Andropov's next move in Kremlin chess game
A large Soviet ''transition team'' is readying a Communist Party meeting expected to signal how quickly new leader Yuri Andropov can, or will, place his own stamp on national policy.
Early signs are that Mr. Andropov, a former diplomat, is moving into prominence on the foreign policy front much more quickly than did the late party leader, Leonid Brezhnev.
The coming session of the party's full Central Committee will provide a better idea of Mr. Andropov's domestic party role. The meeting, expected at the latest Nov. 22, should also give the clearest signal yet of who else in a publicly declared ''collective leadership'' will most matter, and of the extent of Mr. Andropov's sway over that leadership.
The Central Committee session will also indicate to what degree Mr. Andropov and his colleagues plan any early departure from avowed ''continuity'' of Brezhnev-era policies abroad or on the home front.
So far there has been no sign, public or private, of any major shift.
Mr. Andropov did take time to receive various of the foreign political dignitaries in town for his predecessor's state funeral. His choice of partners - including US Vice-President George Bush, for instance, and Pakistan's General Zia - suggests a desire, not without precedent in earlier Soviet transitions, to explore possibilities for easing various areas of foreign policy strain.
Yet the emphasis has been on the mechanics of transition, handled so far with what appears smoothness and dispatch.
By Nov. 17, one week after Mr. Brezhnev's passing, what might be called Part Two of the move into the post-Brezhnev era was under way. Its immediate focus is the coming Central Committee sitting.
Senior Soviet sources indicated a ''large'' team of top party figures, policy experts, and academics was involved - an inner circle with Mr. Andropov, while other participants were working in separate groups.
At time of writing, Soviet sources said it had yet to be worked out who would keynote the Central Committee session. They declined further comment on specifics about the meeting.
This left open other key questions about the meeting:
* Will it announce further changes in the two top party organs, the ruling Politburo and the Central Committee's inner Secretariat?
The Politburo now has 12 full members, and the Secretariat, nine. As many as five Politburo seats and two on the Secretariat could conceivably be dealt out, radically changing the ruling line-up.
Although there is no set size, under the party rules, for the top bodies, two Politburo slots left vacant with the deaths since 1980 of former Premier Alexei Kosygin and ideological arbiter Mikhail Suslov could theoretically be filled.
The public eclipse in the past five weeks of longtime Politburo and Secretariat member Andrei Kirilenko - and leaks to East Europeans here in late October that he would soon retire - suggests his post, too, may be empty. If one believes reports leaked by Soviet journalists in recent days that the most aged Politburo man, Arvid Pelshe, has passed on, then a fourth spot is vacant. Finally, Mr. Andropov's own Politburo post - or Mr. Brezhnev's, depending on how one counts - could be filled.
On the Secretariat, which, particularly during the Brezhnev era, came to play a major role in the day-to-day running of the country and its policies, two key positions seem open. Since the posts tend to be more policy-specific than Politburo slots, filling them may prove of more urgency and import.
The first is Mr. Andropov's own former post as specialist in ideology and foreign affairs matters. The second, if Mr. Kirilenko is indeed on his way out, would be his position for party organization.
* If any or all of these posts are indeed filled at the meeting, will Mr. Andropov's close associates get the nod?
* What policy tack will the major speaker or speakers take at the meeting? Put differently, will the watchword remain ''continuity,'' with major departures from Brezhnev-era policy statements avoided?
The Central Committee session will in effect replace its regular autumn meeting, focusing on economic policy and originally called for on Nov. 15.
It is followed by a sitting of the Supreme Soviet, or parliament - more important this time since the meeting would be a logical forum for filling the vacant Soviet presidency, a traditionally ceremonial post taken on by party leader Brezhnev once he became undisputed Soviet spokesman on foreign policy matters.
The Central Committee meeting, East European sources had been told, was to have heard an economic address from Mr. Brezhnev with some uncommonly tough words for Gosplan, the overall state planning organization.
What tea leaves are available to ''Kremlinologists'' here - in the form of speeches and writings by Mr. Andropov before his elevation to party leader - give no clear or complete picture of his economic thinking. Indeed, Mr. Andropov barely touched on economic matters.
With the exception of a tough April 1982 indictment of the corruption that has come to pervade much of the Soviet economy, Mr. Andropov's past economic statements are either too dated or too standard to be taken as a serious pointer to policy plans.