Kremlin publicly spurns Turkey for new Socialist government in Greece

Moscow began wooing Greece's new leftist government about 12 hours before it won power, signaling in the process a bid to encourage resultant strains within the Western alliance.

The move involved a sudden shift in Moscow's public treatment of Turkey, Greece's neighbor and a nominal NATO partner.

The official Soviet news media have long taken a generally restrained line on developments in Turkey, where conservative military men took power last year. As long as conservatives were also at the helm in Greece, the Kremlin strategy was to seek passably good ties with both states.

But even as the Greek polls opened Oct. 18, the Soviets began visibly tilting toward Athens.

In a departure from recent Soviet policy, the official trade union newspaper Trud took the Turkish regime to task for its crackdown on leftist labor activists.

''Disquieting reports are coming from Turkey,'' Trud said. ''The life of the leaders and activists (of the main leftist union grouping) is in danger.''

Diplomats here said there could be little doubt that the sudden public criticism of Turkey was timed with the Greek balloting in mind, an election the left was expected to win, and did. There are few better ways to woo a Greek than to say something bad about a Turk.

Diplomats here expect that the Soviet media will have at least a few more bad things to say about the Turks in the days and weeks to come.

Meanwhile, the Soviets are airing their satisfaction at the victory of socialist Andreas Papandreou in the Greek election. The official news agency Tass spoke of a ''convincing victory of the left-wing forces advocating democratic changes in the country.''

Greece's pro-Moscow Communist Party, which will definitely not be included in the Papandreou government and won only about a dozen parliamentary seats, was portrayed as sharing the victory. Tass did not make an issue of Communist participation in the new government, a fact seen here partly as a concession to political realities, and partly as evidence the Kremlin's main priority is to seek good relations with Mr. Papandreou.

The new Greek leader is not about to become a Soviet ally. The Soviets know this. But he is likely to prove less friendly to American interests than the outgoing government. The Soviets know this, too, and no doubt like the idea.

Although Mr. Papandreou is widely expected to go slowly in reorienting Greek foreign policy, he would ideally like to take his country out of the European Community and weaken ties with the Western military alliance. Although educated in the US, he also chafes at what he sees as Washington's bias toward Greece's NATO rival, Turkey.

The Papandreou victory puts American policymakers in a difficult corner, a situation that isn't likely to upset the Kremlin much. The Americans, more than ever, must steer an elusive middle ground between the Greeks and the Turks. Both states are important to NATO's southeastern flank - Turkey probably more so, since it has a more muscular military and directly borders both the Soviet Union and an unstable Iran. But moving visibly too close to either state cannot help but upset the other.

By inaugurating what seems to be a tougher public line toward Turkey, the Soviets are in effect highlighting US friendship with the Turks. The implicit message to Greece's new government is that only one superpower is your friend, and it is not the United States.

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.