Lifting embargo fits into Soviet idea of detente

The ambitions of individual politicians cannot reverse the trend toward development of business cooperation between West and East, which . . . corresponds to objective reality." -- Article in a Soviet foreign policy journal , Jan. 1981m.

The lifting of the US grain embargo fits nicely with Soviet views on the long-term invulnerability of economic detente.

In particular, with the Soviets again hardening their stand on the Polish crisis, the lifting of the embargo seems to have been taken here as a vindication of Soviet skepticism over the staying power of Western economic sanctions.

"Methods of pressure, threats, and diktatm ," said a commentary in the Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda Aprily they are used in.

"Moreover, they boomerang against the very initiators of 'power diplomacy.' This is the message of the announced White House decision to cancel the embargo on grain deliveries to the USSR introduced by the previous administration."

The US decision, announced April 24, also comes amid continued problems in Soviet agriculture. Most foreign experts here say the embargo, imposed in reply to the Soviets' December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, has contributed to these problems, particularly in supply of meat and milk to Soviet store shelves.

The Soviets managed largely to offset the shortfall in US shipments through alternative suppliers, like Argentina. But diplomats here argue that this meant paying out larger sums of cherished hard currency, while clogging limited Soviet port facilities.

American grain is also said to be better for fattening herds. That difference could be one explanation for the decrease in average slaughter-weight of Soviet cattle and a continued decline in milk production.

A relatively mild winter led some foreign experts here to suggest that this year's Soviet grain harvest, following two bad years, could be far better. But recent bad weather has prompted diplomats, who caution that it is still too early to make a reliable prediction on the total harvest, to revise their guestimates downward.

Soviet officials have long said the US embargo was hurting only US farmers and tradespeople. Predictably, the initial Moscow response to lifting of the embargo was to say, in effect, "We told you so."

Few diplomats here suggest the Soviet Union will now automatically escalate intervention in Poland, and was waiting only for lifting of the grain embargo to do so.

They argue there are plenty of other reasons besides concern over Western sanctions for the Kremlin to tread carefully on the Polish front -- not least among them, the danger of resistance from within Poland, the prospect of an enormous economic burden for the Kremlin, and the possibility of generally heightened instability in East Europe.

Nor, diplomats add, can the Soviets have much doubt that direct intervention would trigger far more in the way of reprisals than a simple US grain embargo.

What does concern some diplomats here is the possibility that if and when the Kremlin feels finally faced with a do-or-die situation in Poland, it may now more easily tell itself that Western counter-measures can be weathered. By a degree or two, the thinking goes, this could make Soviet leaders more inclined to grit their teeth and send in the tanks.

At this writing, there remains much Western concern but no direct Soviet sign that such a decision is being actively weighed. But the Soviets are again sharply escalating pressure on Poland -- particularly on its beleaguered Communist Party, set to hold a top-level policy meeting April 29.

Since the eruption of Polish labor unrest last year, the Soviets' ultimate concern has been the survivial of a "leading role" for a generally pro-Soviet Communist Party there. But strong reformist pressure, directed in part against more pro-Soviet elements, has increasingly surfaced from within the Polish party.

Following signs in the official media of deep Soviet concern, the Soviet Politburo's chief communist ideologue, Mikhail Suslov, made a surprise visit to Warsaw April 23 for talks with the Polish communist leadership.

"It seems safe to assume he told the Poles Moscow feels strongly that recent tendencies within the party must be stopped," remarked an East European analyst.

This impression was reinforced late April 25, when the official Soviet news agency for the first time spoke of "revisionist elements" among the Polish communists, allegedly set on dividing, discrediting and ultimately stymying the party. Revisionism -- one of the strongest accusations in Moscow's political vocabulary -- was a charge leveled at Czechoslovakia's communists before the 1968 Soviet and Warsaw Pact invasion there.

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