US revives postwar policy: restrain USSR

It appears unlikely that the Kremlin will feel under too much pressure from world and US reactions to its intervention in Afghanistan -- at least in the near future.

From the pragmatic Moscow point of view, President Carter's package of retaliatory measures puts the Soviets under no deadlines or ultimatums. His measures have little immediate effect other than symbolizing American concern.

Soviet reaction so far has been stern, but relatively calm. Judging by Soviet coverage of the Security Council so far, the Soviets will veto any resolution on Afghanistan. Besides, when the chips are down, Moscow does not take the United Nations as a genuine force in power politics.

Meanwhile, as Moscow sees it, a potential disaster on its sensitive southern border has been averted. The late President Hafizullah Amin, with whom Moscow had quarrelled repeatedly over the direction of the war, has been removed. A man favoring Moscow's current line of public reconciliation within Afghanistan has been installed and is supported by force.

The threat of a three-nation chain of anti- Soviet Islamic nationalist governments (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan) bordering on five of the 15 Soviet republics has been defused. And, it is suspected here, some Kremlin leaders may feel the United States has been taught a lesson that goes roughly like this:

"You have caused detente to go downhill by stalling SALT II, overreacting to the fall of the Shah by sending naval ships toward Iran, and you're boosting defense spending over the next five years and putting new missiles into Western Europe. Well, worsen detente if you will, but the price is high."

The Soviets may also hope the message gets through to Peking: "We are not like the US in Iran. We don't hang back when we're in trouble. We act -- and you should bear that in mind as we continue our talks with you soon in Peking."

The big question now is whether, over the long haul, Moscow's blunt move into Afghanistan might end up alarming and galvanizing more nations around the world than Moscow anticipated.

Already, the US is beefing up its naval presence in the Indian Ocean because of Iran and now will be strengthened in its determination. Washington is looking for new bases and port facilities. It is paying new attention to Turkey , another Soviet neighbor -- and these kinds of solid, military-based moves tend to worry the Kremlin far more than verbal denunciations and rhetoric. The Soviets study what Washington does more than what it says.

The longer the Soviet troops remain in Afghanistan, the more world opinion could swing against the Soviets. And it is likely the troops will remain to protect the new leader, Babrak Karmal, for several months at a minimum.

The Soviets also have to answer, over the long term, the charge that there is not only a Brezhnev doctrine but also a Brezhnev strategy. The doctrine: Moscow can intervene with force when it sees a communist government threatened (as it did in Hungary and Czechoslovakia). The strategy: Support detente, but define it so as to call for intense peaceful competition and Soviet military intervention when Moscow sees fit.

Meanwhile, the formal Soviet reaction to Mr. Carter's retaliation measures came late Jan. 6 in a Tass statement authorized at the highest Kremlin levels. It followed a preliminary Tass report published in Pravda Jan. 6 and a commentary intended for overseas consumption only.

The formal Tass reply said it was "hopeless" to try and pressure the Soviet Union.The US had overestimated what the US could achieve and underestimated the Soviet capacity to rise above US steps.

It made Soviet grain purchases -- usually a taboo subject in public here to avoid admitting that the Soviets need US grain as livestock feed and for top-quality bread -- seem a favor to the US made to strengthen detente. US farmers would be the ones to suffer.

As seen from here, the Carter measures appear to be having minimal effects because:

* The Soviets need only 45 million tons of grain a year for bread. Even last year's poor harvest was 179 million tons. Most of the US grain (especially corn) feeds livestock, which now may have to be killed early for lack of feed. This means more meat available soon, and less later. The long-suffering Soviet consumer will simply have to tighten his belt.

* The Soviets saw SALT II being delayed continually anyway. They may well feel, as others do, that the US will have no alternative but to return to the SALT concept -- just as it did when the outcry over the dissident trials in 1978 faded away.

* No new consulates and fewer cultural and scientific exchanges are more symbolic than real measures. The Soviets are not really worried about the first and can live with the latter. They may welcome the chance to keep some ballet dancers at home after recent defections. Besides, the Soviets think the US has a short memory and will soon forget.

Moscow may be more concerned about the loss of fishing rights in US waters. The Soviet Union needs fish to make up for the protein lost by lack of meat. It may not be easy to convince other countries to increase already agreed on quotas in 200-mile offshore zones.

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