President Brezhnev's decision to head the Soviet delegation to President Tito's funeral Thursday is more than a move to match the presence of China's Chairman Hua Guofeng.
It is also seen as the start of a new and wide-ranging round of Soviet diplomatic activity.
Mr. Hua was evidently a factor in Mr. Brezhnev's decision to journey to Yugoslavia for the funeral.
The glowing rapport between Peking and Belgrade, highlighted by Chairman Hua's unprecedented trip out of China to Yugoslavia, Romania, and Iran in the summer of 1978, irks the Kremlin. Moscow did not take kindly to the trip. It gave China new status in the world communist movement. The Kremliln is also aware that both China and Yugoslavia are in full agreement in condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The Soviets already have followed up condolences by declaring their wish for close and stable relations with Yugoslavia and have proclaimed their regard for Yugoslav independence.
The Yugoslavs are willing to mend fences with the Soviets, but they have heard Moscow's peace overtures many times before and found them hollow. Consequently, they remain wary of Russia's real intentions.
In the international context, soothing words to Belgrade and the Soviet leader's visit to a sorrowing Yugoslavia are intended to draw attention away from Afghanistan by trying to concentrate it instead on attractive-sounding propositions for a restoration of detente and new efforts for disarmament.
Some such initiative was indicated at the recent Paris meeting of pro-Soviet Communist parties from East and West Europe. It is expected to be elaborated on when the Warsaw Pact countries gather in Warsaw May 14 and 15 to observe the 25 th anniversary of their alliance.
Meanwhile, mr. Brezhnev's presence here increases the possibility of some limited first contact at the highest level between Western leaders and the Soviets since the breakdown of detente following the Dec. 27 invasion of Afghanistan.
The US delegation will be headed by Vice-President Walter Mondale. West German Chancellor Helmut SChmidt, Britain's Prime Minister MArgaret Thatcher, and other West Euporopean leaders will be here. And Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko is accompanying Mr. Brezhnev.
At best, any contact will be extremely brief and informal. As Chancellor Schmidt said in an interview on Austrian television May 5, the occasion is hardly one for major diplomatic initiatives. Nonetheless, it provides an opportunity to exchange a few words and "get acquainted."
It could, in fact, be a modest start to a series of East-West contacts. The Western powers have indicated they are quite ready for such contacts, but they make it clear that nothing can be accomplished while Soviet troops remain in Afghanistan.
At the same time as the Warsaw Pact meeting, Austria is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1955 state treaty that ended the post-World War ii occupation on Austria by the Allies.
The foreign ministers of all four -- the United States, Briain, France, Russia -- are expected to attend. Again time will be limited but this would be Secretary of State-designate Edmund Muskie's first encounter, as Secretary, with the Soviet Union's Andrei Gromyko.
Because of his Warsaw engagement, Mr. Gromyko will not arrive in Vienna until may 16. That day the Austrians will play host to a luncheon for the four one-time allies to honor the treaty, which represented the first break in the cold war of the '50s.
In june, Mr. Schmidt seems likely to be making his long- delayed visit to Moscow.
Still depends on what happens between then and now. In his TV interview the Chancellor dismissed any "mediatory" role and was very firm on Afghanistan. But he indicated his concern over the dangers implicit in the present state of East-West relations and the need to seek an atmosphere in which dialogue is possible.
In Warsaw, the Russians are sure to repeat their refusal to withdraw from Afghanistan while their presence is "required" by the government of Babrak Karmal.
The conference already is being billed as a "milestone" summit for peace at which all pact members -- even Romania, which often is in less than full accord with its allies -- will be represented at the top level.
Almost certainly a new "peace offensive" will emerge, probably reviving old Soviet demands for an all-European disarmament conference. According to some informed observers, it could include some token scaling down of Soviet forces in Hungary and Czechoslovakia like those already under way in East Germany.