The Kremlin may be maneuvering into a position from which it could yet turn the Polish crisis to its own international advantage, wooing Western Europe and undercutting the US hard line toward Moscow.
But the equation, highlighted by an address June 23 by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, is every bit as complicated as the phrasing of the preceding paragraph.
Potential Soviet gains would appear to hinge on two big "ifs," each seen by many foreign diplomats here as increasingly difficult to count on.
* Moscow would have to resist the presumed temptation to intervene directly in the Polish crisis before a planned July 14 Communist Party congress there. That conference is expected to enshrine Polish reforms and perhaps make major changes in the party leadership.
* After the congress, the Soviets would have to ease what has been ever-tightening public pressure on the Poles, pressure described by a senior US official not long ago as amounting to invasion by osmosis.
Pressure continued, in the official Soviet press, Jun 23. The Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda accused the United States and some NATO partners of "instigating . . . elements in Poland to commit anti-Soviet acts and attacks on the allied links" of the Poles to the Soviet bloc.
Pravda suggested this would amount to "revising the results of World War II," which created the bloc, and warned that "hardships and victims" could result.
In early June the Soviet Communist leadership sent a toughly worded letter to the Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party, reminiscent of a note conveyed to Czechoslovakia just days before the Soviet- led Warsaw Pact invasion there in 1968.
At this writing it remains an open question whether Soviet tanks will rumble through the streets of Warsaw. No foreign analyst here can honestly claim to have a reliable answer to it.
It is with the assumption that the answer may be "no" that Mr. Brezhnev's latest public address takes on particular importance.
Since February two parallel thrusts have been emerging in Soviet strategy toward the Reagan administration. The first has produced an almost ceaseless string of "peace initiatives" against the background of Washington's tough public approach to Moscow.
The second has tried to encourage uneasiness in West Europe over deteriorating superpower relations, in the hope this will pressure Mr. Reagan to moderate his foreign policy.
Both efforts have focused on the question of new talks on limiting nuclear missile forces in Europe, talks the Soviet and more than a few West Europeans would like to see under way before NATO's planned 1983 deployment of new US missiles in Europe.
NATO Says the rearmament is crucial to offset a Kremlin advantage resulting from the ongoing deployment of new Soviet missiles targeted at Western Europe. But parliamentary forces are so aligned in at least two small NATO states -- the Netherlands and Belgium -- as to make agreement on taking on new US missiles at least uncertain.
The Kremlin has been playing to this audience, but the process has been complicated in part by the likelihood that any intervention in Poland would provide instant new cement for the Western alliance. US missiles would suddenly be a lot easier to sell in West Europe, arms talk much less so.
On June 23, in a move reminiscent of an April 7 speech in Prague, Mr. Brezhnev chose a period of heightened Western concern over Poland to make an arms-talks overture clearly directed at the West Europeans.
Criticizing "bellicose-minded militaristic circles led by American imperialism," he read a draft message to be sent from the Soviets' rubber-stamp parliament to all world legislatures. IT was a call for arms negotiations.
And, in what diplomats saw as a phrase tailor-made for states like Belgium and the Netherlands, the note expressed the conviction that "parliaments have the necessary prerogatives and authority to press effectively for curbing the arms race . . . along the road of negotiations."
Should the Polish crisis deepen, such talk could prove more background noise. But should it ultimately quiet down, diplomats note, the inevitable Western sigh of relief would serve to strengthen the Kremlin's position in pushing its diplomatic initiatives.
One senior Western diplomat commented: "The very fact of noninvasion would inevitably be taken [internationally] as a sign of Soviet restraint.