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Reshuffle expected in top Soviet leadership

A longtime member of the Soviet leadership, Andrei Kirilenko, has retired for reasons of health, senior Soviet officials confirm.

But another Politburo member reported by some Western news outlets to have died - octogenarian Arvid Pelshe - was reported to be alive by these officials, who were speaking late Nov. 18.

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And Konstantin Chernenko, once considered a prime contender to succeed the late Leonid Brezhnev as Communist Party leader, is said to have retained an influential post - at least in the days immediately following Mr. Brezhnev's passing - despite having missed the top job.

Although he made no firm predictions, one of the officials said it ''can be assumed'' there will be some further change in the top leadership lineup at a meeting Nov. 22 of the full Central Committee - although it will be ''no revolution.''

This, he suggested, would involve at least one new member of the committee's nine-man inner Secretariat, which plays a major role in the day-to-day running of the country. The official would not say precisely which one or more Secretariat slots, which are more policy-specific than places on the ruling Politburo, would be filled.

But with the naming Nov. 12 of new party leader Yuri Andropov, Mr. Andropov's Secretariat post for ideology and foreign affairs is open.

So is that of Mr. Kirilenko. The two men are among a handful of top Soviet leaders to sit on both the Politburo and Secretariat.

Mr. Kirilenko, according to one of the officials interviewed, ''has retired for reasons of health.'' The official, unprompted, denied Western news media suggestions that the veteran member of the leadership ''fell into disgrace.''

The official said that Mr. Pelshe, the oldest Politburo member, ''has also, in fact, been ill, with a slight case of pneumonia.'' But as of late Nov. 18, despite Western reports saying flatly that Mr. Pelshe had died, ''he is alive.'' The official said it was possible Mr. Pelshe would attend the Central Committee sitting.

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Western diplomats are particularly eager for any signals from the committee session on the future role of Mr. Chernenko, who, in the months preceding the leadership transition, had shared a large portion of Soviet power with Mr. Andropov.

Senior Soviet officials would not venture comments on his future role. But one official said that Mr. Chernenko had served as chairman at a meeting of the Central Committee Secretariat after the Brezhnev funeral. Mr. Chernenko and Mr. Andropov had alternated in that post in the period before transition.

Under the Soviet system, the Central Committee session is likely to serve as a forum at which the top ranks of the party establishment get a better look at the personalities and policies of the post-Brezhnev era.

In addition to nearly 500 Central Committee members - the distinction between ''voting'' and ''nonvoting'' participants is, for most practical purposes, one of prestige - such sessions are attended by some 75 members of the party's Central Auditing Commission.

Technically a financial oversight group, in the party hierarchy the commission is traditionally a stepping stone to a place on the Central Committee. Auditing commission members attend all committee plenums, senior officials here report.

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