Kremlin has begun a three-pronged public and private counterattack to limit the damage of the US Olympic Committee's (USOC) decision to boycott the Moscow Olympic Games July 19 to Aug. 3.
The Soviet aim is to persuade other countries, especially in Western Europe and the third world, not to follow the United States example and diminish the stature of the Moscow games still further.
For Moscow, it is mainly an issue of international prestige. Never before has a communist country hosted the Olympic Games. The Soviet Communist Party has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to build and renovate 99 separate stadiums and hotels and other buildings in a massive effort to showcase to a worldwide audience its achievements since 1917.
Soviet prestige is already damaged by the mere existence of a boycott movement involving the US. The Soviet effort now is essentially rearguard damage limitation.
The Soviets realize only too well that without the US, track and field, swimming, boxing, basketball, as well as some other events, will be below Olympic standards.
In public, Soviet officials are condemning President Carter for using what the Tass news agency has referred to as "blackmail" against US athletes. Moscow also claims the USOC vote will have little impact on the games. The Vice-President of the Soviet organizing committee, Vladimir Popov, said in Budapest after the vote he did not think other governments or national Olympic committees would be influenced because they saw the vote taken "under pressure."
Despite this public blandness, Soviet officials are thought to be considerably upset, even though they expected it. Partly in response to Moscow requests, Olympic executives will hold a special meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland April 21 to 23.
If fighting in Afghanistan itself should flare up in the next few months, with Soviet forces killing rebel guerrillas in encounters highly publicized by the US, the boycott movement could grow stronger.
Privately, the Soviets are adopting a double stance:
1. They are intensifying their lobbying efforts in West European capitals and in Tokyo to convince US allies to ignore the USOC vote. They want as many as possible of the 97 committees who have not yet replied to the formal International Olympic Committee (IOC) invitation to go to Moscow to say "yes." (Forty countries have agreed to compete. Seven have refused: Saudi Arabia, Malawi, Honduras, Albania, Kenya, Paraguay, and Chile.)
2. The Soviets will try to persuade the IOC in Lausanne to relax the Olympic rule forbidding individual athletes from competing on their own, without being sponsored by their national Olympic committees.
Both efforts face difficulties.
West Germany is the key to the first effort. A French IOC member says that if West Germany does not go to Moscow, France will not either. Other Western European countries are watching Bonn, too.
Meanwhile, the president of the West German Olympic Committee, Willi Daume, was quoted as saying that without the Americans, medals won in Moscow would be worth only half as much. This is exactly the kind of comment the Soviets deplore.
Western sources in Moscow believe the Germans will delay decision until May 24, the last date on which committees can make up their minds. They believe the West Germans will certainly stay away if the Americans do.