Lull ends, Soviets renew pressure on Poles

The Soviet Union has dusted off a key April policy address by President Leonid Brezhnev to underscore Kremlin alarm at renewed unrest in Poland. After a full surrounding July's Polish Communist Party congress in Warsaw, both uphealval in Poland and Soviet pressure to end it seem back in swing.

Borrowing a delicately hedged assessment from Mr. Brezhnev's April 7 address, the authoritative Soviet newspaper Pravda Aug. 9 ventured only that "one must suppose" the crisis in Poland would yet get sorted out.

In his April speech, Mr. Brezhnev explicitly "supposed" that Poland's ruling communists would do the sorting out. Pravda, however, chose not to borrow that element of the address, omitting reference to the beleaguered Polish party and concluding:

"The workers of fraternal Poland have many true friends and allies and can firmly count on them. Poland will remain an inalienable part of the socialist community."

Two parallel Soviet moves -- their intention as yet unclear -- were also taken by some foreign analysts here as elements in heightened Moscow pressure on the Poles.

The first: uncommonly large naval maneuvers in the Baltic, not far from Poland.

The second: an Aug. 9 visit to Warsaw by Marshal Viktor G. Kulikov, the Soviet commander of the East-bloc military alliance. He met with Polish Premier and Defense Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski.

The Soviet news agency quoted Polish reports as saying one item on the agenda was "combat readiness of the Polish Army, which is an inalienable link in the defensive system of the Warsaw Pact."

But longer-range Soviet intentions on the Polish front remained largely a matter for diplomatic worry and speculation.

When Mr. Brezhnev spoke in April, invasion jitters in the West were at a new high. Soviet tanks, the implication was, might be about to roll. The Soviet President had left Moscow suddenly to address Czechoslovakia's Communist Party congress in Prague.

The tanks, of course, went nowhere. The Soviets announced the end of three-week-old military maneuvers in and around Poland hours after the Brezhnev speech.

"For the fourth time in eight months," a British magazine sighed, "the Russians did not invade Poland this week."

What Mr. Brezhnev did not offer was his watery, "one must suppose" assessment of Polish Communist Party prospects. For the first time, he explicity compared the Polish troubles with unrest in Czechoslovakia 13 years earlier. Back then, the tanks did roll.

And in a clear reflection of Soviet hopes to somehow quarantine the polish crisis from other Kremlin foreign-policy priorities, Mr. Brezhnev dwelt at length on the need for fresh arms talks with the West.

So what, then, has changed since April?

Much has not. The Soviets are still pushing for early talks with the West -- despite, perhaps because of, ever-worsening relations with Washington.

The Soviets are still alarmed over Poland, still putting pressure on the Poles, but have still not gone beyond mere pressure in responding to the crisis. Nor -- still -- have Soviet leaders publicly ruled out that option.

What has changed, above all, is Poland. Protest has seeped from factory floors into the streets. The Communist Party has had its special congress, emerging, it would seem at present, no more in control of the country than before.

Still, it remains unclear whether the Kremlin, which has tolerated a lot more in Poland than many Western analysts had predicted, is therefore weighing some toughened response to the crisis.

The Aug. 19 Pravda piece, the first direct Soviet press assessment of post-congress Poland, could be taken to suggest such plans may be afoot. Or it could mean only that the Soviets don't like what is going on next door -- a message not new, not particularly surprising, and not much help in penetrating the longer-range thoughts of the Kremlin.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.