This past week opened with just about everyone outside of the Soviet Union saying and doing anything they could think of saying or doing that just possibly might cause the men in the kremlin notm to do what they obviously are prepared tom do to Poland.
What they were prepared to do was to convert Poland from a nominally independent but allied country into an area like East Germany that is simply occupied Soviet troops.
That the Soviets can do it beyond doubt. Two Soviet armored divisions are in key positions inside Poland itself. Some 60 more Soviet divisions -- roughly one-third of the entire armed might of the USSR -- surround Poland.The Polish Army has 15 divisions.
Both pleas and warnings poured in on the Kremlin from all quarters -- including Communist parties inside the Warsaw Pact area and in the outside world. The Yugoslav government, although officially communist and "nonaligned," was among those openly expressing its "deep anxiety" over Soviet troop preparations and their implications. Romania, although a member of the Warsaw Pact, is known to have said the same sort of things privately.
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev got a taste of this concern running through the outside world when he arrived Dec. 8 in India in the hope of finding some sympathy and perhaps even a little support. But his motorcade from the airport to New Delhi was forced to detour to avoid demonstrators and demonstrations. Posters that greeted him on the streets of New Delhi called him a "butcher" and instructed him, "Keep off of Afghanistan and Poland." Police had to break up a crowd in front of the Soviet Embassy. And Prime Minister indira Gandhi received Mr. Brezhnev with studied coolness.
The official subject of their first two-hour meeting was a matter closer and more important to India than Poland. Afghanistan is next door to India -- just over the Khyber Pass. Soviet troops have been bombing, strafing, and killing Afghan men, women, and children systematically for nearly a year. India has had a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union for 10 years and likes to keep on the friendly side of that great power to balance off the weight of China along its own northern frontier.
But the Soviet presence in Afghanistan is disturbing to India and its government. This is partly because Afghanistan was always a comfortable cushion between India and the empire ruled from Moscow. It is also because the roads south from Afghanistan lead through Pakistan, and if someone else is going to have Pakistan some day, it is India that expects to be that someone.
The separation of Pakistan from India was done when the British departed at the end of the British Raj. It has always been deeply resented in India. Any Soviet move into Pakistan would be regarded in India as a hostile act.
Poland is on the far side of the Soviet empire from India. But if the Soviets send their tanks rolling over all Poland, one more precedent is established for this kind of use of Soviet tanks. If they will do it to Afghanistan and to Poland, why not to Iran and Pakistan? And Moscow is already heavily and deeply involved in Vietnam and in Vietnam's recent conquest of Cambodia. Much as India may want to consider the Soviets as friends, that would be difficult should the Soviets move deeper into Asia.
India has looked to Moscow for military weapons and other forms of friendship and support ever since the Chinese attacked along the disputed northern border between India and China and humiliated the Indian Army. The affair began in October of 1959. There have been several subsequent moves by one or the other to regain easy relations, but all have broken down.
The last such effort was just before the Chinese invaded Vietnam. A reconciliation seemed to be under way. High level official visits were arranged. And then Chinese troops invaded Vietnam. The foreign minister hurried home in some embarrassment.
But things have changed since last Christmas with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They would undoubtedly change further if those Soviet tanks roll once more, this time over Poland. Mr. Brezhnev had a chance during his New Delhi visit to learn a little more about the price that must be paid for the use of armed force as an instrument of imperial policy.
The "forward" strategy that Moscow unleashed a year ago already has shaken the world and changed many a calculation and intention. It have marvelously revived the NATO alliance. It has helped elect Ronald Reagan. It has committed the incoming US administration to heavy defense spending. And it has cooled Mrs. Gandhi's attitude toward the men of Moscow. Much more of such "forward" action from Moscow and there might even be reconciliation between China and India.
But as the week began the men in the Kremlin faced a serious problem. The price for rolling over Poland and extinguishing its nominal independence would be high. But the price for failing to do so could be higher still. The Soviet military position in Central Europe is at stake.
The one thing Moscow valued most out of its gains at the end of World War II was that position in Central Europe. It fought that war against a powerful Germany. It came out of the war wanting and demanding protection against a revival of German power. It seized that protection for itself in the form of the military occupation of the eastern part of Germany.
As long as a Soviet army sits on the East Germans, Moscow can feel secure against a German revival. But the Soviet position would disappear if Moscow lost control of Poland. The loss of Poland would automatically and inevitably lead to the eventual loss by Moscow of control over East Germany, Czechoslovakia , and Hungary.
There would then be nothing left of what the men of Moscow regard as their just compensation for the enormous losses they suffered during World War II.