Moscow — Moscow has issued a sharp verbal response to France's expulsion of 47 Soviet officials on charges of spying. But foreign diplomats assume the reaction, in the form of a terse dispatch from the Soviet news agency Tass, is only an initial countermove. The assumption is that the Soviets will order out a number of French officials soon.
The scale of any such reciprocal move is expected to offer one sign of overall Kremlin strategy for handling the expulsion issue. Some diplomats here argue that, despite the initial verbal blast from Tass April 6, the Soviets may move in such a way as to limit further damage to already strained relations with Paris.
The Tass item denounced the French expulsion as ''absolutely arbitrary'' and said the Soviets were booted out on ''obviously fabricated pretexts.''
Tass said that in protesting the expulsion, the Foreign Ministry and the Soviet Embassy in Paris had stressed ''that responsibility for consequences to Soviet-French relations rested entirely'' with Paris.
Soviet-French relations had already cooled decidedly since Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand's 1981 presidential victory over Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
As a Soviet source has put it, President Giscard had exhibited a tendency to ''look through his fingers'' on potentially divisive issues like Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in favor of general emphasis on the value of East-West detente. On a number of foreign policy issues, Mr. Mitterrand has offered more outspoken criticism of Soviet policy.
Oddly enough, a visit to Moscow earlier this year by French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson was understood to have gone some way toward putting Franco-Soviet ties back on track.
Some foreign diplomats suggest that an early indication of Soviet thinking could come in the shape of a reaction from the French Communist Party, a junior partner in Mitterrand's coalition. If Moscow chooses a relatively cautious tack, the diplomats suggest, Moscow will presumably be advising the pro-Soviet French party to avoid an overly radical response, such as withdrawal from the coalition.