Kremlin allies grumble over Afghan war
The Soviet Union's East European allies are keeping their heads down, but behind the scenes some are exerting considerable pressure on the Soviet leadership over Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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Publicly, they blandly reflect the Kremlin's line with approval of its cur rent proposals for a solution.
Privately, at least three -- Poland, Hungary, and Romania -- are credibly reported to have left the Russians in no doubt that they see the invasion as a serious and damaging mistake.
Anxiety -- and dislike -- of the December move, as well as a distinctly reserved attitude toward the "brotherly assistance" explanation, were visible in Poland, Hungary, and Romania from the start.
"Call it what you like," commented one East-bloc source during the recent meeting of US Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko here. "When you put troops across someone else's frontier, it's invasion, whether it is the Russians in Czechoslovakia or Afghanistan, the Chinese in Vietnam, or the Vietnamese in Kampuchea [Cambodia]."
Except among hard-line loyalists, that view is widely held in Eastern Europe.
The Soviet "explanation" was published almost without comment and certainly without the full approval normally accorded Moscow's policies.
In private observations to Western and neutral diplomats many officials have revealed the depth of alarm at Russia's action and dismay at the grave setback it brought to East-West relations generally.
At several essential points, East European views on Afghanistan and a solution of the crisis are remarkably parallel with those of West Europe, for example, on the precondition -- or firm undertaking at least -- of a Soviet troop withdrawal.
They also share West European feeling that President Carter's hard line as well as his attempt to "isolate" the Soviet Union are more than likely to be counterproductive.
They applaud German and French insistence on maintaining some dialogue with Moscow, but not as the "wedge" tactic that would serve to separate Western Europe from the United States. Instead they have their own very practical, national reasons for keeping a door open to renewal of detente.
In this sense, some have gone quite far in trying to put some brake on the Russians -- to bring home to them that the situation is bigger than Afghanistan itself. A whole sequence of events since January has indicated this.
In February, Poland's Edward Gierek produced a call for a world conference on "disarmament in detente and peace," even though he must have known its reception in the West could not be favorable.
A report that, earlier, an extremely chilly Mr. Gierek had left the Russians in no doubt of his disapproval of their Afghanistan adventure seems well founded.
The conference concept already had been floated by the Russians, but the way in which Mr. Gierek then chose to launch it formally as a Polish initiative reflected an almost desperate mood of urgency in Warsaw over the Afghan crisis.
The Poles kept at it, first at the Warsaw Pact's meeting in their capital last month and then -- in line with their own "special" relationship with France -- by playing host to the May 18-19 Franco-Soviet summit.
According to one detailed account of the Warsaw Pact meeting, Mr. Gierek, and the leaders of Hungary and Romania, repeatedly returned to the 1975 Helsinki declaration on peace and security in Europe. It was clear to all that they meant that East-West detente could not be measured simply in European terms but must be applied in a wider, global, and indivisible context.
The East Germans, too, have been showing some "independence" in bilateral contacts with West Germany. This was capped by the Belgrade meeting (during the Tito funeral) between their leader Erich Honecker and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt -- in advance of Mr. Schmidt's planned July meeting with Mr. Brezhnev.
Horst Sindemann, Mr. Honecker's No. 2 in the Politburo, -- in an interview on neutral Austria's radio newscast June 3 -- spoke of a dangerous international situation and an "urgently pressing" need for East-West dialogue.
Divergent views within the bloc are always carefully kept from public view. But some Soviet actions confirm that the signs of East European "pressure" on the Russians are correctly read.
The Kremlin is well aware of current tensions in the area. They stem largely from increasing economic difficulties and domestic discontent. But general unease and local leaders' apprehensions have been intensified by the present crisis in international relations.
Politically difficult situations could arise just as easily in Poland, the most internally restive country of all, or in East Germany, which, from the Soviet point of view, is just as sensitive.
This situation explains the Russians' apparent tolerance of criticism and of efforts to allay fears among anxious allies. Reportedly they recently agreed to forego scheduled deliveries from Poland to help it meet a debt repayment due in the West. Both Poland and East Germany have been promised larger supplies of natural gas.
East Europeans have been relieved by American assurances that President Carter's sanctions against the Soviet Union will not affect business ties with Poland, Hungary, and others. On May 28 the US opened an agricultural office in Warsaw, for example.
But the fear remains. The news media coverage of Afghanistan is restrained, with the omissions serving as eloquent indicators of unspoken but firm, continued disagreement. It is apparent they are hinting to the Soviets that they should do something about it.