A Soviet "peace offensive" aimed at splitting the Western allies over the issue of Afghanistan is well under way. But another kind of Soviet activity that is anything but peaceful and friendly -- spying -- continues, and may have intensified.
All the indications are that since the invasion of Afghanistan, Soviet agents are doing anything but lying low. Over the past two months, half a dozen Soviet officials have been thrown out of, or felt compelled to leave, an equal number of countries allied with, or friendly with, the United States.
In each case, Soviet officials have been accused of espionage or other improper activity. At a time when one would think the Soviets would have every interest in trying to woo those countries friendly with the United States away from the US position on Afghanistan, these incidents have been at the least in irritant.
In one country, Japan, the sale of secrets to a Soviet military attache has amounted to a scandal and the biggest spy case since World War II.
Has there been an upsurge in Soviet spying? Several experts guess that the answer is yes. They suggest that what has been detected lately is only the "tip of the iceberg" and that just as they have become more assertive in a number of other fields, so have the Soviets become more assertive in spying.
But other experts say no to speculation about an upsurge. They do not argue with evidence that the Soviets steadily increased their espionage activities around the world from the early 1960s onward. But they think that the new element in the picture is not only increase in soviet espionage activities, but the attitude of a number of nations toward those activities.
They suggest that since the invasion of Afghanistan, a number of countries have become less tolerant of Soviet spying. In the past, they say, some might have considered it in the interest of detente to wink at certain spy work.
"I think it's fair to say that most governments around the world now are a little more suspicious of the soviets and probably prepared to be a little tougher," said Malcom toon, former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union.
"In the past, some countries, including our own, have handled this sort of thing quietly, or overlooked it in the interest of maintaining good relations," Mr. Toon added.
The two US government agencies best qualified to analyze all this, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have declined to comment. But foreign diplomats say that in several cases recently, the Soviet spying was so blatant and so serious that there would have been no question of overlooking the violations under any circumstances.
A Canadian diplomat, for example, said that "we told the Russians in February , 1978, that we want these activities to desist. They just flagrantly went ahead and started it all over again."
On Jan. 21, Canada disclosed that it had ordered the expulsion of two Soviet Embassy military attaches and an embassy chauffeur because of espionage against the United States.this involved payments of $100,000 and clandestine meetings with an unnamed US citizen. The Canadian government said the expulsions were not related to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Other recent incidents have involved:
* The alleged sale of documents by a retired Japanese major general to a Soviet military attache. Japan's Army chief of staff resigned and 10 other senior military officers were disciplined. The Soviet attache left for Moscow befor he could be questioned.
* Expulsion of a Soviet "commercial officer" in Marseilles, France, after he was apprehended photogrphing documents described as having "important value of the French national defense."
* Expulsion of the Soviet Ambassador to New Zealand after he was detected giving money to a small, leftist political party.
* Expulsion by Spain of the Soviet Embassy's second secretary and the Madrid director of the Soviet airline Aeroflot.