Poland after Gromyko

Everyone knows the Russians are deeply worried about the historic events taking place in Poland. The question inevitably is: worried enough to move troops in to put down the popular movement for democratization? Now that Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko has come and gone from Warsaw, those watching the unfolding drama can still say, "Not for the moment. So far so good."

The joint communique issued following the Gromyko meeting indicates that the Russians have accepted the holding of the upcoming special Polish party congress at which Poland's future political and economic course is to be determined. Whether their restraint continues will depend on the outcome of that all-important gathering. Presumably Moscow has been somewhat relieved by the fact that President Kania managed to maneuver the election of many party conservatives as delegates to the congress as a counterweight to the many unionists and reformers also chosen. The challenge before Poland now will be to maintain a sufficient political balance in the new leadership so as to satisfy Moscow that the communist party has not lost control of events, i.e. that "good communists" have not been sacrificed in favor of "anti-Soviet" radical reformers.

The Gromyko talks may prove useful to Mr. Kania. The President's position has been greatly strengthened both within the party and among the Polish people by the recent heavy-handed attempt of the Kremlin to undermine him. He stood up openly and forthrightly against Moscow's charges that the party was under attack by subversive elements and this boosted his stature in Pole's eyes. Now he can use the Gromyko visit in the other direction -- to warn the party that it must be careful to elect a Central Committee and Politburo acceptable to the Kremlin. Given the mood among the out-and-out reformers, this obviously will be no easy task. Yet the Poles have managed their "renewal" movement with such political finesse so far that hope remains they will succeed.

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One thing is abundantly clear. The threshold of Soviet tolerance has to do with Soviet security interests in Eastern Europe. The Joint communique, while it said virtually nothing about Poland's domestic affairs, pointedly reaffirmed Poland's status as a member of the Warsaw Pact alliance and the right of the Soviet-bloc countries to intervene to defend "the gains of socialism" in a member nation. The Russians thus seem reconciled to tolerating a large measure of liberalization in Poland as long as they do not see this linked with an effort to revise the security and border arrangements worked out in the aftermath of World War II. Needless to say, the Poles have been scrupulously careful to assure Moscow of their loyalty to the Soviet bloc and may have even welcomed this opportunity to reaffirm their support. Indeed Poles fully recognize the role of the Russians in protecting their postwar borders.

However, in light of the Kremlin's extreme sensitivity on the question, it is important that the West give the Russians no excuse for alarm. Statements like the one by President Reagan suggesting that the Soviet empire is beginning to fall apart simply add gratuitously to Soviet anxieties. They could spark a dangerous reaction as the Russians feel compelled to prove that they are in command. This is not to deny the truth of the analysis, but such statements are best left for private co nversation, not public pronouncements.

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