Moscow seems to be trying to nudge the new regime in Egypt into taking a less openly pro-American stand than its predecessor. Beyond this, the Soviets are still taking a wait-and-see attitude to incoming Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, neither wooing him nor berating him.
The focus of public Soviet comment on the Oct. 6 assassination of Anwar and its aftermath has, so far, been less on Cairo than on Washington.
The strategy has at least two apparent aims:
* To return some of the rhetorical fire the Kremlin has been getting from the Reagan administration on issues like Poland and Afghanistan.
* To center public attention on the US-Egyptian alliance, presumably not the most comfortable of situations for a new Cairo leader who has seen his openly pro-American patron gunned down before his eyes.
By directing their comments on the crisis in Egypt toward Washington, the Soviets have so far obviated the need to take a clear stand on the incoming Mubarak regime.
The official press has successfully avoided direct criticism of Mr. Mubarak, although it has reported briefly his pledge to live up to all Egypt's previous treaty commitments.
Using a Newsweek report as a springboard to charge that plans were afoot to invade Libya, an Oct. 12 Tass report laid the blame on Ronald Reagan and Anwar Sadat. The implication was that the current Egyptian regime was a mere pawn in this grand scheme. Mr. Mubarak was not mentioned.
But if there has been no official press condemnation of Mr. Sadat's designated successor at time of writing, neither have there been visible signs the Kremlin is wooing him.
Moscow flew in no representative for the Sadat funeral.
Soviet officials did sign the condolence book at the Egyptian Embassy in Moscow. But Arab and Western diplomats described the level of representation as merely correct. "The Soviets did not use the occasion to make any gestures" toward the new regime, said one diplomat. Among the Soviets who came were a deputy foreign minister and the secretary of the presidium of the Soviet parliament.
Diplomats assume the Kremlin, like them, doubts Mr. Mubarak will make any significant change in his predecessor's policies at least until Israel returns the remainder of the Sinai early next year.
Wooing could conceivably come later, therefore, assuming further unrest within Egypt or Mideast war do not first jolt the current regional power equation.
In the meantime, the Soviet Union has used the Egyptian crisis to give a new twist to its rhetorical battle with the fellow superpower it will soon face across an arms-control table.
A Soviet message made public here Oct. 12 accused Washington of exerting military and diplomatic pressure on Egypt since Mr. Sadat's murder and of generally heightening Mideast tension.
This, the statement said, constituted interference in Egyptian affairs, and also could "not but affect the interests of the Soviet Union's security."
The message noted, pointedly, "This does not tally with . . . statements made repeatedly by US leaders about the need to show restraint in international relations."
As if to make the parallel with US charges more explicit, Pravda followed Oct. 13 with a fresh blast on Poland, one particular area where Washington says Kremlin "restraint" is sorely lacking.
Although stressing that the article provided no new insights into ultimate Kremlin intentions toward the Poles, a senior Western diplomat remarked:
"On a propaganda level at least, the Soviets seem to be telling the Americans: 'You have your Egypt, just as we have our Poland.'"