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Ten days that may shape the Kremlin future

By Joseph C. Harsch / November 19, 1982



Seldom in history has a new figure emerged on the world stage so fast and started operating so intelligently so early. Clearly Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov will be a formidable opponent for the West.

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He got himself acknowledged as the new leader of the Soviet power system within 25 hours of the announcement of his predecessor's passing. Three days later he played important power politics just by extra handshakes and extra attention to one particular person coming down the receiving line in St. George's Hall in the Kremlin immediately after the burial of Leonid Brezhnev.

While this has not been another ''10 days that shook the world,'' it has been a 10 days of surprises and interesting hints of changes to come.

The man who was held longest in the receiving line was the foreign minister of Moscow's biggest and by far most important neighbor, China. The biggest possible change in the power balance would be for China to slip out of the Western orbit and cast its weight back on the side of the Soviets.

Mr. Andropov did not bring China back into the Soviet orbit just by extra handshakes and by inviting Huang Hua to stay over another two days for talks with Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. But Mr. Huang was invited to stay over and did have a much-advertised 90-minute session with Mr. Gromyko on Tuesday of this week, which was day No. 5 in the reign of Yuri Andropov.

Inevitably every foreign office the world around took careful note of this special attention bestowed by the new head man at the Kremlin on the foreign minister of China. Subsequent Japanese reports from Moscow quoted a member of the Soviet Central Committee as saying that Moscow and Peking ''might promise each other a reduction of military forces in border areas'' - one of China's prerequisites for normalizing relations.

Noted too was the further fact that special attention was accorded during the Brezhnev funeral days not only to China, but also to all the other important neighbors of the Soviet Union. On the day of the funeral, after the big reception, Mr. Andropov went to an inner small reception room and there gave special 30-minute audiences to the top delegates of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan , and West Germany.

And, perhaps not coincidentally, on the previous day the military government of Poland had released Polish worker hero Lech Walesa back to his home and family. Polish Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, in Moscow on the funeral day, told members of the Greek delegation that he expected to lift martial law in Poland within two months.

The lifting of martial law in Poland would be an enormous relief to the West Germans. Any reduction of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan would be an equal relief to Pakistan, India, and China. If Mr. Andropov would actually move toward less oppressive treatment of Poland, military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and reduced border tensions with China, he could rescue the Soviet Union from its present condition of near-isolation in the world.