Brezhnev turns from Poland to arms talks; Delicate Polish decision postponed
The Kremlin is postponing as long as possible the agonizing decision of whether or not to invade Poland. To disguise their dilemma, however, the Soviets are stepping up the psychological pressure on Poland -- while at the same time making diplomatic moves toward the West.Skip to next paragraph
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This is the view of some foreign-affairs analysts following the April 2-4 visit of West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to Moscow.
The psychological pressure on Poland has taken the form of explicit comparisons between Poland in 1981 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, along with advance military preparation for any invasion. The parallels between Poland and Czechoslovakia were drawn at this week's Czechoslovak Communist Party congress by both Czechoslovak party chief Gustav Husak and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev.
The military preparations have included mobilization of Warsaw Pact forces on the Polish borders and maintenance of this mobilization since last December; the implementation of all logistical, technical, and organizational measures needed for any intervention; and the just-concluded three-week-long Warsaw Pact maneuvers in and around Poland.
Meanwhile, Soviet diplomatic moves toward the West include one substantive offer and one ceremonial gesture. The substantive offer is the first indication of a serious Soviet interest in negotiating European nuclear arms ceilings -- and even deep cuts. The ceremonial gesture is Mr. Brezhnev's plan to visit West Germany in the near future, in response to a standing invitation issued during West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's trip to Moscow last summer.
The indication of Soviet seriousness about negotiating European nuclear arms control came on the second day of Mr. Genscher's Moscow visit, the Monitor has learned. On the first day, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko did little more than repeat Mr. Brezhnev's Soviet proposal of last February for a moratorium on "Eurostrategic" (European-based, medium-range weapons). This proposal is regarded as just a propaganda ploy by the West, which views it as an attempt to freeze the current Soviet Eurostrategic superiority.
On the second day, however, the Soviets dropped their single focus on the moratorium and told Mr. Genscher they were ready to compare figures and start negotiating with the Americans -- and that deep reductions in the medium-range weapons would be possible if the US "forward-based systems" in Western Europe were included.
This reply was a notable change from the Soviet position of the past two months. Ever since Brezhnev's original proposal, Soviet diplomats have simply repeated the call for a moratorium to Western colleagues without defining any real negotiating position. Moscow has thus seemed to be aiming not for mutually agreed arms restraint between governments, but rather for West European popular rejection of NATO (but not Soviet) Eurostrategic weapons. West German diplomats in particular have been telling the Soviets again and again that this propagandistic rather than diplomatic approach could only lose crucial time.
The announced Brezhnev visit to Bonn sometime this year seems more cosmetic. It is the one foreign capital Brezhnev can come to and give the appearance of action without having to make any real decisions, one source suggested.
Soviet movement on Eurostrategic arms control at just the point of increased Soviet pressure on Poland could be interpreted in different ways. Since the West has made it clear that a Soviet invasion of Poland would end the chances for arms control for a long time to come, the Soviets may either be hiding their true intent of invading Poland behind a false arms-control smoke screen -- or they could still be keeping their options open in both directions.
It is the latter view that some analysts here choose. Their reasoning goes like this:
The Kremlin failed to stem democratization in Poland when it could have done so at fairly low cost last September. Since then, however, the Polish free trade union Solidarity has become a mass patriotic movement; the hard-line Polish Communists, whom Moscow might have utilized last fall, have become demoralized; and the Soviet Union could not now depend on the Polish security forces and Army to suppress a Polish strike but would have to do the job itself if it is to be done.
The Kremlin's dilemma has thus grown to outsize proportions partly by the Soviets' own inactivity. Having lost much of the psychological deterrence of their military power and their political threats, they now seem to be more reluctant than ever to act.
In this situation a smoke screen of talking tough to Poland might gain time by discouraging further erosion of the Polish situation while postponing the awful final decision about intervention. This is a decision that the elderly Brezhnev is hardly capable of taking today. And if he did so, it could mean the end of his leadership.