Fewer handshakes, more work under Andropov's new protocol

Under a new protocol adopted here, Yuri Andropov has trimmed most of the ceremony out of his new, mostly ceremonial, job of president. The move is in keeping with the no-nonsense image Mr. Andropov has projected since winning the real seat of Soviet power, the Communist Party leadership, on Leonid Brezhnev's passing last year.

The shift also seems to bear out earlier comments from senior officials that Andropov had been reluctant to assume the presidency, for fear its more excessive frills would sap time and energy better devoted to more substantive duties.

Western diplomats note that one effect of the change, intended or not, will be to ease some physical demands on a Soviet leader who has just turned 69 and has, in recent appearances, looked lacking in vigor. Andropov became president June 16.

The protocol, disclosed in a note to foreign embassies here, says the Soviet president will no longer necessarily greet visiting heads of state at the airport, nor necessarily attend any reciprocal banquet offered by the visitor while in town.

The studiously vague wording of the note does not exclude the possibility of Andropov's deciding to drive to the airport or attend an extra dinner for a visiting dignitary.

But diplomats say the protocol and Andropov's bearing during a recent visit by Finland's President make it clear such treatment will be the exception. Generally, Andropov will receive and see off summit partners in the Kremlin, and attend only a banquet given by the Soviet side. Beyond that, the main surviving attributes of office would seem the meatier ones: formally heading any Soviet summit team (a task already accruing informally to Andropov as head of party), and signing international treaties.

Thus, the question of whether Andropov is at the airport for the slated July 4 arrival of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, for example, is being seen by NATO diplomats here as a test of the significance the Kremlin wants publicly to attach to that visit.

In a political system where nearly everything - style included - tends to flow from the top, other Soviet officials will also be ceding some frills of office in the wake of the new protocol.

It says, for instance, that visiting foreign ministers need not be met at the airport by that dean of world foreign ministers, 73-year-old Andrei Gromyko. Instead, a deputy foreign minister can make the trip.

A ministry official adds that, while the note given to embassies deals only with protocol of international relevance, Andropov also seems set on toning down long-traditional airport sendoffs for Politburo members headed abroad.

''You will note that one or more senior leaders, and various others, have generally gone out to see these people off. There's a motorcade and everything. The intention seems to be to do away with this sort of thing,'' the official says.

Similarly, Andropov's own tendency to be decidedly more blunt and succinct in public statements than the late Mr. Brezhnev seems to be percolating through the leadership.

Kremlin agricultural specialist, Mikhail Gorbachev, offered an example by delivering an unusually brief address at this year's marking of Lenin's birthday.

And the assumption among some Kremlin-watchers, fed by various signs in the Soviet media, is that word has gone out to the provinces to spend less time talking and more working.

In two articles this spring, for instance, Pravda scored regional officials for spending too much time holding conferences - serving the ''cult of paper'' - and not enough actually getting things done.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.