Soviets woo India to buy arms

The six-day visit to India by Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov is decidedly high profile. He is being accorded the full honors of a visiting chief of state.

This is an indication of the priority with which both New Delhi and Moscow view the trip, and New Delhi's pleasure that India was chosen as the first foreign visit by a ranking Soviet leader since Yuri Andropov's death.

Marshal Ustinov's message has been clear - the superiority of Soviet weapons over those of the West, particularly West Germany, Britain, and France, with whom India is currently engaged in arms negotiations.

A pledge that defense cooperation between India and the Soviet Union will ''continue to grow in both dimension and substance'' has already been publicly made. This pledge underlines that, despite New Delhi's efforts to diversify its sources of arms, its vast military arsenal will continue to be based on Soviet weapons.

Predictable concern has been expressed by the two countries over US arms supplies to Pakistan and over the US naval buildup in the Indian Ocean. It is expected that the communique at visit's end Saturday will include a call for a United Nations conference to ''guarantee the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace.''

But missing from official Indian pronouncements is the strident tone that once dominated Indian foreign policy.

''We are neither pro-Western nor pro-Soviet, but pro-Indian,'' Mrs. Gandhi has been saying. This new emphasis is the crystalization of an approach of winning new friends and, at the same time, reassuring old foes.

Despite a number of setbacks provoked by all sides, the prime minister has sustained the momentum of bilateral talks. These include talks with China and Pakistan to settle disputes that are entering their 22nd and 36th year, respectively.

There is speculation that the trickiest issues in the talks with Ustinov were Moscow's growing concerns about India's efforts to diversify its arms and about the 105,000 Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Gandhi is negotiating the purchase of the high-performance Jaguar aircraft from Britain and of 40 of France's Mirage 2000 fighters.

Although India has never condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it has strong objections to the Soviet presence there. The dichotomy between its public and private positions has proved increasingly uncomfortable since it assumed the leadership of the nonaligned movement.

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