Soviets relax bear hug on Poland
The Soviet Union seems to have reconciled itself to plans for an emergency meeting of the Polish Communist Party congress July 14, despite earlier warnings from Moscow that the meeting could turn into a platform for "antisocialists."Skip to next paragraph
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This is how most Western diplomats are reading a joint Soviet-Polish communique released here late July 5, its general business- as-usual tone in sharp contrast to Soviet criticism and alarm conveyed to Polish Communist leaders in a note one month ago.
But the Soviets' "Polish crisis" is by no means over, and the latest communique closes no Kremlin options in dealing with it.
The statement, following a visit to Warsaw by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, could also, conceivably, mean a lot less than the diplomats say it does.
In early August 1968, a similarly low-key communique followed a Warsaw Pact summit amid the crisis over reform in Czechoslovakia. Foreign analysts breathed a sigh of relief. Barely two weeks later, a Soviet-led invasion force rumbled into Prague.
The two situations are different. But the parallel is helpful, if only as a reminder of how little any outside analyst can say with confidence about Soviet policy intentions.
But for the time being, the strong consensus among foreign diplomats in the Soviet capital is that the emergency Polish Communist congress will go ahead as planned despite concerns the Kremlin had voiced earlier. Soviet policy beyond the congress is seen as largely dependent on what that conference produces and on how Polish reformists act after it is over.
The diplomats suggest several reasons for assuming that Moscow has reconciled itself to plans for the Polish congress, only one of which is the wording of the July 5 communique.
A Soviet move to get the conference postponed, it is argued here, could risk bringing Poles into the streets, in effect diminishing the Kremlin's nonmilitary options for dealing with the Polish crisis.
And whatever the ultimate aim of Soviet warnings over the coming congress, they seem to have helped limit moves to dump Polish hard-liners in the elections of delegates to the congress.
Under strong pressure from Moscow -- its June letter to the Poles warned that "opportunists" might use the congress to try to "liquidate . . . the party" -- Polish Communist leader Stanislaw Kania lobbied to get prominent conservatives in his Politburo elected as delegates. The rank and file obliged.
None of this necessarily means the official Soviet press will calmly pack up its typewriters and watch in polite silence as the Polish congress unfolds.
Pressure on the Poles has been central to the Soviets' handling of the Polish crisis from the start. If anything, this pressure would seem likely to increase with the approach of a congress that could yet produce results the Kremlin feels unable to accept.
Some diplomats here also see military pressure -- presumably through renewed Warsaw Pact military exercises -- as a possibility.
The latest Soviet-Polish communique signals no change in the substance of Kremlin policy on Poland. Although there was no direct reference to reformist pressure from within Poland, there were references to "developments" and "events" there, followed by the reaffirmation that, "Poland was, is, and will continue to be a firm link in the socialist community."
There was also what amounted to a restatement of the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, whereby a threat to the socialist system in any Warsaw Pact nation is deemed dangerous to the entire alliance.
"The defense of the gains of socialism in the Polish People's Republic," the statement said, "is inseparable from the questions of independence and sovereignty of the Polish state and from the security and inviolability of its borders [by the West].
"These questions not only affect Poland but are vitally important to the entire socialist community."