Wednesday's Revolution Day ceremonies in Red Square reconfirmed the No. 2 status of 53-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev, considered the front-runner to become the next Soviet leader.
And for what is thought to be the first time in Soviet history, the defense minister failed to oversee the military parade in Red Square.
Seventy-six-year-old Dmitri Ustinov was absent from the ceremonies. Later, Politburo member Viktor Grishin told reporters Marshal Ustinov had a cold and problems with his throat.
Also, Gen. Nikolai Ogarkov, former chief of staff of the Soviet military, was not observed at the ceremonies. Analysts here say that tends to confirm that his removal from office was a demotion, not a ''routine'' rotation, as some Soviet sources claim.
The order in which the leaders stand at the annual celebration is ''a very accurate reflection'' of the political standing of those who run the Soviet Union, a Western diplomat says.
Mr. Gorbachev stood just four spots away from Chernenko, and was outflanked only by Prime Minister Nikolai Tikhonov, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and Mr. Grishin, the veteran chieftain of Moscow's Communist Party. Western analysts said the placement was in keeping with Gorbachev's status as No. 2 in the party: The men who were closer to Chernenko were there only as a result of their seniority and are not considered likely contenders to become party leader.
Western diplomats said no new weapons were on display at this year's ceremonies. In fact, one of the most visually impressive pieces of military hardware - an SA-1 Guild missile - is at least 24 years old.