CAMBRIDGE, MASS — ANANY V. POLITSYN looks more like a professor than an eager student.That he is also a lieutenant general in the Soviet Army, chief of the Directorate for Central Operations and Strategic Research, and that he is here at Harvard and not back in the Soviet Union during this unprecedented period of national crisis speaks volumes on how rapid the shift toward democracy has been in his native Russia. For the last five days and through Sept. 20, General Politsyn and 27 other senior Soviet military officials are attending a special executive education program sponsored by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. The program, modeled after the school's seminars for United States national-security professionals, was five months in the planning stage. Its relevance, already high, went ballistic in the aftermath of the recent coup attempt. "In light of the overall restructuring going on in the Soviet military now, this study program is very important, very timely," says Politsyn through a translator. The senior military officers gathered here are taking stock in three broad subject areas. Each is from an American perspective and relates to the change in Soviet defense policies after the collapse of communism: * The relationship between duly elected civilian authorities and the military - civilian control of the military. * The way in which the military makes decisions on national defense in a democracy - its chain of command. * A perspective on select geopolitical and international defense issues, especially between the Soviet Union and the US - nuclear proliferation, technological lessons from the Gulf war, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. "Professionals and specialists [in the military] will be needed to carry out planning and implement the reforms" currently going on in the Soviet Union, says Vladimir N. Danilov, a Soviet colonel and participant in the two-week program. The people attending here will be some of those involved, he says. Soviet participants come primarily from the senior ranks of the Army general staff, military academies, and the Ministry of Defense. The group also includes two rear admirals, an Air Force general, and several space specialists. The proposed discussions both highlight and meet the need for just such an exchange of ideas at the highest levels, says Albert Carnesale, acting dean of the Kennedy School of Government. On the US side, the program is solely sponsored by the Kennedy School. It is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation in New York City. Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has already spoken with his Soviet counterparts. Gen. John Galvin, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and other senior United States military officials are scheduled to address the group. The one issue certain to be on everyone's mind is nuclear proliferation. When asked about whose finger was on the nuclear trigger during the recent aborted coup in the Soviet Union, Politsyn said it was clear that, given the high position of the conspirators, they might have exercised such authority. But what is irrefutable, he said, is that "not for a moment" was any consideration of nuclear weapons contemplated by anyone in the military.