Soviets offer Schmidt a red carpet -- and a warning
Moscow — The reddest of red carpets, a bear hug, and a stern warning. All three await the leader of America's main European ally in Moscow. West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt comes here June 30 to July 1 as a representative of NATO, as the heir to Willy Brand'ts Ostpolitik, and as the leader of a nation that has gone in 35 years from No. 1 enemy to No. 1 Western trading partner with the Kremlin.
The Kremlin is delighted to welcome him right now: He is the first Western leader to set foot on Russian soil since Soviet troops set foot on Afghan soil six months ago.
The Soviets shake out the red carpet in growing hope that the visit, following the Warsaw meeting in May between Leonid Brezhnev and France's Valery Giscard d'Estaing, means the start of a genuine, exploitable division between the United States and its NATO allies over how to handle Soviet strategies.
"In a very real way, the Schmidt visit was a success for the Kremlin from the moment it was announced," comments one veteran Western diplomat here.
"The Soviets have worked hard to spread their view in Europe that Washington cannot be trusted, that President Carter is reckless, that US policies toward Iran and Afghanistan run the risk of a confrontation which could throw Europe back into war."
So the Brezhnev bear hug will be well in evidence. No effort will be spared to show the world that the Soviet Union can conduct normal diplomacy at top levels while Soviet troops remain in Afghanistan.
Mr. Schmidt, however, has consulted with Washington, and sources here say he will stick closely to NATO policies.
The bear hug also indicates Bonn's growing importance to Moscow as a supplier of sophisticated Western technology Moscow cannot buy from the US because of embargoes imposed after the Afghan invasion.
According to Soviet figures, Bonn had overtaken Tokyo as a trading partner with Moscow by 1973. By 1979, the West Germans rose to the top of the list of industrial Western states with Kremlin trade connections.
Soviet figures put two-day trade in 1979 at 4,246.6 million rubles ($6.6 billion), compared to US-Soviet trade of $4.5 billion (US figures) for the same year.
West German-Soviet trade continues to build -- whereas in the first four months of this year US-Soviet trade dropped 27 percent, according to the latest US estimates.
In May 1978 Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Brezhnev signed a long-term trade cooperation agreement in Bonn that provided for a 25-year program of cooperation to be agreed on later. That agreement has now been drafted and was approved by Deputy Soviet Premier Nikolai Tikhonov in bonn a few months ago.
Moscow says it provides West Germany with 17 percent of the natural gas Germans use for heating and industry, and 21 to 27 percent of nonferrous metals.
Moscow wants MR. Schmidt to sign the program here in the Soviet capital, with Mr. Brezhnev signing for the Soviets. The Kremlin would use such a full-dress occasion as evidence of growing German sympathy toward Soviet policies and German independence from the United States.
But sources say Mr. Schmidt, well aware of the symbolism, is refusing to sign and has told the Soviets a lesser official will stand in form him. Mr. Brezhnev could not then sign for the Soviets.
The Soviet warning will come on the NATO decision last Dec. 12 to station 574 US Pershing and cruise missiles in Western Europe from late 1983. NATO is counterbalancing the steady growth of Soviet SS-20 missiles in the western USSR, each with three separate warheads, improved accuracy, and range enough to hit targets as far west as London.
Pravda June 12 warned that West Germany had to choose between detente and the US missiles. Mr. Brezhnev will try to make Mr. Schmidt back away from the missile decision.
Yet Moscow prefers Mr. Schmidt to his conservative election rival, Franz Josef Strauss, so there are limits to the pressure it will apply.