Kremlin's maneuvering on Poland backfires

The latest ham-handed Kremlin attempt to unseat Poland's reform-minded leaders has backfired. Instead of forcing the ouster of party leader Stanislaw Kania, the Russians have strengthened his hand at home. They have even given him credibility -- for the first time -- among militant Polish reformers.

At the same time, Moscow's vacillation over since last fall over how to deal with the Polish leadership has contributed to the demoralizing of Poland's hard-liners and has probably raised the difficulties and costs of any Soviet invasion.

This is one analysis of recent events in Poland. It is subscribed to by London School of Economics historian Anthony Polonski and a number of Western diplomats.

In this view, the Soviet failure to oust Kania last week flowed largely from the Polish hard-liners' loss of nerve. The hard-liners felt themselves squeezed between the Kremlin's vacillations and the brushfire spread of the reform movement within Poland.

Nonetheless, these analysts believe, Moscow is still trying to restore Leninist orthodoxy in Poland by means short of invasion -- and there is still a 51 percent chance that the Russians will not invade.

On this point, London School of Economics political scientist Peter Raddaway disagrees. He argues that the Russians have not failed; they were simply giving advance legitimization to the hard-line Polish leadership they will install after their inevitable invasion.

In Polonski's more hopeful analysis, the key hard-liner is Stefan Olszowski, the politician who was restored to the Polish Politburo last fall and has been regarded by Poles ever since as the ring- leader of the hard-liners. The highly intelligent and competent Olszowski declined to run against Kania at the crucial June 9 and 10 Central Committee meeting in Warsaw.

This left the role of challenger to the much less impressive party hack, Tadeusz Grabski. And this, in turn, persuaded an extraordinary half of the approximately 140-man Old Guard Central Committee to desert Grabski, according to Polonski, and abstain on one of the crucial votes of confidence called for by Kania.

The heavy abstention was totally unexpected, especially by the Russians. The present Polish Central Committee, after all, was chosen before the democratization of the past nine months. Most of the Central Committee members are currently being voted out of office as the party rank and file elect reformers as delegates to the July party congress.

If the congress goes through under Kania's leadership, most of these people will be dumped for good. Yet the Central Committee members declined the Soviet-offered opportunity to get rid of Kania, block the reform congress, and preserve their own positions.

The reason, according to the Polonski school of thought, is the hard-liners' fear that they would be despised as quislings by their fellow Poles -- and their uncertainty that the Russians really would give them the ultimate backing of the Red Army.

In this analysis the Russians have by now missed their chance to invade at a relatively low cost. They have given Solidarity time to organize the whole country. They have given the Polish Army time to atone for its shooting of Polish workers in 1965 and 1970 by aligning itself with the reform movement in 1981.

(The evolution has gone so far that the generals on the Central Committee went even beyond the benvolent neutrality of many of their colleagues and joined those who gave Kania positive support in the crucial vote.)

Moreover, in their attempt to unseat Kania the Russians have now engendered just the opposite effect. In fact, the impact of the Soviet vacillation since last fall on Kania and on the wavering hard-line Poles who have been dubbed "swamp" hard-liners is one of the most intriguing developments of the whole Polish liberalization.

At the beginning, the hard-liners' strategy was clear. With the apparent blessing of the Russians, they were waiting for an appropriate time to provoke Solidarity extremists to actions that could be branded as "chaos" and rally the Polish Communist Party around a hard-line restoration of "order." This strategy was implemented (according to subsequent accouns, including testimony by local Bydgoszcz police) at Bydgoszcz in March, when special security police beat up several Solidarity officials.

In the wake of the Bydgoszcz incident, however, Kania and Prime Minister and Polish Army commander Wojciech Jaruzelski (who had conveniently been invited out of Warsaw by their Soviet an East European allies at the time of the incident) chose compromise rather than confrontation with Solidarity.

Equally important, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev failed to give Olszowski the green light for a hard-line coup in Warsaw when Brezhnev and Olszowski both traveled to Prague for the Czechoslovakia party congress just after the Bydgoszcz incident. Olszowski and the Polish hard-liners became insecure an began to hedge their bets.

Kania -- a man who before his elevation to party secretary made no policy comments whatever and after his elevation tolerated reform only grudgingly -- suddenly decided that his own political future lay in appealing openly to the reform instincts of the Polish party rank and file. He therefore endorsed the demand for free elections between multiple candidates for the party congress. And even some "swamp" hard-liners began jumping onto the rank and file bandwagon.

The Russians apparently next hoped to reverse the trend by exploiting (and possibly even stimulating) the attack on "bourgeois," "liberal," "Trotskyite," and "Zionist" reformers by a tiny group of Polish hard-liners in Katowice.Even this attempt alarmed rather than encouraged the would-be Polish hard-liners, however, for in promoting a small rebel group against the Warsaw leadership, it opened the Pandora's box of "factionalism." This was suicidal, since the hard-liners' only hope was to take over the leadership and suppress the reformers' own "factionalism" with strict party discipline.

The most recen attempt to undo the Polish reforms was the threatening Soviet letter that led to the June 9-10 Polish Central Committee meeting. Now this, too, has backfired. Kania is still in place.

The Polish hard-liners are even more discredited within Poland. In a kind of giant Polish joke, this shift has overnight made it a symbol of Polish patriotism to clean up rather than deface the ubiquitous Soviet monuments in Poland -- so that provocateurs can't daub paint on the monuments, giving the Russians the pretext of "anti-Sovietism" for an invasion.

By now, this analysis continues, a Soviet invasion would cost Moscow not only the final end of East-West detente an arms-control hopes, the likely sabotage of Polish factories, and Soviet incurring of Poland's $27 billion debt to the West.

It would probably also cost Moscow guerrilla sabotage of its crucial railway link across Poland to Soviet forces in East Germany. In addition, it would probably cost Moscow sabotage of the Polish ports of Gdansk, Gdynia, an Szczecin -- which the Poles calculate account for some 30 percent of Soviet imports.

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