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Soviets, hard-line allies get tougher as Poles embrace new freedom; Kremlin may puts its boost down on any further Polish concessions

By David K. WillisStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 12, 1980



The Kremlin, faced with its worst East European crisis in a decade, will now work hard behind the scenes to prevent more concessions to Polish workers next door and to dilute those already granted.

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Soviet leaders imply they cannot afford to allow concessions made by previous Polish leader Edward Gierek actually to be carried out, in the view of experienced Western analysts of Soviet affairs.

The concessions include independent trade unions, the right to strike, looser press censorship, and access to state-controlled papers, radio, and television by the Roman Catholic Church.

Already, officials from free trade unions have their own headquarters in Gdansk and Warsaw. Workers from more than 150 factories and offices have gone to those headquarters for advice and help.

To the elderly, suspicious, conservative group of men who make the decisions in the Kremlin, this has to stop. It cannot allow the communist control of workers to be seriously undermined in a country not only on their Western borders, but also one that forms a crucially strategic supply corridor for the 19 crack Soviet divisions in East Germany.

So immediate Soviet strategy is to grant limited economic aid -- new talks in Moscow opened Sept. 10 -- and to lean heavily on the new Polish leader, Stanislaw Kania, to delay and frustrate as much as possible concessions already made.

But it will be agonizing difficult. Polish strike leader Lech Walesa has said his men will go out on strike again if the concessions have not been fulfilled by Dec. 16 -- the 10th anniversary of the deaths of workers in the Gdansk rioting of 1970.

Western analysts believe the Kremlin cannot afford to see more strikes in Poland. If there are, Leonid Brezhnev and his colleagues might well make the momentous decision to send in Soviet troops.

That would ot only touch off protracted fighting with fiercely nationalistic and Roman Catholic Polish soldiers and civilians alike, but would wipe out any lingering hopes of an upturn in international detente.

Already the West, led by the United States, is maneuvering in Madrid to launch a fullscale verbal onslaught against moscow for its invasion of Afghanistan last December. This would come in November when the Madrid talks on European security gets under way.

A Soviet invasion of Poland would harden already strong right-wing opinion in the United States. It would half preliminary moves in both Wasington and Moscow to resume arms control talks. It would end Moscow's effort, for the time being, to split apart NATO European allies from Washington over a variety of defense and economic issues. The Soviets would sooner resort to backstage methods than take overt action against Polish strikers and workers.

New Polish party chief Kania is telling Polish workers that his government will honor the Gdansk concessions, but he has indicated that workers in 15 regions across the country must end their strikes if the government is to continue to take a conciliatory line.