Both the Soviet Union and East Germany are maneuvering to soften West German reaction to any eventual Soviet-bloc military intervention in Poland. At the same time, they are trying to undermine in advance the Reagan administration's drive to beef up NATO defenses in Europe.
In this context should be seen:
* East German Communist leader Erich Honecker's revival of the idea of German unification -- something that had not been aired publicly at the official level in East Germany since the 1960s.
* Soviet encouragement of propaganda campaigns in West Germany against the introduction of nuclear-armed cruise missiles into the NATO arsenal on German soil, against nuclear installations generally in West Germany, and against the possibility that the US might push for NATO forces armed with neutron bombs.
These themes are intended to pluck that chord in West German hearts that remains responsive to any hope of eventual unification of the divided German homeland.
However, when the East German leadership raises the unification idea, it may also be hopting to give the East German people something to talk and think about ther than the example being set by the workers next door across the Oder in Poland.
All this is being orchestrated now because everything points to a far more vigorous reaction from Washington's European allies to any Soviet-bloc military move against Poland than then-President Carter was able to coax from them just over a year ago in response to Soviet military action in Afghanistan. In West Germany, public reaction might well help bring down incumbent Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and his Social Democrats who initiated Ostpolitik.
The current upsurge of Polish nationalism is stirring the residue of history with all its bitternesses.
If Russians and East Germans cooperated in military action on Polish soil, Russians, Germans, and Poles would have to live with a replay of the ruthless partition of Poland by Germans and Russians in the 18th century and again by Hitler and Stalin in 1939.
And if the response to this in West Germany were uninhibited West German rearmament, with nuclear weapons in the hands of the Bundeswehr, the Russians would wonder whether they were faced with the threat of a replay of the German invasion nightmare they have known twice before in this century.The first was launched by Kaiser Wilhelm in World War I. The second -- more recently and more devastatingly -- was Hitler's in World War II.
Ideally, from the Russians' point of view, they would be best suited by the "self-Finlandization" of Western Europe in their twin aim to make themselves:
1. The dominant power over the entire continent, a role denied them by their extra-european rival in the West, the US.
2. Utterly safe against invasion from the West at a time when they have to face a potentially greater long-term threat from across their Asian land border in the East, in the form of China.
To bring about Europe's self-Finlandization, Moscow needs to keep alive European doubts about the dependability of the US and European fears about US willingness to fight any war against the Soviet Union only to the last European. It is to feed these fears that Russians suggest that Europeans would be the victims in the wake of the United States installing cruise missiles or neutron bombs in Europe. A similar line would be pushed if the Reagan administration sought to store new chemical weapons in the European theater.
East German leader Erich Honecker said recently that unification would have to be under communism. For him (and the Russians) that is a necessary caveat. But others will wonder whether the German reunification issue could turn out to be a Frankenstein that neither the Soviets nor the East German s could control.