MOSCOW — Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, back in office but perhaps no longer truly the supreme leader of his land, on Thursday fired the defense minister, KGB chief and other plotters who tried to overthrow him and signaled a wide-scale purge of other Communist reactionaries.
Throughout this jubilant city, one could see signs of the tectonic shift in Soviet politics that has occurred in only four days, the slide in authority and power from Gorbachev to the man who led the opposition to the right-wingers' coup, Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin.
From an evening splash of fireworks to a "rally of victors" that brought Yeltsin and as many as 100,000 people to the steps of the Russian "White House" to celebrate the putsch's collapse, the day seemed to belong not to Gorbachev, whose rule had been saved, but to Yeltsin, who had fought so stoutly to save it.
When at about 1 p.m. the red flag of Soviet Russia was struck from the roof of the White House and the pre-revolutionary tricolor hoisted in its place, to many it was a sign that one kind of regime had ended and a new one was about to begin or was already under way.
In other developments during the first 24 hours of Gorbachev's restored rule:
- Speaking at a televised news conference, Gorbachev kept the reporters and a large part of the planet spellbound by telling how he, his wife, Raisa, and other loved ones had been held prisoner for three days in their Crimean dacha by the rightists. At one point, Gorbachev said, he thought he might be killed.
- Of the eight members of the State Emergency Committee that had tried to topple Gorbachev and seize power, six were in custody by Wednesday evening, and a seventh--Interior Minister Boris K. Pugo--shot himself to death to avoid capture. From the official Tass news agency to the Communist Party hierarchy and its flagship newspaper Pravda, institutions that abetted the putsch or did little or nothing to oppose it were scrambling to claim that they had been loyal to Gorbachev and the Soviet constitution all along.
- Crowds in Moscow late Thursday pulled down the black bronze statue of "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinsky, the father of the state security agency that ultimately became the KGB, which for progressives and radicals such as Yeltsin incarnates the most loathsome traits of Soviet totalitarianism.
- The Parliament in breakaway Latvia outlawed the Communist Party, and the republic's government said it was seeking the arrest of the republic's hard-line party leader, Alfred Rubiks, who supported the coup. In Lithuania, another Baltic republic, Soviet troops were reportedly evacuating the TV tower they seized in Vilnius in a brutal tank-led attack in January that killed 14 people.
After flying back to Moscow from the Crimea and sleeping for only two hours, Gorbachev moved rapidly and on numerous fronts to "eliminate all consequences of the plot and to punish the guilty" by firing the rightists and voiding their decrees.
Army Gen. Mikhail A. Moiseyev, the Soviet armed forces chief of staff, was named acting defense minister to replace Dmitri T. Yazov, a putschist. Gorbachev told reporters that Moiseyev had been on vacation at the start of the week and hence not involved.
At the KGB state security agency, located across from the now-demolished statue of Dzerzhinsky, Gorbachev fired coup member Vladimir A. Kryuchkov and appointed Lt. Gen. Leonid V. Shebarshin, previously in charge of the KGB foreign intelligence operations, to the chairman's post.
Col. Gen. Vasily Trushin, 57, deputy interior minister, was named to replace Pugo. Russian authorities said the Russified Latvian, about to be arrested at his apartment, stuck a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Before committing suicide, Pugo may have tried to kill his wife; she was reported hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
Of the other plotters, Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov was under guard in his hospital room; he was confined to bed Tuesday ostensibly for high blood pressure, perhaps a pretext for bailing out of the coup.
Vice President Gennady I. Yanayev was arrested in his office, and a manhunt was being mounted outside Moscow for the only member of the State Emergency Committee still at large--peasant leader Vasily A. Starodubtsev.
Gorbachev said he has no intention of launching a "witch hunt" to root out his right-wing foes--men he called enemies of change--but added that in government, the legislature and the party, measures are under way to determine who the collaborators were.
On Thursday, the Communist Party Secretariat began a probe, with Gorbachev's full backing, of senior party officials who had been involved.
"It's my duty to the very end to contain reactionary forces in the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and drive them out," said Gorbachev, who is party general secretary as well as Soviet president. "We should do everything in order to undertake reform in the party."