Athens — As relations between Athens and Washington have soured in the last 21/2 years , those between Greece and the Soviet Union have - on the surface at least - become warmer than ever before.
The Greek government recently announced that Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou will visit the Soviet Union in January or February of 1985. The trip has symbolic importance because Greece, although a member of NATO, gets along very badly with the US and the alliance in general.
Since taking power in 1981, Mr. Papandreou has often opposed the positions of his Western allies. For example, he refused to condemn the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 7 by a Soviet jet, dissented against Western policy toward Poland, and opposed deploying of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe.
Moreover, Mr. Papandreou will go to Moscow without having visited Washington. The heads of government of NATO countries usually make a pilgrimage to Washington, particularly if they plan to go to Moscow. Traditionally the head of government holding the six-month presidency of the European Community goes to Washington when and if he visits the United States.
When Papandreou was president of the Community during the second half of 1983 , he canceled plans to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York, reportedly because the Reagan administration had let it be understood that a visit to Washington would not be necessary.
Papandreou has always said he wanted to give Greece an independent foreign policy, one whose long-term objective was the dissolution of both blocs and the establishment of a united Europe, including the countries of both East and West.
By taking independent positions within the Atlantic alliance, improving relations with its Balkan neighbors, and promoting independent initiatives such as the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Balkans, Greece hopes it can produce at least a local thaw in the East-West cold war and perhaps reduce the threat of all-out war.
Washington has not appreciated these efforts. One reason is that in Washington's view Papandreou has not merely adopted a policy of equilibrium between the US and the Soviet Union, but his positions and declarations are often in tone, if not in substance, openly anti-American and sometimes pro-Soviet.
For example, he told the congress of his Panhellenic Socialist Movement last May that Washington was the ''metropolis of imperialism'' while Moscow was hegemenistic for defensive reasons.
Greek foreign policy since 1981 contains as many elements of continuity as change.
The move to improve relations with the Balkan states and the Arab countries of the Middle East and efforts to ameliorate relations with Moscow were begun by Constantine Caramanlis, the former conservative prime minister who is now president of the republic.
But Mr. Karamanlis and his immediate successor, George Rallis, were both firmly pro-Western and did not engage in the sort of anti-American rhetoric and posturing that has become the trademark of Papandreou's policies.
As a result, and even though the substance of Greece's relationship with the West - the US bases on Greek soil and Greece's membership in the EC and in NATO - has not altered, relations between Washington and Athens have been in deep crisis.
Although Moscow clearly appreciates Papandreou's independent foreign policy, Athens has little of substance to show for its efforts.
Economic cooperation between Greece and the East bloc, for example, has not increased markedly, in part because the East has little to offer Greece and in part because Greek membership in the EC and longstanding trade patterns do not enourage any such shift.
Even an agreement signed with the Soviet Union in July - whereby Moscow will help finance and build a $500 million alumina plant on Mt. Parnassus and will buy two-thirds of its production for 10 years at subsidized prices - was the brainchild of Papandreou's conservative predecessors.
The domestic benefits of this policy are more difficult to estimate. Despite the tense relations between the pro-Moscow Greek Communist Party and Papandreou's Socialist government, the Communists - who have a great deal of influence in the unions and are very well organized - have done nothing forceful to support their violent opposition to his economic policies.
Polls indicate that Papandreou's foreign policy is the core of his popularity. A recent poll by Eurodim revealed that the Greeks view Turkey (91 percent) and the United States (55 percent) as far greater threats to Greece than the Soviet Union (22 percent, only 3 percent more than Albania).
Moscow recently announced that the new Soviet ambassador to Athens will be Igor Andropov, son of the late Soviet leader. His appointment is considered by many in Athens as a sign that the Kremlin takes its relationship with Greece very seriously.
But in the end, as a Western diplomat put it, ''If you put the sum total of the substance of Papandreou's relations with the United States on one side of the scale and with the Soviets on the other, there is no comparison. What you hear may be annoying, but it's not what you are getting.''