The Andropov administration has hit the ground jogging.
''Clever, quiet, businesslike. . . and not hasty,'' is how an official in contact with new Communist Party chief Yuri Andropov portrays what is so far the smoothest power change in Soviet history.
Mr. Andropov has wasted little time in conveying a new tone and style of leadership, a public sense of fresh energy, determination, self-confidence - and of personal modesty - at the top.
He is acting, much more quickly than did Leonid Brezhnev, as undisputed Kremlin spokesman on both foreign and domestic policy. He has received visiting foreign leaders and delivered two wide-ranging political addresses.
But he has so far shunned major policy departures, bidding instead to lend new muscle or momentum to some inherited priorities: sealing new arms accords with Washington, reducing tension with Peking, and - toughest but most deliberately stressed of all - battling ills like inefficiency, indiscipline, and corruption in the domestic economy.
He has avoided any wholesale purge of Brezhnev-era officials - taking a cautious approach that, among other things, leaves one-time succession contender Konstantin Chernenko both with a major policy portfolio and, a senior official says, the de facto chairmanship of the party Central Committee's Secretariat. At least some other early promotions had been planned before Mr. Brezhnev's passing , officials suggest.
Further post-Brezhnev changes, a prominent Central Committee member said in an interview Dec. 28, ''will undoubtedly follow'' in time.
Various figures in the party apparatus whose main job qualification had been the trust of Leonid Brezhnev will be replaced, senior sources suggest. One source, asked Dec. 24 about rumors that a particular Brezhnev protege had been given a lowly post far from Moscow, quipped: ''It is, alas, too good to be true.'' He added, ''more seriously,'' that the man in question would likely be reassigned.
Other officials add that some government ministers will go either into retirement or to less sensitive posts.
On issues of policy, senior figures make clear, the main choices and challenges lie ahead - especially as Mr. Andropov moves to back his tough early words on economic ''discipline'' with action.
Yet at year's end, the ''continuity'' pledged by the new leadership on Mr. Brezhnev's passing in November had so far proven more than a mere slogan. The six-week scorecard looks something like this:
* China. The recent ''improvement of Soviet-Chinese relations,'' cited by foreign policy analyst Alexander Bovin in a December interview as the most significant international development of 1982, began under Leonid Brezhnev.
Mr. Andropov, for his part, has gone out of his way to signal his commitment to the process - both during the Chinese foreign minister's visit for Mr. Brezhnev's funeral and intermittently since.
Pravda chief editor Viktor Afanasyev told the Monitor Nov. 19 that there seemed to be genuine prospects that the atmospheric improvement in Sino-Soviet relations of recent months could lead to compromise on at least one key substantive issue - reduction of troop strength on the nations' border.
Mr. Bovin, initially more cautious, has also come around to a more upbeat view. But both officials add there has been no concrete movement toward such an accord, or on other issues raised by Peking. ''Difficult talks, of course, lie ahead,'' Mr. Bovin said.
A better idea of the state of play could, indeed, emerge at a second round of Sino-Soviet talks, scheduled to be held in Moscow in the first part of 1983.
* Soviet-US ties. From the start, Mr. Andropov opted against ''preliminary concessions'' to Washington, yet in favor of reciprocating the distinctly more polite tone of voice taken by the Reagan adminstration after Mr. Brezhnev's passing. Soviet news media commentators have not sheathed their ''anti-imperialist' pens. But statements made, or orchestrated, by Mr. Andropov have been much less rhetorically charged than late-vintage Brezhnev comments.
An example of the more businesslike tone was afforded by a lengthy Pravda riposte to Mr. Reagan's plans to deploy the MX missile. The piece, senior sources said, was assembled by the Central Committee Secretariat's international information department, but with guidelines set by the Kremlin. The sources said the Kremlin had also taken the initiative on a Nov. 21 Pravda editorial stressing the desire for ''normal. . . even friendly'' Soviet-United States relations.
Mr. Bovin, asked to name the second most important international development of 1982, cites ''the reestablishment of a sort of equilibrium in relations between Moscow and Washington. . . . We are at a point where things can either get better, or deteriorate into a new cold war.''
* Arms control. Here, Mr. Andropov made his most widely noted foreign policy move since assuming office. In a Dec. 21 speech, he offered to remove ''dozens'' of sophisticated SS-20 nuclear missiles from the European part of his country - leaving a number equal to British and French missile forces. In return, NATO would shelve plans to deploy new US missiles in Western Europe beginning late next year.
The proposal was rebuffed by the US, Britain, and France, partly on grounds that the British and French forces are neither as powerful as Soviet SS-20s nor under the command of NATO. Still, the Andropov offer was the meatiest Kremlin move toward compromise since talks with the US on limiting ''Euromissiles'' began in late 1981.
Senior officials, while suggesting that Mr. Andropov decided the specific timing of the offer, also said it had been on the drawing boards virtually since Ronald Reagan presented his ''zero option'' - rejected by Moscow as one-sided - at the start of the missile talks.
''Now there are two zero options,'' said a senior official interviewed after the Andropov speech, ''an American one and a Soviet one. . . . My personal feeling is that there is room for maneuver, compromise, between the two. . . .''
Hinting that even under Mr. Brezhnev, the timing of the Soviet proposal might not have been radically different, the official remarked: ''We were in no hurry (to introduce it earlier). We let the US lose points (in Western Europe) by publicly standing firm on their unrealistic 'zero option.' ''
A senior source suggested another aspect of ''continuity'' with Brezhnev-era policy, saying the Andropov proposal aimed partly to encourage popular opposition in Western Europe to new US missile deployment. ''
The proposal was aimed not only at the US and European governments, but at the public. . . .,'' the source said. ''I think the atmosphere for deploying new missiles has become more complex with the Soviet proposal.''The official, terming Western governments' initial reply to the Soviet proposal ''not surprising,'' added: ''Now we will wait and see for a while. Let some time pass. Then we shall say something further.''
