The Kremlin grapples with its global chessboard and Andropov's legacy
The 12 current members of the Soviet Politburo must by now have finished their rundown of who-does-what-now and moved on to reviewing domestic and foreign plans.
Domestic projects will come first. Then a look at the world chessboard. Both are likely to be scrutinized with an eye to costs vs. benefits.
On the domestic side, one ticklish question will be who is to ride herd over Yuri Andropov's modest industrial-management reforms. The cautious Andropov decentralization of authority in a few industries was announced last summer. But it has actually been under way less than two months.
Similar plans in the late 1960s were personally backed by Premier Alexei Kosygin. But they were nevertheless swallowed up by entrenched central planners, and their economist author eventually denounced them. So what happens to the small Andropov legacy is of great symbolic importance.
Politburo assessments of the value-vs.-cost of Soviet pieces on the world chessboard are also of large symbolic importance.
The chief decisions facing the 12 men in the Kremlin are wrapped up in relations with the United States. Can both sides begin to talk to each other, not merely to the propaganda grandstands? Can they put aside the deep suspicions that lie behind ''evil empire'' and ''new Hitler'' talk, and manage to wrap all their missile talks together in one seriously negotiated package?
Those are the central questions. But the cost/benefit ratios of other chess pieces are of great interest also. Konstantin Chernenko and his veteran defense chief, Dmitri Ustinov, cannot overlook a number of pawns that once were cheap at the price but are net drains on the budget today.
Angola and Ethiopia are obvious examples. The price of maintaining both Cuban and Soviet establishments in those two areas of Africa almost certainly outstrips potential benefits. This is particularly true of Angola now that South Africa has patched together at least a medium-range truce with both Angola and Mozambique.
Syria and Iraq, on the other hand, probably appear to reward Moscow with sufficient leverage to justify military aid costs. But neither is without risk.
Moscow's Damascus connection certainly provides some leverage over events in Lebanon. But it also carries the risk of renewed confrontation between Soviet SAM missile crews and Israeli aircraft. The withdrawal of the US Marines lessens chances of an accidental superpower collision but removes the Western force buffer that had kept Israel away from frontline action in Lebanon until this week.
Kremlin influence over Syrian President Hafez Assad is hardly a sure thing. And in any case, the aid to Damascus does not extend Soviet power into the crucial areas of (1)Israeli-Palestinian relations or (2)the power structure of the oil-rich Gulf states.
What has been widely billed in the American news media as a defeat for Reagan policy - the pullout of the Marines - is, more correctly, merely confirmation of a misjudgment made some 19 months ago. The pullout of Western units in and around Beirut merely cuts losses from a string of decisions dating back to June of 1982. The sequence began in Gen. Alexander Haig's State Department, when the then secretary of state tacitly agreed to the Sharon-Begin invasion of Lebanon.
That led to a diversion of US negotiating efforts. Instead of concentrating on Israeli-Palestinian matters (West Bank autonomy talks) Washington found itself increasingly sucked into (1)efforts to patch together a new coalition regime in Lebanon and (2)military policing (not really peacekeeping) in place of the partly withdrawn Israeli invasion force.
Thus Lebanon, instead of the Palestinian question, occupied Washington's attention during the only midterm ''window'' when West Bank progress might have been made. With the coming of the US election campaign, that window is now closed for another year.
A reminder of how tightly closed came this week with publication of an account of the administration's gingerly effort to get Yasser Arafat to recognize the existence of Israel and thus pressure Israel for serious bargaining with Palestinians. That unofficial effort to break through the Israel-PLO feud has been attacked as if it were akin to Jimmy Carter's UN vote on Palestine in another election year. The Reagan White House will not have missed the potential consequences.
Although Moscow and Washington still differ fundamentally on terms for replacing Western units in and around Beirut with UN peacekeeping troops, it is significant that Moscow has opened the door a bit on the idea.
A Politburo review of world chess moves would doubtless see the interposition of UN troops as prudent policy. The question of whether UN volunteer troops can be found remains a stumbling block. From Moscow's point of view, UN peacekeepers could help to prevent Lebanese ethnic fission from spreading, prevent unwelcome confrontation with Israel, and reinforce a status quo increasingly favorable to Syria. Moscow would also be reasserting its influence in the Mideast diplomatic scene in a way that gained credit in both Western Europe and the third world.
One major chess piece will doubtless prove more of a puzzle for Politburo strategic reviewers: Cuba.
With the shrinkage of Soviet advantage in Angola and Ethiopia, Cuba's for-hire Army means less for Soviet plans in the third world than it has for many years. As a forward military base, Cuba helps the Kremlin fulfill its pledge to counter the installation of Pershing II and cruise missiles in West Europe by increasing Soviet missile submarine patrols off the US coast. And Castro can promise readiness to step in if Brazil or Chile should show signs of popular revolt. But hardheaded Soviet tacticians are unlikely to believe in either the revolt theory or Castro's ability to take advantage of any unrest in South America if it should occur.
All of which may account for Dr. Castro's unexpected stopover in Spain on his way back from the Andropov funeral. Even the capitalist magazine Forbes has recently suggested that Castro may need to find a way to mend bridges with Washington if there is a second Reagan term.
There is no sign yet that the Kremlin budget can't find the money for a continued Cuban subsidy. But economists who specialize in the Soviet Union believe the new government in Moscow will have to rearrange its budget for trading with its Comecon allies sometime before the decade ends. The cost of subsidizing cheap raw materials and fuel to East-bloc allies and overpaying for sometimes inferior goods in return is mounting sharply.
For perhaps five months last year, Andropov managed to wring some higher-quality goods from Eastern Europe. He did so to fulfill his pledge that if factory absenteeism and waste were reduced, Soviet citizens would get better products. But both carrot and stick receded as Andropov disappeared. And the old unfavorable balance of trade within the Soviet empire grows worse.