Soviets Anxious as Europe Girds for 1992. GORBACHEV IN BRITAIN. Moscow looks for ways to increase trade with an expanding Europe

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV has come to London with 1992 and economic integration very much on his mind. When the countries of the European Community (EC) create a single market in 1992, Soviet economic and political reform will only be in its early stages, at best. Hopes of a Soviet economic takeoff by the end of the century are being replaced by more modest expectations.

By 1992-93, Soviet specialists say, their economy may be just coming out of a very tough transitional period. Moscow is nonetheless keen to signal its interest in doing business with the rest of Europe.

``We can't offer them much in concrete economic terms,'' said a Soviet official in London. ``But we have to show Western Europe as clearly as possible that we want to be partners.''

In the past, the official said, ``we either missed the boat, or we claimed that any [Western] European initiative was a grim plot against us.''

Now, on the other hand, Soviet reformers constantly stress that their country is emerging from its self-imposed isolation and is keen to become more like its Western neighbors - in economic, political, and social terms.

Mr. Gorbachev's stopover in Ireland on the way to Cuba underlined his desire for close ties with EC leaders. Later this year the Soviet leader is due to travel to Paris and Bonn.

In a message to the Italian Communist Party last month, Gorbachev emphasized that the Soviet idea of a ``common European home'' was dictated by ``the realities of the end of the 20th century.''

The call for a common home appears in fact to have undergone a transformation in recent months. Originally a catch phrase for disarmament proposals, it now seems with the approach of 1992 to be much more an expression of Moscow's keenness to be part of Europe.

In small ways the Soviets are already demonstrating their desire to be more like the West. A second group of Estonian managers is preparing to go to study business administration in Ireland. Similar plans are under discussion with the British.

There is also a strong move afoot in the Soviet Union to shift the economy as far as possible to Western-style market principles. There are repeated unofficial reports that a group of Western economists has advised the Soviet government in this direction for the last several months.

Independently of this, a number of Soviet commentators in Moscow, among them the controversial writer Vasily Selyunin, recently announced the creation of the first group of self-styled Soviet market economists. The group's press bulletin is called the Chervonets, after the gold-backed convertible ruble of the 1920s, and is carried in a dissident samizdat paper. But their ideas are far from fringe beliefs.

In a Moscow press conference earlier this week, economist Abel Aganbegyan, spoke of the possibility of creating a two-tier ruble. One tier for external business transactions might be convertible, he told journalists, and would be backed by gold. This, he notes, was just like the chervonets.

The Gorbachev-Thatcher relationship is a particularly clear symbol of the degree to which the Soviet leadership is gradually moving toward the West. Personal chemistry between the two leaders is important, as is Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's special relationship with Washington.

The key bond between the two leaders, however, is the fact that Gorbachev apparently sees himself as trying to do to the Soviet Union what Mrs. Thatcher achieved in the early 1980s. A long article on Britain in the latest issue of the Soviet weekly New Times developed the parallels between Thatcher and Gorbachev with remarkable clarity.

It described Thatcher as inheriting a country that was in a state of stagnation - the term used in the Soviet Union to describe the pre-Gorbachev period. The article depicted Thatcher as a risk-taker who challenged the cherished beliefs of her own society and her own party - something that Gorbachev is doing. It describes her as questioning the British welfare state, much as Soviet reformers speak of limiting the ``social guarantees'' of free housing and healthcare.

It notes that Britain underwent a painful transition, marked by dramatic unemployment - a scourge that, many Soviet reformers believe, will soon appear in the Soviet Union. But it shows the country emerging from its ordeal economically stronger and politically more influential on the world stage. And the article also noted how Mrs. Thatcher's predecessors made the ``glaring mistake'' of refusing for years to join the European Community.

The import of this message is already beginning to disturb the Soviet Union's vocal and articulate conservatives. Writers grouped around the literary journal Nash Sovremennik are particularly unhappy with the move toward the West.

Speaking at a public meeting recently, one of the journal's writers, Mikhail Antonov, criticized the first tentative moves to allow Western companies to lease land, bemoaned the ``frantic chase after consumerism,'' and warned that the Soviet Union was in danger of becoming ``a colony of transnational corporations.'' ]-30-{et

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