Soviets pack tough propaganda with their Afghanistan punch

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

With apologies to no one, the Kremlin is brazening it out in Afghanistan. It insists its intervention there was legal under the United Nations Charter (Article 51 giving nations the right of collective self- defense) and under the Soviet-Afghan treaty of December 1978.

It daily attacks the United States (and also mentions China and Egypt) for allegedly training 5,000 Afghan guerrillas in 12 bases in Pakistan.

It brands as a threat to all of the Indian Ocean Washington's decision to speed up the dispatch to Pakistan of anti-tank, rocket, and other weapons.

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"The new Afghan government has clearly announced it wants friendly relations with neighboring countries, including Pakistan," wrote Pravda's New Delhi correspondent Jan. 2, citing "Indian commentaries." Hence, any use of events in Afghanistan to justify US weapons shipments to Pakistan was "baseless."

In short, observers in Moscow have rarely seen a case of such frontal, all-out propaganda to cover a foreign policy move as is now appearing in the Soviet press and on radio and television.

Moscow also is declaring that only its intervention saved Muslim Afghans from attack by "imperialism," implying to Iran and Pakistan that the Soviets are the sole true defenders of the Muslim tradition.

Clearly the Soviet strategy of the moment is fierce verbal counterattacks to match the fanning out of its military forces in Afghanistan itself. The Soviets suggest the US was planning to use Afghan territory for subversion against the USSR, though they advance no "proof" beyond references to Pakistani base camps for Afghan guerrillas.

Some observers here believe the Soviet leadership calculates there is little the United States can really do in retaliation. They suspect that the Soviet troops are in Afghanistan to stay for a long time and that the Kremlin feels the West will prove to have a short memory and return to "business as usual" before long.

Against this, it is said, the Soviets have chosen a poor time for their intervention -- not only because Americans already are concentrating on that part of the world where hostages are being held next door in Iran, but also because of the emotion let loose by the US presidential campaign. As with Angola in 1975-76, the Soviets again are thought likely to strengthen both the incumbent president and right-wing forces around the US.

One specific issue raised here: Did the Soviets consider that SALT II was doomed in the US Senate anyway and hence was not a constraint on Soviet actions? Or does Moscow still want the treaty and think cool heads in Washington will prevail?

As for US grain sales to the Soviet Union, it is thought here that the Kremlin believes domestic farm pressure on the White House will prevent President Carter from halting them. And it is assumed here that Moscow reckons its ability to boycott the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984 will prevent the US trying to boycott the Moscow Olympics of this year.

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