* The domestic economy. On no other front has Mr. Andropov's tone of voice made so deep an impression on his compatriots. In the party Central Committee, at Moscow's central employment bureau, and at the city's central farm market, Russians portray Mr. Andropov as a man set on curbing the inefficiency, indiscipline, corruption, on-the-job alcoholism, and bureaucratic inertia long jamming efforts to make farm and factory work better. Indeed, that impression outweighs the new leader's corollary call for greater incentives to reward workers who work well.
Here again, Mr. Andropov has not started from scratch. Mr. Brezhnev, too, spoke of increased incentives and greater toughness toward indiscipline and inefficiency - particularly during the last three years of his rule. Nor, at least so far, has the new party chief gone any further in advocating eventual structural reform of the economy than did Mr. Brezhnev.
Yet Mr. Andropov's calls for discipline have been more bluntly phrased, less cushioned by rhetoric. It is the presumed next step - backing words with action, a process so far limited in scope - that will reveal the extent of Mr. Andropov's departure from the past.
Senior sources acknowledge the task is likely to be complex - if only because , as one official notes, an overall Soviet labor shortage and the very scale of discipline problems tend to discourage managers from being tough on offenders.
Various officials meanwhile foresee various long-term approaches. One source stresses the need for a general ''tightening of screws. . . applied not just to individual enterprises or officials, but throughout society.'' (Ordinary Russians, though receptive to the principle that a new push for discipline is a good idea, typically add that extremes should be avoided.)
Another ranking official shares this concern, and looks for a mixture of tightened legal sanctions, selective replacement of officials, and popular ''momentum'' created by Mr. Andropov's leadership style.
This official acknowledges a potential further snag: that in any system, tackling problems like laxness, bureaucratic inertia, and corruption can prove a tempting tool for power rivalry at the top.
So far, officials stress, they see not the slightest hint of such tension, adding that the early course of the transition would seem to bode well for Kremlin teamwork. Mr. Andropov, the sources hold, is indisputably in control, but is also determined not to use his influence to demote colleagues or amass public trappings of power.
Whatever the reasons, early post-Brezhnev personnel shifts have indeed been marked by caution and by ''continuity.'' The main changes, some of them announced and some disclosed by senior officials, include:
Konstantin Chernenko, Brezhnev protege and one-time contender for the top party job, has been given the traditionally important portfolio for ideology and foreign affairs within the Central Committee Secretariat. This was the slot occupied for many years by Mikhail Suslov. In the months immediately before Mr. Brezhnev's death, it was held by Mr. Andropov.
Senior officials say the precise degree of Mr. Chernenko's influence is likely to become clear only in the months ahead. They suggest that Mr. Andropov, himself, will exert major sway on ideological issues. The sources add that the reshuffle relieves Mr. Chernenko of another Secretariat post with wide day-to-day influence. This is the directorship of the body's General Department, an area of responsibility transferred at least for now to Klavdy Bogolyubov, a longtime senior figure in the department.
Still, a prominent Central Committee member interviewed Dec. 28 did say Mr. Chernenko, in his new capacity, was currently chairing the Secretariat's weekly sessions.
Geidar Aliyev, former KGB security chief in the Republic of Azerbaijan and later the party leader there, has been named one of two first deputy premiers in the Soviet government. Although some Western reports suggest Andropov brought him in to act as an overall ''enforcer'' of economic discipline, senior officials say privately he is handling the more specific brief of bringing order to the Soviet transportation system - an early priority of Andropov.
Another senior source added it is ''conceivable'' the Aliyev shift was decided before Mr. Brezhnev's passing, but the official did not confirm this outright.
Nikolai Ryzhkov, a former industrial manager and deputy head of the state economic planning apparatus, has been moved to the Secretariat. He, more than Mr. Aliyev, will tackle overall economic issues. Officials say he has been given the Secretariat's main economic portfolio and is also heading a reorganized Economic Department attached to the Secretariat.
Nikolai Konarev has been named minister of railways, replacing a man fiercely criticized during the later Brezhnev years. Apparently in keeping with the overall caution in early personnel shifts, the new man is not exactly a new face. He is the outgoing man's deputy.
Boris Stukalin, former Pravda deputy editor and government chief for the publishing trade, has been named head of the Secretariat's propaganda department. The move, officials suggest, highlights Mr. Andropov's early stress on conveying a new style and vocabulary of leadership, particularly on economic issues. The change has been increasingly reflected in the Soviet media since Mr. Stukalin's shift in early December.
Boris Pastukhov, longtime head of the party youth wing, has been replaced by a younger deputy. (Mr. Pastukhov got the publishing post vacated by Mr. Stukalin.) Again, the move seems aimed in part at helping the new leadership convey its own style and priorities to a key constituency. Soviet sources said as early as March of this year that Mr. Pastukhov - if only because, at 49, he was too old for the youth post - would be replaced.
Two Foreign Ministry figures who are relatively young by government standards - Asian expert Mikhail Kapitsa and US-affairs specialist Viktor Komplektov - have been named deputy ministers. These moves, a senior official says, were decided before Mr. Brezhnev's passing.
Mr. Andropov has also brought with him various personal aides. One of them is V. V. Sharapov, a Chinese speaker, Sinologist, and a former Pravda journalist. But the party chief has retained as his other chief foreign policy assistant Andrei Alexandrov-Agentov, a longtime Brezhnev aide.
Mr. Andropov is also said to be drawing on various other specialists - members of a ''policy machine'' dating from the later Khrushchev years, expanded and refined during Mr. Brezhnev's tenure, and likely to remain largely unchanged for the time being.