MOSCOW -- Valentin S. Pavlov, a 53-year-old economist who has served as Soviet finance minister since 1989, was named yesterday by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to the trimmed-down job of prime minister of the U.S.S.R.
Mr. Pavlov replaces Nikolai S. Ryzhkov, 61, who was considered to be on his way out even before he suffered a serious heart attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Ryzhkov was a close Gorbachev ally who became prime minister in 1985 but had over the past year become an obvious obstacle to further reform.
Mr. Pavlov will head a Cabinet of ministers that is expected to be less than half the size of the Council of Ministers chaired by Mr. Ryzhkov, as the government cuts its huge central bureaucracy.
In addition, under a recent consolidation of Mr. Gorbachev's power, Mr. Pavlov and the Cabinet will be directly subordinated to Mr. Gorbachev, rather than operating alongside Mr. Gorbachev's staff.
The Supreme Soviet approved Mr. Pavlov's candidacy yesterday, 279-75, with 66 abstentions. It sent a message of thanks and good wishes to Mr. Ryzhkov, who is recovering in a Moscow hospital.
The naming of an economist such as Mr. Pavlov to head the Cabinet represents a break with a long tradition of giving the job to industrial managers like Mr. Ryzhkov. Soviet journalists say Mr. Pavlov is likely to understand the laws of economics better than his predecessors and to be less steeped in the lore of the wasteful, irrational centralized system built by Stalin.
In outlining his views and plans, the crew-cut, plump Mr. Pavlov stressed his dedication to market reforms. But he offered reassurances that state wealth would not be squandered in a hasty privatization program and said that low-income people have to be protected from "the burden of social changes."
He said he would work so that the Soviet Union remains a "powerful and independent state, respected by the world, where every person could feel free and increase the country's riches, power and dignity."
He said the Soviet Union's "vast potential should allow all the benefits of a civilized state by the turn of the century."
Mr. Gorbachev told deputies that Mr. Pavlov has been fighting within the government for months for more rapid economic reform. He said Mr. Pavlov once even raised the question of resigning in protest of the slow pace of change.
On the other hand, Mr. Pavlov, as he and Mr. Gorbachev admitted, bears a considerable share of the responsibility for the current state of the Soviet economy. His work was particularly relevant to the condition of the weak Soviet ruble.
Mr. Pavlov graduated from the Moscow Finance Institute and began his career as a district finance inspector. He later joined the U.S.S.R. Ministry of Finance, working as an economist and then as a first deputy minister.
In 1986 he went to work in the State Price Committee, becoming minister of finance two years ago.
Mr. Gorbachev has come under fire for a string of conservative appointments in recent weeks, most recently Vice President Gennady Yanayev. Mr. Pavlov is considered a more dedicated reformist, even if he is far more cautious than the young economists who surround Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin.