What would Moscow have done if pro-Ceausescu forces really had appeared on the verge of regaining control of Romania? For a few tense hours last weekend, the question seemed actual. Reports emanated from Bucharest, later denied, that the Kremlin had offered military aid. Top Hungarian officials said Warsaw Pact members would meet on Sunday to coordinate their actions to discuss possible military aid to Romania's National Salvation Front.
But in Romania, the tide turned and Moscow was spared this toughest of decisions. The timing was ironic. Only a few weeks earlier, the Kremlin had formally denounced the 1968 Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia. And on Sunday, the Soviet Parliament condemned the Army's invasion of Afghanistan.
To be sure, the situation in Romania was not comparable to Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Afghanistan in 1979. But among the Soviet public post-Afghanistan pacifism dominates. In ``man-on-the-street'' interviews Sunday with a dozen Soviets of varying nationalities, all favored the overthrow of Ceausescu - and followed with ``absolutely not'' on the hypothetical question of ``our boys in uniform'' helping their Romanian allies.
Over the weekend, senior Soviet officials sought to dampen speculation of possible military aid to anti-Ceausescu forces by stressing shipments of medical and other humanitarian relief supplies to Romania. But they never completely ruled out a military role. And, if events had unfolded differently, a Warsaw Pact military role may well have been deemed necessary to ensure final elimination of the embarrassing dictatorship.
Vikenty Matveev, columnist for the government daily Izvestia, says responsibility for outside intervention would have gone beyond the Warsaw Pact. But, if the tide had indeed turned in favor of pro-Ceausescu forces, he adds, ``I'm sure the Warsaw Pact could and should not have washed its hands of the situation if the Ceausescu camp had threatened to overwhelm the nation.''