Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev has made a dramatically timed bid to get Washington's West European partners to stop harping on his intentions toward Poland and start talking about arms control.
Only hours later, Moscow announced the end of Warsaw Pact military maneuvers, which had continued in and around Poland since mid-March and been a major source of heightened Western concern over the Polish crisis.
Mr. Brezhnev's latest remarks still seemed to leave Soviet options open, however, and made it clear the Kremlin was seeking a "rebuff . . . to the enemies of the socialist system there." He stopped short of delivering a full vote of confidence that Poland's ruling Communists were up to the task.
Although he gave no indication that Soviet troops would ultimately intervene, Mr. Brezhnev, speaking in Prague April 7, for the first time explicitly compared events in Poland to the 1968 "counter-revolution" in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Army ended that experiment.
The emphasis, on balance, seemed to remain on measures to be taken by the Poles themselves. East European sources here have said they were recently told by Soviet officials that one course being considered by the Kremlin is to press for imposition of martial law in Poland.
assessing the position of Poland's beleaguered communist leadership, Mr. Brezhnev said -- according to a translation by the official Soviet news agency -- that "the Polish communists . . . will be able, one should believe, to give a fitting rebuff to the designs of the enemies of the socialist system. . . ."
The parenthetical phrase could also be translated from Russian as "one should suppose." In either case, it expressed less-than-full confidence in the Poles. The initial Tass summary of the Brezhnev speech said the President had expressed "the hope" that Poland's communists will prevail.
But most of Mr. Brezhnev's speech was devoted to a bid to skirt a publicly hard-line approach in Washington and make a strong appeal for West European support for fresh arms talks.
Barely a month ago, when Mr. Brezhnev originally offered his European arms-control ideas at the Soviet Communist Party congress here, he in effect shifted the momentum in superpower relations and batted the ball of "detente" into Ronald Reagan's court.
Mr. Reagan then warned that perceived Soviet saber rattling over Poland and arms-control talk don't mix.
The Soviet counterstrategy, as Moscow analysts see it, began to take shape with the April 2-4 visit here by West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
He was disappointed in any hopes of getting a hint of Soviet intentions in Poland but did note some apparent give on Mr. Brezhnev's stated ideas on limited medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
The Soviets' SS-20 missiles, largely pointed at Western Europe, give them substantial superiority in that category and have been key in a NATO decision to deploy new US missiles in Western Europe beginning in 1983.
Mr. Brezhnev, at the Soviet congress in late February, had proposed that NATO "stop all preparations" for deploying the US missiles and hold talks on "limiting or, still better, reducing" European missile forces.
Mr. Genscher said before leaving Moscow that the Soviets had now made it clear that a missile freeze would not be a precondition for opening talks.
As NATO's Nuclear Planning Group gathered in West Germany April 7 for talks on this and other issues Mr. Brezhnev stated that he was ready for talks "at any level . . . without any preliminary strings attached."
He strongly restated his call for a missile freeze. It was "not an end in itself," he said, but was "made with the intention of creating a more favorable atmosphere for talks."
"We regard as the objective in question --I stated this before and repeat it now -- precisely the reduction by both sides of the amount of nuclear means accumulated in Europe," he said, in what was seen as a play to Western alarm at already-deployed Soviet missiles.