Kremlin directs its sternest warnings at Poland rather than Reagan
Moscow — President Reagan seems to have won an early tussle of wills with the Kremlin, in effect surprising the Soviets with tough public criticism only days after moving into the White House.
But the Soviets -- and at least some Western analysts here -- are concerned that Mr. Reagan may draw the wrong lessons from the encounter, and that heightened friction between the superpowers will be the result.
At the same time, there is renewed nervousness among Moscow diplomats over the unrest in Poland.
Soviet pressure on the Poles reached a new peak Jan. 29 with charges by the official Soviet news agency Tass -- later read on the television news and carried by major newspapers -- that Polish labor leaders were taking "a position of political opposition" to the Communist Party.
There seemed little doubt the Soviets felt the time for concessions to the Polish unions was past, and that the country's communist leaders must get convincingly tougher. As if on cue, the Warsaw government vowed to take "necessary measures" should the unrest go on. The government then sealed its latest, partial compromise with the unions.
Tass nonetheless saw fit to quote a Polish report from Warsaw that signaled new concern. Despite the latest accord, the agency said, "Some members of the trade union organization continue, as before, to pursue the line of undermining stability."
As Poland simmered, some Moscow analysts saw potential trouble on another front: relations between the Soviets and the new administration in Washington.
At a glance, things looked remarkably calm considering Mr. Reagan's surprise public broadside Jan. 30 against Kremlin morality (or lack thereof) and political goals.
After an initial silence, the Soviets charged Mr. Reagan with "an unworthy maneuver" and "deliberate distortion". But by Moscow propaganda standards that sounded almost mild; a little like a schoolteacher scolding a misguided child.
Seasoned analysts said the relatively restrained initial response seemed to reflect Kremlin reluctance to get into an early shouting match. The Soviets were also seen as still valuing -- if on their own particular terms -- the idea of workable "detente" with Washington.
In that initial reaction, Tass tersely rejected the idea that progress on the arms pact still openly sought by the Soviets should be "linked" to their behavior elsewhere.
Yet, shortly thereafter, commentaries in the Soviet press Feb. 1 added a "linkage" of their own. They pointedly compared administration charges that the Soviets were abetting world terrorism with the former Carter administration's early public attacks on Sovit human- rights policy. Those criticisms were cited in Moscow as a major factor in the souring of relations under Mr. Carter.
Most Western diplomats privately warmed to Mr. Reagan's frank criticism of Kremlin priorities. One declared: "It's about time we [Westerners] called the Soviets on their destabilizing and unprincipled behavior."
Yet at least some analysts also voiced concern that Mr. Reagan might be tempted to overuse that weapon. "You get the problem of making the language credible," one European diplomat remarked privately, "of what to do for an encore."
Another concern was that Mr. Reagan might repeat another perceived Carter misstep: using public statements to communicate specific policies toward a Kremlin defiant and resentful at feeling backed i nto a corner.