The latest man to head Poland's beleaguered government takes over with a daunting mandate from Moscow: Crack down on political unrest or someone else will have to do it for you.
Diplomats here had little doubt that the incoming Polish government chief, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, would try to oblige.
But they voiced considerably more doubt over whether he would succeed.
And none, it should be noted, claimed to have any firm idea of what the Soviets' next move in poland would be.
There was, instead, a great deal of informed speculation culled from a great deal of public Soviet comment on the crisis in recent days. The speculation was unprecedentedly gloomy, even among diplomats who have thus far taken a relatively more sanguine approach to the crisis.
The questions gnawing at Western analysts is at what point a reluctant Kremlin leadership might decide that it just had no choice except escalated, direct intervention in the Polish crisis.
The educated guess have was that the Poles still had a "little more time," perhaps through the Communist Party Congress that is to be held here in two weeks.
But some Western analysts had long judged that the Polish Communist Party was losing control of the country, perhaps irreparably. What now worried them was that recent Soviet comments seemed to imply the Kremlin had decided much the same thing.
That did not necessarily mean the Soviets would -- or would not -- "invade," as some US observers had been predicting late last year.
Indeed, since the Soviet news media have remained measurably tougher toward pure "political" dissidents in Poland than toward labor activists, some Moscow analysts said a crackdown on the first group might be one possible way of soothing Soviet concerns without risking a dangerous showdown inside Poland.
But there was, as foreign analysts here mulled over the latest developments in Warsaw Oct. 10, a growing concern that the Soviets were at least on their way toward some form of escalated involvement in the Polish crisi.
Two principal reasons for this were cited.
* Other member states of the Soviet bloc, particularly East Germany and Czechoslovakia, seem to fear fallout from open-ended Polish unrest.
* The centerpiece of Soviet ideology, and of the Soviet vision of superpowerdom, is the Communist Party's exclusive role as partner of the "people."
No matter how reluctant the Soviets may be to court escalated intervention in Poland, analysts here are convinced that a protracted assault on party power in Poland is a precedent that cannot long go unchallenged by Moscow.
Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev has not been visibly eager to share his thoughts or intentions with Moscow's virtual army of foreign Kremlin-watchers.
One Western ambassador, speaking privately only days ago, helped put the problems of assessing Soviet options on Poland into perspective.
"My guess," he said, "is that the Soviets are still giving the Poles a little more time."
But seconds later he thought it prudent to add: "Of course, for all I know, the troops be moving even as we speak."
But on one point there could no longer be any doubt by the time of the latest Polish government reshuffle:
In the Soviet view, room for compromise between the Polish communist authorities and the country's feisty union and other opposition groups had been vanishing. It was time to get tough.
The official media here -- while sometimes quoting such sources as unidentified Polish workers, or tough commentaries from East Europe analysts -- have virtually ananounced this.
Much earlier in the Polish crisis, at least some Soviet officials seemed to hope the Warsaw communist leadership might find a way to appear to make major concessions to the unions without actually doing so.
That, recent Soviet commentaries have stressed, has not worked. First came charges that the unions were being used -- innocently, it was implied -- by "antisocialist" elements. More recently the Soviet media have slapped the antisocialist label on the union leaders, themselves. On Feb. 6, the official Soviet news agency Tass accused the union of "deliberate . . . provocations" against state authorities.
The report alleged that a so-called Polish resistance movement was meanwhile committing the Soviet communist equivalent of ultimate heresy: "starting a frontal attack" on the ruling Polish Communist Party.
As if to ensure that the message should be lost on no one, Moscow's ambassador to East Germany chimed in late Feb. 9 with an interview on West German television, saying that the Soviets could clearly not remain "indifferent" to what was going on in Poland.
The gradual escalation of the Soviets' publicly expressed attitude toward the Polish crisis has been seen by analysts here as, above all, a form of intensified pressure on the Polish leadership to get tough with the uppity activists.
Some senior diplomats here saw the Kremlin's fingerprints on the Polish reshuffle. They reasoned that the Polish party move amounted to a further stage in a Soviet game plan that was relentl essly disintegrating.