Moscow — ''We don't get involved in the domestic politics of the USA.'' The speaker, a well-informed Soviet official, wryly adds, ''The fact is we are not very good at it when we try.''
The uncharacteristic self-deprecation notwithstanding, the statement clearly misses the mark during this United States presidential election year.
By agreeing to a meeting between Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and President Reagan, the Soviets have unquestionably plunged themselves into the American elections. The meeting will take place a scant five weeks before Americans go to the polls.
One reason the meeting between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gromyko continues to puzzle Western analysts here is that, until now, the Soviets had made it clear they would relish a Reagan defeat in November. And Soviet officials have privately stressed that they would do nothing that might conceivably aid the President's re-election.
In fact, Moscow is as deeply concerned about the US elections as any American ward heeler. And it maintains a small army of analysts and propagandists to collect information - and to publicize the Kremlin's views of the American elections.
The effort is spearheaded principally by four bodies, each with close ties to the others: the KGB (secret police), the American department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Institute of US and Canadian Studies of the Academy of Sciences, and the propaganda and international information departments of the Communist Party.
These organizations collect and analyze information about American politics, inform the ruling Politburo of their findings, and recommend how the Soviet Union ought to respond. The Politburo then sets the policy, and the party and government apparatus dutifully carry it out.
The information is garnered in a variety of ways. Moscow, of course, has political attaches at its embassy in Washington who contribute on-the-scene reports. American newspapers are carefully scrutinized, and visiting US officials often questioned on specific points. Some go away impressed with the detailed knowledge of their Soviet questioners, and some are even unnerved - especially given the US's own paucity of information about internal Kremlin politics.
When the policy is formulated, heavy reliance is placed on the state-controlled news media to make it known.
The Soviet Union's newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV speak with virtually one voice when it comes to American politics.
All dwell upon basically the same themes. The chief difference among them is the degree of lucidity or rhetorical zeal they employ.
To be sure, there are some political commentators, such as Alexander Bovin of the government daily Izvestia or Fyodor Burlatsky of the weekly Literary Gazette , who use traditional methods of logic, reason, and persuasion to argue Moscow's case.
But they are more than offset by the excesses of the majority of commentators , such as Soviet television's Genrikh Borovik or Yuri Kornilov of the official Soviet news agency, Tass.
Mr. Kornilov, for example, wrote during the Republican convention that the party's platform ''is the expression of . . . the most aggressive, reactionary, right-wing conservative forces of the country.''
Further, he added, the Republican Party's foreign policy is marked by ''raging militarism'' leading to a ''reckless, unprecedented arms race, which pushes the world to the abyss of nuclear self-destruction. . . .''
Other Tass commentators have helpfully informed readers that the Republican Party platform, a ''platform of aggression and piracy,'' has as its ''architects'' people who ''have institutionalized terror, diktat, and blackmail.''
The official media also inveigh against ''Reaganomics'' (''a cynical, selfish policy''), alleged corruption within the Reagan administration, and suggestions that it has links with organized crime.
Although most of the coverage - not to mention the vilification - is reserved for the Republicans, the Democrats don't fare that much better. Some commentaries have suggested that Democratic policies are only slightly less onerous than Republican ones.
The official Communist Party daily Pravda, for example, reported that the Democratic convention was like ''a noisy theatrical performance,'' but was actually brokered behind the scenes ''in the rooms and corridors of the expensive hotels where the leading politicians, bankers, and other influential people in the Democratic Party were staying.''
The platform, said Pravda, contained a few sound planks, but also ''a good many standard anti-Soviet fabrications and all sorts of anticommunist attacks that could have been borrowed from the lexicon of the current Republican administration.''
All in all, Pravda concluded, the Democrats faced an ''uphill battle.''