Superpower minuet: Who takes next step?

The new Kremlin leader has made a tough economic policy speech that, senior Soviet sources say, heralds a ''serious but not hasty'' bid to add muscle to previously stymied efforts at reform.

Many foreign analysts have postulated that party leader Yuri Andropov, at 68 years of age, must be a ''man in a hurry'' to get on with any planned policy and personnel shifts. Senior Soviet officials are portraying him as a leader apt to avoid haste and concentrate on getting things right.

In a possible further sign that he is taking the second approach, Mr. Andropov reportedly will not move into the post of Soviet president at a session of the country's parliament Nov. 23 and 24. This would be contrary to speculation among many diplomats that he would occupy the presidency in addition to his party slot.

For the time being, a ranking official told The Christian Science Monitor, the traditionally ceremonial presidency would be left open and its duties would be handled by the current vice-president, Vasily Kuznetsov.

In his first major address on domestic and foreign policy since becoming Communist Party general secretary, Mr. Andropov echoed on Nov. 22 the late Leonid Brezhnev's calls for greater efficiency, product quality, initiative, and innovation in the troubled Soviet economy.

Mr. Andropov added: ''Shoddy work, inactivity, and irresponsibility should have an immediate and unavoidable effect on the earnings, official status, and moral prestige of workers.''

He also suggested that ''help'' might be given to those workers and officials who are simply unaware of how new economic mechanisms are supposed to be implemented - a reference, according to a prominent official, to hopes of eventually retraining, reassigning, and, in some cases, retiring such people.

Overall, Mr. Andropov's address differed far more in style than content from some of the later economic policy speeches of his predecessor.

The style was short on the back-patting with which Mr. Brezhnev tended to temper what became increasingly sharp criticism of economic performance in his final few years of power. Mr. Andropov also conveyed a sense of realism and caution, remarking at one point, ''I do not have any ready recipes'' for resolving the nation's ample economic problems.

On foreign policy, the new party chief held to a line on relations with Washington charted in two earlier, briefer speeches. In short: Andropov expressed a desire to improve these ties, but also a determination not to play the supplicant, or make ''preliminary concessions.'' He also reaffirmed Kremlin desire for normalization of ties with China.

On the economy, Mr. Andropov announced no major policy departures, in the sense that reform-minded references to learning from other communist states - presumably including Hungary - or to a measure of decentralization had also been made by Mr. Brezhnev. So had Mr. Andropov's call for rewarding economic units that opt for technological innovation and penalizing those that don't.

The problem, Mr. Andropov suggested, was that even such changes as his predecessor sought in the economic ''mechanism'' had been stymied. ''Apparently, the strength of inertia and adherence to old ways is still at work,'' Mr. Andropov said.

Soviet officials said the speech should be taken as suggesting there will be moves in the period ahead to bring the nation's huge bureaucracy, and its managerial and work force, into line with reforms of a kind already suggested. One aim would be to develop maximum latitude and initiative among local farm and factory management on implementing economic plans, while the major planning lines, themselves, would continue to be made centrally.

They said this would mean a new dose of discipline for workers, managers, and officials - a reorganization to put personnel to its best use. ''This,'' said a senior official, ''will be done steadily, seriously, but without haste, probably even without undue fanfare.''

''One should not foresee, for instance, that suddenly a big batch of (government) ministers will go,'' he said. Then he added, jokingly, ''Maybe they'll go one by one.''

The official acknowledged that in any system, such moves risk bureaucratic and other resistance, and conceivably could even become an issue by which other men near the top might make the going difficult for Mr. Andropov.

Would he, then, succeed where others had not?

''Yes, I genuinely think so,'' the official said. ''The saying is that a new brush wipes the slate clean,'' he added, explaining that any leadership change allows an opportunity to create new momentum that Mr. Andropov is determined to use.

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