Soviets tighten screws on Poland, but keep door ajar

The Soviet Union has issued the closest thing yet to a threat to get tough with Poland. But the message to the beleaguered Polish leadership was as vague, on some key points, as it was unprecedently tough in wording.

Publicly at least, the Soviets are still being careful not to lock the themselves into any course of action on the crisis next door.

And the impression among many foreign diplomats here is that even privately, the men who run the Kremlin may well be undecided on that score.

Reinforcing this impression is the fact that particular portions of the Soviet message, as leaked in Warsaw, have so far been omitted from accounts published here.

That could change. But the omissions, at this writing, included a contention that antiSovietism in Poland had reached "dangerous limits," that Soviet troops stationed there had been "subjected to threats," and that the "anti-Soviets" have meanwhile been getting easy access to "state-owned" meeting halls and to the mass media.

The leaving out of the first two points serves slightly to tone down the message's picture of Polish "anti-Sovietism" for people here, many of whom have never much liked the Poles anyway and are bitter over extensive Soviet aid to their chaotic neighbor-state.

Inclusion of the reference to the Polish militants' media access, meanwhile, might have been seen as a public signal the Soviets wanted this changed forthwith -- a move that, if indeed the Polish authorities agreed to attempt it, could involved a showdown with the reform movement and ultimately the kind of direct Soviet intervention the Kremlin has so far sought to avoid.

Such reasoning may also explain the Soviet message's treatment of Solidarity's national congress -- Part 1 of which probably prompted the latest Moscow communication, and Part 2 of which is due to start within days.

"The first round of the congress," says the Soviet message, reportedly conveyed as that meeting wound up, "has become, in effect, a tribune from which slander and insults against the Soviet state sounded for the whole of Poland to hear. . . ."

Coupled with a renewed call for tough measures against militant Polish reformists, the reference led some in Moscow to conclude the Kremlin was, in effect, demanding that Part 2 of the Solidarity congress be banned.

But reports from Poland suggest this would be a possibly risky order. Perhaps with this in mind, the authors of the Soviet message omitted any mention of postponement or cancellation of the congress wrapup.

Indeed the versions so far published in Warsaw and Moscow omit mention of the second part of the congress altogether.

Yet if the Soviets are reluctant publicly to commit themselves to reply to unrest in Poland, there has also been nothing to suggest that any course of action has been ruled out.

And however nonspecific on some points, the most recent message from Moscow conveys the picture of a kremlin that is angry. The message deals only with "anti-Sovietism" in Poland and thus seems a less powerful indictment than a tough and wide-ranging letter sent to Warsaw in June. The earlier message was portrayed as a "comradely" message is being played here as a state-to-state communication in much the same spirit as a demarche to an unfriendly power.

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