The Kremlin's propaganda war

Anxious Western diplomats are looking at the Kremlin's choices as they try to fathom Soviet intentions in Poland. They see Moscow's current strategy as an extreme form of brinkmanship.

They do not see an invasion as necessarily just around the corner. But they agree it cannot by any means be ruled out, and they say that possibility itself brings enormous pressure to bear on Warsaw's Communist Party and union leaders.

It is agreed here that the situation will remain volatile and tense for weeks even if the Soviets do not invade, with dangers of miscalculation on all sides.

[The United States was sending four radar warning aircraft to Europe to monitor the situation around Poland, a high American official was reported by Reuters as saying in Brussels Dec. 9. He said that two of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes were on their way to Ramstein Air Base in West Germany. Two others and two tanker planes were expected in the next 24 hours, he added.]

Some sources here say the sharp Tass news agency statement of Dec. 8, which suggested the Polish party is under growing threat from "counterrevolutionaries, " was actually meant as pressure on party chief Stanislaw Kania to crack down harder himself.

Others think the Tass statement was in part a reaction to warnings from Washington and Western Europe against an invasion: Moscow was seeking to justify its own intense concern.

Westerners were puzzled why the statement did not appear in the Soviet press Dec. 9. Some thought it meant the warning was intended for the outside world alone and was part of Soviet brinkmanship rather than a prelude to invasion.

Soviet choices now:

1. Moscow could order Mr. Kania to bring out the Polish militia against Solidarity workers if another strike threatens. The militia killed many workers in Gdansk 10 years ago -- just how many is in dispute. A militia offensive would be supported by those party officials in Warsaw who want to keep their own jobs and privileges.

2. Moscow could hold Warsaw Pact maneuvers in Poland as a cover under which Mr. Kania could order even tougher crackdowns.

3. Moscow could send its own troops in with units from other Warsaw Pact countries, and say action was requested by the Polish government against Western interference in Polish internal affairs.

Diplomats here say mere questions to Soviet officials about Poland are taken "almost as interference themselves." Western newsmen asking about White House statements on Soviet troop movements have been told their questions were "provocative."

The risk of any of the Soviet choices is that they will trigger even more dissent inside Poland. Workers could stand by their machines, refusing to operate them. Soviet troops would be resisted behind every wall.

At the moment, and certainly for as long as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev is in India, Moscow is thought likely to confine itself to what diplomats here see as a war of nerves.

"Unless I see a big article in Pravda criticizing so-called counterrevolutionaries in Poland, I'll consider it all just Soviet pressure," says one Western source.

It is said here that the situation is different from 1968 and Czechoslovakia. In the Prague spring, the Czechoslovak government was going too fast for the Kremlin's taste. The Polish winter has a government opposed by a movement claiming the allegiance of half the working population of Poland.

Soviet tactics are similar to 1968: warnings, references to German "revanchism" waiting to pounce, allegations the West is financing opposition groups.

Kremlin patience may be near its end.

"I don't think there'll be an invasion any time soon," says one Western diplomat here. "But I don't know how much of my thinking is realistic and how much is wishful."

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