The Kremlin, handed a propaganda windfall by the failure of the US raid into Iran, is working on at least three significant fronts to try to exploit it to the hilt.
It is telling the world, especially its own allies and the third world, that the "reckless" Mr. Carter is endangering global peace. The Tass news agency April 27 picked up what it said were New York reports that the raid was actually a possible coup against Ayatollah Khomeini himself.
It is hammering at Western Europe to make NATO allies believe Mr. Carter is far too unstable to be allowed to install and control medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
(It is also hinting the Soviet Union might cut back huge Soviet exports of oil to Western Europe unless NATO changes policies -- a threat Westerners here see as bluff, since Moscow needs the hard currency the oil earns and wants Western Europe's support against the US very badly now.)
And the Kremlin is working on a new trade agreement with Iran, with an eye to breaking any US blockade of the Gulf and other economic sanctions. The Soviets praise Ayatollah Khomeini and call his demands that the Shah be returned "legitimate." Some Western sources here believe they also stand ready to offer limited military aid against future US "adventurism."
At the same time, the explosive chaos on the Soviet southern border alarms the Soviets.
Moscow gives the impression of being deeply worried by what it sees as Mr. Carter's "unpredictability." It wants to avoid any US-Soviet clash of arms. It wants Mr. Carter voted out of office in November; it much prefers Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whom it sees as more liberal and more realistic on foreign policy.
For more than five months the Kremlin watched Mr. Carter try to free the hostages through diplomacy. The Soviet way would have been brute force at the outset. If the hostages had been killed, Moscow would have turned them into martyrs but the message would have been clear: Don't tempt a superpower.
When Mr. Carter didn't do that, Moscow considered him weak -- and also accused him of using the hostages as a pretext to build up Navy forces around the Gulf and to try to regain influence lost when the Shah fell.
When the raid came and failed, the Kremlin seems to have reacted with both shock and relief -- shock that Mr. Carter was able to mount the raid after waiting so long, and relief that it didn't work. Success would have been an enormous triumph for him and a severe blow for the Soviets, a number of Westerners here believe.
The enormous Soviet propaganda machine rolled into action when the news reached Moscow April 25.
To the NATO allies, the message was: You helped free Mr. Carter's hands for this rash move by supporting his economic sanctions at the Luxembourg meeting. Tass and the government newspaper Izvestia even said that US policy was "balancing on the brink of madness."
On April 26 and 27, the Soviet message shifted emphasis. It used the Iran raid to warn NATO allies against agreeing to deployment of medium-range Pershing and other missiles that the US intends to station in NATO countries. Moscow has relaunched its verbal campaign against those weapons, which it sees as a direct threat to its own SS-20 missiles. The latter can reach as far west as London from Soviet bases.
Tass April 26 said the Iran said was "another proof of recklessness" in Washington. It would "impel" West Europeans to doubt their own leaders, who showed "an amazing readiness" to bow to the US (an obvious reference to Bonn's Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and London's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher).
Pravda April 27 nailed the same theme: "Can anyone in NATO countries still hope after all that the White House would consult them if it thinks of using the missiles deployed on their territories?"
At one point Tass suggested that Mr. Carter would now order British, West German, or other landing forces to Iran.
Tass also said that "independent oil-producing states" could support Iran by embargoing oil to Western Europe.
To the rest of the world, Moscow condemned the abortive raid in a shower of descriptive words including "thuggery," "perfidy," "insidiousness," "hypocrisy," "impulsive," "reckless," "hegemonistic."
Tass added that Mr. Carter "could not care less about his fellow citizens and is prepared to sacrifice their lives for his election interests."
Pravda April 26 suggested Mr. Carter had resorted to "military provocations, threats, political and economic blackmail" against Iran.
Meanwhile, the Soviets have been seeking a trade agreement with Iran that would offer Iran a way to break a US naval blockade of the Gulf and other economic sanctions.
Some Westerners think the Soviets will be prepared to offer limited military aid to the Ayatollah, though not enough to involve Moscow in shooting against Americans.