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Soviets on defensive in Poland

By Ned TemkoStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 21, 1981



Moscow

The Polish leadership's latest concessions to reformist pressure seem, initially at least, to have put Soviet policymakers on the defensive. Diplomats here sense a process of stock-taking by the Kremlin, with particular attention to a planned special congress of the Polish Communist Party.

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But they differ on how long the process will --

Some Western analysts are suggesting it may peak before the congress, set for sometime before July 20 and widely expected to consolidate major changes in Polish political life.

East European diplomats say private comments by Soviet officials suggest that , barring major unrest within Poland before the congress, the Kremlin would rather get a good look at the situation there after the party meeting before reevaluating Soviet policy on the crisis.

"My impression is that if Moscow could have its way, they'd just as soon see the congress take place tomorrow, and be done with it," commented one East European analyst.

Two related elements are now seen as key to what has seemed an ever-shifting "limit" to Soviet tolerance in the Polish crisis.

The first is what Soviet officials like to term the "leading role" of Poland's beleaguered communist rulers.

The second is Poland's reliability as a partner in the East-bloc defensive alliance, or Warsaw Pact.

Soviet officials are said to be particularly concerned at the possibility of a trial of Polish security men accused of beating union militants in a clash March 19.

"This could seriously undermine cohesion and morale in the Polish military," suggested one East European diplomat privately. "It clearly concerns the Soviet Union."

Meanwhile, the Soviets' initially restrained reaction to the latest round of concessions by the Polish leadership has reinforced the impression among analysts here that Kremlin firefighters are puzzled over just how to deal with the flame of reformism in Poland.

Publicly the Soviets have ruled out no options. Virtually no one here expects them to do so in the near future -- even, in return for lifting of the Americans' partial grain embargo, as the US secretary of commerce has hinted.

But at this writing, Moscow has not visibly ruled inm any options, either.

And even by local standards, it has taken the Soviets an uncommonly long time to react to two recent Polish events that can have caused little joy in the Kremlin.

Some 500 grass-roots members of the Polish Communist Party met April 15 in the town of Torun, calling for extensive party reform and the dismissal of hard-liners in the central leadership.

Only two days before the meeting, at least tacitly allowed by Warsaw party leaders, the Soviet party newspaper Pravda had scored such reformers as ideological deviants playing into the hands of Polish anti-communists.

Late April 17, Polish authorities dropped their seven-month resistance to formation of an independent union of private farmers, called "Rural Solidarity," after its industrial older brother.

Polish leaders, in remarks highlighted in the official Soviet news media, had earlier denounced the farm union's organizers as political "gamblers" intent on dividing Poland's peasantry.

At this writing April 20, the Soviets have said nothing publicly about the Torun party meeting.

The official Soviet news agency, Tass, meanwhile, quoted Polish reports in a brief April 19 announcement of the recognition of Rural Solidarity.

The Tass dispatch, in effect looking on the bright side of things, stressed that the farm union, like the original Solidarity, had formally accepted the "guiding" role of com munism in Polish society.