Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has made some personnel shifts among his economic advisers that appear to be major. The moves could hint at the kind of economic change Mr. Gorbachev has in mind for the Soviet Union.
The shifts are equivalent to a major governmental shake-up in the West -- if, for example, a president suddenly replaced his chief economic advisers and treasury officials. But here, they have taken place behind the scenes, with no public announcements -- leaving Kremlin-watchers to speculate on what they mean.
The consensus here is that they reinforce Gorbachev's commitment to making the Soviet economy function more smoothly, but not to alter it in any basic manner. Certainly, in the opinion of a number of analysts here, they do not hint at any departure from central control of the country's economy and adherence to economic plans.
One of the more intriguing shifts has been the move to Moscow of Abel Aganbegyan, former head of a research institute in Novosibirsk, Siberia. He is thought to have been one of the driving forces behind a 1983 report published by the Institute of Economics and Organization of Industrial Production which criticized the rigidity of the country's central economic planning structure. The ``Novosibirsk group'' became synonymous with ``economic reformers'' in the Soviet Union.
Now Mr. Aganbegyan is in Moscow, and some sources say that he has taken a position at the State Planning Committee, Gosplan, which oversees the country's economic plans.
Others, however, say he is acting as an unpaid consultant at the Academy of Sciences until an as-yet-unknown position is prepared for him. The academy says only that he is now chairman of a commission studying production forces and natural resources. Gosplan says he has no position with it.
But some analysts here speculate that he will eventually take a post as a key economic adviser to Gorbachev and the Communist Party Central Committee.
Another switch that has sparked interest is that of Dzhermen Gvishiani. He was deputy chairman of the State Committee for Science and Technology. Now he is one of the deputy chairmen of Gosplan.
Mr. Gvishiani is an expert in ``systems research.'' Westerners who have dealt with him say he is polished, articulate, exceptionally bright, and highly opinionated about the need to improve management techniques in the Soviet Union.
Both men have shown some fondness for Western management methods.
In a series of economic experiments over the past two years, the Soviets claim to have simplified the numbers and kinds of plan targets that factories and enterprises must meet. But analysts say there is no evidence that these experiments have provided for major retooling of industries or the introduction of new high-technology equipment that improves productivity.
Western analysts speculate that Aganbegyan, Gvishiani, and other advisers will be charged with addressing that problem.
They are likely to find a strong ally in the new Soviet premier, Nikolai Ryzhkov. Formerly an industrial manager and a Gosplan official, Mr. Ryzhkov -- as head of government -- will spearhead Gorbachev's plans for economic change.
However, Ryzhkov will be overseeing a bureaucracy that has proved remarkably resistant to change.
If there seem to be any major losers in the shake-up, they would appear to be the government ministries. They have not played a visible role in the economic experiments to date, according to many analysts. And no government minister has been given a major promotion as an economic adviser, they say, although a dozen have been replaced by Gorbachev since he came to power.
The emerging pattern then, seems to be a push for continued central direction of the economy by Gosplan, with a major emphasis on the integration of scientific and technological advances.
A subsidiary aim, according to some analysts, is to make the venerable Soviet Academy of Sciences more oriented toward the application of science and less toward theoretical research.
``They're great theoreticians,'' says one Western analyst, ``but when they start to apply things, that's when they run into problems.''
But some analysts do not rule out the possibility of resistance to Gorbachev's plans, especially if they are viewed as a threat to the government ministries.