The latest government-union accord in Poland has backed the Kremlin into a corner and, some diplomats fear, may have tugged escalated Soviet involvement in the Polish crisis a step nearer.
Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev March 31 performed what, by contrast, must have seemed a far easier policy task on another front -- relations with Washington.
Mr. Brezhnev sent a telegram to convalescing US President Ronald Reagan condemning the March 30 assassination attempt against him and wishing him a speedy recovery.
This took many hours, if the afternoon official release of the telegram was any indication.
Moscow's Russian-language noon news bulletin led on the latest achievements of Soviet laborers and did not even mention Mr. Reagan. The official news agency Tass, reporting that the alleged assailant was "earlier a member" of the American Nazi Party, seemingly could not resist adding that this was "the USA's biggest neo-Nazi grouping."
But the Tass aside was seen as merely an involuntary hiccup of the Soviet propaganda machine. And the apparent delay in Mr. Brezhnev's condolence message seemed simply a reflection of the often slow pace of public Soviet reaction to major world events, not of any Kremlin doubts on whether to wish Mr. Reagan well.
A public Kremlin verdict on the latest Polish accord, sealed March 30 subject to union ratification, has been even slower in coming.
Moscow's official news media, in the run-up to the negotiations that yielded the accord, had left little doubt the Kremlin wanted the Polish communist leadership to take a tough stand toward the restive Solidarity labor movement.
Instead, reports from Warsaw indicated, the government apparently won Solidarity's suspension of plans for a general strike by showing flexibility on key union demands.
A Western diplomat commented privately: "The Soviets were, in effect, telling the Poles, 'No compromise,' and the Poles turned around and made concessions."
At this writing, on the evening of March 31, the Moscow news media had limited themselves to a brief Tass report that Solidarity had suspended its threat of a general strike.
The item was not included in Soviet television's evening newscast March 30, nor in the official morning press March 31.
There was no mention of the Polish leadership's reported willingness to weigh allegations of police brutality against Solidarity members, or to consider farmers' efforts to forge a rural spinoff of the Solidarity movement.
Some foreign analysts here suspect the Kremlin may, for the time being, soft-pedal these items.
But most also believe Moscow will ever-more-forcefully lean on Polish leaders to begin what would amount to a counterattack on dissidence there -- especially after the apparent compromise emerging from what had been set up in the official Soviet press as an important showdown with Polish "anti-socialists."
Although diplomats still feel the Kremlin would like to avoid outright military action in Poland, some argue that Polish leaders' apparent inability to prosecute a hard line against Solidarity has increased the likelihood of some kind of escalated Soviet intervention in the crisis.
Soviet options in this regard don't seem appetizing.
Although recent Soviet press reports here have stressed the Polish military's "loyalty," a Soviet official in a recent conversation with this reporter expressed concern that some Polish troops might side with Solidarity in a violent showdown.
The official is well outside the USSR's small circle of decisionmakers, but claims to have access to internal Foreign Ministry accounts of the Polish crisis.
"These leave no doubt we view the situation there as very serious," he said.
"The [reformist] Poles seem to have chosen a clever time, during the Afghan question, figuring Soviet patience could be stretched," he said.
"But," he added, "that patien ce is clearly wearing thin."