Moscow hard pressed to keep its red star shining; East bloc foresees shortage of energy, raw materials
Nervousness over the world's energy and raw materials crisis is surfacing in the communist East bloc, which likes to think it is immune from these global problems.Skip to next paragraph
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With the Soviet Union indicating it cannot guarantee to continue supplying its East European satellites with raw materials at current levels, the implications are clear:
The East bloc will be forced to look to the noncommunist world for oil and other vital raw materials to help it out of its difficulties.
These trends emerge from a between-the-lines reading of reports on this month's meeting in Prague of Comecon, the Communist bloc's trading community.
Apparently there was less of the customary self-congratulation that all is well, and very little of the usual "it can't happen here" mocking of the West's current economic dilemmas.
The meeting clearly showed that world conditions and, to a lesser degree, US embargoes on dealings with the Soviet Union are creating far more serious problems than has been previously conceded. Even though it isn't admitting it openly, the Communist trading bloc is now feeling the pinch of energy and raw materials shortages.
In addition, American sanctions on the sales of grain and technology to the Soviet Union because of its troop presence in Afghanistan may be having more impact than had been thought likely.
Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin minimized the likely effects of President Carter's sanctions and politicized them as evidence of US hostility to detente. But he admitted they could cause "temporary problems."
For the nervous East Europeans, Czech press comment has said as much, and it has hinted that the Russians -- despite their own economic problems -- still must bear the responsibility, as the superpower partner, for the lags in the general Comecon performance.
Reading between the lines of the limited press releases made available, one finds many parallels to the troubled Western economic summit in Venice also held this month.
The Comecon meeting produced a similar mix of the positive, the hopeful, and the negative.
First, Premier Kosygin produced the "goodies":
* He introduced an $18 billion bloc-wide program for computerization concentrated on microcomputers and the silicon chip.
* He told East European and other Comecon members they will get 10 percent more Soviet oil in the 1981-1985 period than in the five-year period just ending.
* He foreshadowed a 40 percent increase in availability of Soviet machine tools and equipment.
But on the other side of the balance sheet, there was a somber warning that Soviet supplies of raw materials to the East Europeans cannot be maintained at present levels.
No one specified which will be affected. But Planning Minister Nikolai Baibakov spoke of a "tense" world situation over raw materials and put a big question mark "over the possibility of future [Russian] supplies at existing levels."
With the 10 percent increase promised Comecon members over the next five years, they may expect some 400 million tons of Soviet crude. Currently it sells at $15 a barrel, slightly less than half the prevailing price charged by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but progressively higher Soviet prices are inevitable.
The East Europeans' domestic needs, moreover, are rising as fast as world prices, and hard currency for purchases outside the Soviet orbit is already tight.
Poland will buy at least 5 million tons of oil on the open market this year. Other East Europeans have had contracts with Iran, but at a time when Iranian oil cost one-third of what it does today.
Czechs and Hungarians will each get 5 million tons through Yugoslavia's Adria pipeline -- and must pay at Middle East prices. Even Romania, once as oil sufficient as Russia itself, is buying from both the Mideast and the Soviet Union.