Andropov leadership faces test in Supreme Soviet session

Soviet leader Yuri Andropov has an important date circled on his calendar: Dec. 28. That, according to Tass news agency, is when the Supreme Soviet of the USSR will meet here.

It is also the date when Mr. Andropov must reemerge and assert his leadership in the Soviet Communist Party - or, according to Western analysts, fuel further speculation that he will have a short tenure at the top of the Soviet hierarchy.

(Thursday's announcement violated an assembly statute saying sessions of the Supreme Soviet must be called at least a month in advance. This is the latest date set for the session in more than 20 years.)

Andropov, who has not been seen in public for more than three months, is President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the body that is roughly equivalent to a parliament. He is expected to play a key part in the sessions.

More important, he is general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The party will be holding a plenum in Moscow before the sitting of the Supreme Soviet. From the party plenum will come the decisions the Supreme Soviet will rubber-stamp. Andropov must control the party gathering and be seen to be in control. Otherwise, Western Kremlin-watchers say, he will be written off as a short-term Soviet leader.

The plenum and Supreme Soviet will also give some indication of whether Andropov intends to push ahead with his crackdown on corruption and his modest reforms in management of the economy. Some Western analysts say many of Andropov's programs seem to be in limbo - perhaps, they say, while other officials wait to see whether he will have the long-term political durability to push them through the Kremlin bureaucracy.

As long as questions linger about Andropov's health, many analysts expect few major initiatives to come from the party, the Supreme Soviet, or the Kremlin.

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