Moscow tries to shift spotlight to arms
Vienna — Russia is mounting a major diplomatic effort vis-a-vis the West and the neutrals designed to draw attention increasingly from its presence in Afghanistan back to Europe and wider East-West issues over disarmament.
The immediate idea is to improve the atmosphere for the Moscow Olympics in the face of the US boycott.
Moscow's long-range sights are on the next Conference on European Security and Cooperation (CSCE) due in mid-November in Madrid.
A campaign is gathering momentum on several "fronts" to win West European opinion -- including neutral and nonaligned -- for a Soviet bloc call in Madrid for an all European conference next year on military detente and disarmament.
By the time of the Madrid meeting, East bloc sources indicate, the Russians are counting on the West being weary of Afghanistan. They also hope the country will be sufficiently under control to make possible some early Soviet withdrawal offer as an inducement for supporting its conference proposal.
Last month's announcement of the removal of some troops was the start of the new drive.
This withdrawal -- limited apparently to units unsuited to antiguerrilla warfare -- was dubiously viewed by the United States. But some NATO leaders saw it as perhaps a hopeful signal of Moscow's wish to extricate itself from the Afghanistan dilemma as soon as it reasonably can.
Other Soviet moves followed:
A fortnight ago, Soviet President Brezhnev told West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt the Soviet Union was ready to discuss limiting medium-range missiles in Europe. He also said the Soviets were about to advance new proposals on conventional force reductions.
The latter came at the NATO-Warsaw pact meeting here July 10, the 243rd in 7 years of talks over cuts in each side's army in central Europe, with the Russians now offering withdrawal of 20,000 troops if the US pulls out 13,000.
It was in line with earlier understandings to confine a first-stage agreement to Soviet and US troops. Allies would be brought into a second round reduction.
The Soviets presented their offer as a "major concession" because, they said, the reduction would be in addition to the withdrawal started late last year of 20,000 troops and 1,000 tanks from their forces in East Germany.
Immediate NATO reactions to this and to the claim that Soviets will be reducing their strength by 40,000 vs. 13,000 US troops was reserved.
The withdrawal from East Germany, which the Russians say will be "completed soon," represents calculated unilateral diplomacy, not something negotiated in the talks here.
The new 20,000 offer, moreover, is 10,000 fewer than a previous proposal calling for the withdrawal of 30,000 Soviet troops against 13,000 US men. The earlier reduction was put forth by NATO as a fair proportion based on an overall imbalance that allegedly gives the East a 150,000-man superiority.
Nonetheless, in numbers it would, in effect, bring withdrawals up to 40,000. And it would have the appearance of an advance on NATO's own proposal.
Like the East German move, this offer also has propaganda value. It may be difficult not to acknowledge it as a small step at least in the direction of both sides' accepted ultimate objective -- 700,000 troops each.
Meanwhile, a high-level Soviet delegation was in Belgrade for a visit to canvass Yugoslav support for Moscow's disarmament conference plan.
The latter lost no time in reminding them that they still unreservedly condemn the Afghanistan invasion and, further, that while they want stable relations with Moscow, they will accept no Soviet criticism of their equal desire for good relations with the other superpower, the US.