GERMANY, Moscow's most-important link to Western Europe, is finding its Soviet policy under constraint these days. Like the United States, Germany has not been able to do much more than register strong displeasure over last month's violence in the Baltic republics.
Although the chief motivation behind the restrained US response is to keep the Soviet Union in the coalition against Iraq, the Germans want to make sure nothing hinders the pullout of Soviet troops from eastern Germany or Soviet ratification of several key treaties.
``We are keeping to the agreed treaties, just as we expect the Soviet Union to keep to their treaties,'' said Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher on Jan. 14, the day after the Soviet military killed 13 number of people in Lithuania.
One of the agreements is the ``Two-Plus-Four'' treaty, which returns full sovereignty to Germany for the first time since World War II. The Supreme Soviet is expected to take up the treaty later this month.
Although Bonn is fairly optimistic that the Soviets won't renege on the accords, there is still an element of uncertainty. Mikhail Logvinov, the Soviet Embassy spokesman in Paris, said last month that ratification of Two-Plus-Four ``will really not be as easy as was previously thought.... Many deputies think we gave away too much.'' A government official in Bonn, who asked not to be identified, said that ``we are sure to see an expression of displeasure in the Supreme Soviet,'' but he is confident of ratification.
Meanwhile, a new twist has developed regarding the Soviet troop pullout. Those Soviet troops that do not leave Germany via ship will exit through Poland. The Poles are not happy with the German-Soviet transit terms, in which they took no part. They are also demanding a treaty with Moscow on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland.
Though Poland is not making easy passage of the Soviet troops from Germany conditional on getting their own troop withdrawal treaty, the issues are ``closely tied,'' says a spokesman for the Polish Embassy in Germany.
According to the Defense Ministry in Bonn, this is turning into a significant problem. It was expected to be the major topic when the new head of Soviet forces in eastern Germany, Maj.-Gen. Matvei Burkalov, visited Bonn yesterday. If the Soviets and Poles can't come to agreement, said a Defense Ministry spokesman, ``it could be that the troop pullout will take longer'' than the agreed-on four years. The treaty governing the Soviet troop withdrawal from Germany, in which the Germans promise 15 billion marks ($10.2 billion) in grants and credits to facilitate the withdrawal, has yet to be ratified by the Supreme Soviet.
`BONN is afraid that treaties won't be ratified, that's why today they are so careful with the Soviet Union,'' says Eberhard Schulz, a specialist on Eastern Europe at the German Foreign Policy Institute here.
Mr. Schulz says Germany and its Western partners missed an opportunity last year to help the Baltic republics at least toward confederation, if not independence. But Germany was ``fixated on unification,'' he says, and now ``it's too late'' to work much influence. The best the West can do at the moment, offers Schulz, is to build ties with the individual Baltic republics.
This is just what has started to happen over the last few weeks. On Jan. 21, Mr. Genscher held talks in Bonn with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas, accompanied by the Latvian parliamentary leader. A week later, more representatives from the Baltic republics were received in Bonn, this time led by the Latvian foreign minister.
The Baltics ``are seeking visibility,'' says the government official in Bonn, and that, at least, is something the Germans can offer. On the other hand, Bonn is not fully pleased with the policies of the Baltic republics, especially regarding discrimination against Russian and other minorities living there.
``We're telling the visiting ministers that we could be more forthcoming if they would clean up their minority regulations,'' said another official.
There's no doubt here that the Germans are upset with the centrist, conservative trend in the Soviet Union, that they strongly condemn the violence in the Baltics, and that they support the right to self determination there. But they are not ready to abandon Mikhail Gorbachev yet.
``The pendulum is swinging in the old direction and we don't want to push it any further,'' says the first government official. ``This is one reason why the world is being rather cautious.''