Moscow — New Soviet leader Yuri Andropov has moved with caution at his first chance for a reshuffle of top Communist Party ranks since the passing of Leonid Brezhnev.
Whether by choice or political necessity - Kremlinologists can so far merely guess which one - Mr. Andropov emerged from a Nov. 22 meeting of the party Central Committee with the Brezhnev-era lineup virtually intact. One man long considered a Brezhnev protege by foreign analysts was promoted.
What the committee meeting's outcome may or may not signal on prospects for early change in domestic, particularly economic, policy under Mr. Andropov was not immediately clear.
Two major promotions were announced:
Geider Aliyev, the head of the Azerbaijan Republic's Communist Party was elevated to full, voting membership on the national party Politburo. Largely on the basis of his fullsome public praise of the late Mr. Brezhnev, Mr. Aliyev had been seen as his protege. [Reuters reports Mr. Aliyev served as a career KGB man under Mr. Andropov, who headed the secret police agency.]
Nikolai Ryzhkov, a first deputy head of Gosplan, the mammoth Soviet organization for economic planning, was named to the Central Committee's inner Secretariat. The move was apparently occasioned by the retirement, announced Nov. 22 and attributed to reasons of health, of Andrei Kirilenko, a member of the party's top ranks for more than two decades. Mr. Kirilenko was the Secretariat's specialist for party organization and also an expert on industrial matters.
Although some foreign analysts had thought it conceivable the new party leader might seek to place as many as two or three new men on the party Politburo, the most conspicuous among changes notm made involved the Secretariat. Specifically, the post left open was that for foreign policy and ideology occupied by Mr. Andropov before he became party leader, or general secretary, Nov. 12.
While the Politburo is the senior policy body, the Secretariat often has a greater role in the nuts-and-bolts running of the party and country. By commissioning and handling outside reports on specific issues and problems, the Secretariat can also in effect ''frame'' various policy decisions for what amounts to a mere OK by the Politburo. The Secretariat's posts tend to be more policy-specific than those on the Politburo and, in this sense, the absence of a particular member is probably more keenly felt.
Two explanations for the decision not immediately to replace Mr. Andropov in his earlier Secretariat post are conceivable.
The first is that expanded influence is accruing to Boris Ponomaryov - a Secretariat member himself and long the No. 2 man on the body on ideological matters. He is decidedly hard-line.
The second, thought more likely in light of Mr. Andropov's prompt emergence as the leadership's top foreign policy actor in the days following Mr. Brezhnev's passing, is that the new party chief will continue to play a central role in issues of foreign affairs and ideology within the top party bodies.
All of this, for now, necessarily remains guesswork.
A more reliable picture could come from various ranking Soviet officials - one of whom, for instance, suggested correctly in private conversation a few days before the Central Commitee meeting that ''no revolution'' in personnel shifts should be expected.
[Reuters reports that Soviet Communist Party leader Yuri Andropov told the Central Committee that Moscow was not prepared to make any preliminary concessions to improve relations with the United States.
He said the Soviet Union wanted to reach agreement with the West on arms control but said nobody should expect it to carry out unilateral disarmament.
[''We are not naive people,'' Andropov said in a speech reported by the official Tass news agency. He promised to continue efforts to improve relations with China and said, ''We pay great attention to every positive response to this from the Chinese side.''
(The party leader said there had been ''a lot of conjecture'' about the course of Soviet foreign policy after the death of President Leonid Brezhnev.