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Obituaries / Grigory Romanov, 1923 - 2008

Politburo member was chief rival of Gorbachev in 1980s

June 05, 2008|From the Associated Press

MOSCOW — Grigory Romanov, a Politburo member who was Mikhail Gorbachev's chief rival to become Soviet leader in the mid-1980s, has died, the Communist Party said Tuesday. He was 85.

The party said Romanov died in Moscow, where he had lived in retirement since losing to Gorbachev in 1985. No date or cause of death were given.

Romanov became a full member of the ruling Politburo in 1976, when the Soviet Union was led by Leonid Brezhnev, who treated him as his successor.

"Leonid Ilyich [Brezhnev] often told me: 'You, Grigory, will take my place,' " the Russkaya Zhizn magazine quoted him as saying last year in a hospital interview. "And he told Fidel Castro that it will be Romanov."

But when Brezhnev died in 1982, he was succeeded by KGB chief Yuri Andropov.

Andropov brought Romanov to Moscow, ending his 13 years as powerful regional party boss in Leningrad, and later promoted him to a position overseeing the Soviet Union's military-industrial complex.

He maintained his Politburo post after Andropov's death during the short rule of Konstantin Chernenko. But he was ousted shortly after Gorbachev took over in 1985 as the new Soviet leader was consolidating his power.

Romanov was undermined in part through a scandal over his daughter's 1974 wedding in Leningrad. As the struggle for power heated up in the 1980s, reports surfaced contending that the wedding party had been held in the 18th century Tauride Palace and the dinner served on imperial table service borrowed from the Hermitage, much of which was smashed by the guests.

Romanov denied this, saying the wedding party had been held at home, and described it as a deliberate attack by Gorbachev and his supporters.

As the story went, one of the wedding guests accidentally dropped a glass, and this was taken as the signal of the start of an old Russian tradition of smashing glassware in the fireplace.

In her memoir, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that when considering the future of the Soviet Union in 1983, she was at first intrigued by the prospect of a return to the Kremlin of a Romanov, the family name of the czars. But she changed her mind, saying that although he appeared to be an effective leader he also had earned the reputation of a "hard-line Marxist" with an "extravagant lifestyle."

"And I confess that when I read about those priceless crystal glasses from the Hermitage being smashed at the celebration of his daughter's wedding, some of the attraction of the name was lost as well," Thatcher wrote in "The Downing Street Years."

After his ouster from the Politburo, Romanov left political life and dropped out of sight, although he remained a member of the Communist Party. He was remembered in news reports marking his 85th birthday in February.

A native of Leningrad, Romanov was born Feb. 7, 1923, to a Russian peasant family and joined in the defense of Leningrad against Nazi invaders during World War II.

He became a Communist Party member in 1944 and moved slowly upward, becoming party boss in Leningrad in 1970. He ruled what was then the Soviet Union's second-largest city with tough efficiency, promoting heavy industry, partly at the expense of the consumer sector, before moving on to Moscow.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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