an inert layer of time-servers with party cards?" he asked then.
Yeltsin said that other delegates might ask him why he did not raise the same questions at the previous party congress in 1981.
"I clearly lacked sufficient courage or political experience at that time," he said in explanation.