The Kremlin has a definite interest in maintaining a dialogue with the United States on limiting strategic nuclear weapons and conventional arms in Central Europe.
But it wants to do so without making any concessions on Afghanistan (such as beginning to withdraw troops), without stopping its ceaseless efforts to divide Washington from its NATO allies, and without giving up any opportunities to bolster its influence and oppose the US and China in the Arab world and the Near East.
Latest evidence of such bolstering is the $1.6 billion arms-aid package from Moscow to India -- a move seen here as shrewdly timed to try to offset US and Chinese interests in New Delhi as well as to capitalize on Indian fears of Pakistani militarism and possible future Soviet moves in Afghanistan.
The arms package is also viewed as Soviet payment in advance for what it hopes will be Indian support of Soviet and Afghan political positions on the Afghan fighting.
This is the view of informed Western sources here. They add their belief that the basic positions of the US and the USSR on the issues dividing them are still far apart.
The questions for the US now seems to be this: how to meet the desire to continue arms- control talks, while making it clear to the Senate and to the public that steps such as ratifying SALT II are compatible with opposing Soviet troops in the nonaligned, third-world state of Afghanistan.
The Soviets signaled their desire to keep the dialogue alive by having Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko meet Secretary of State Edmund Muskie in Vienna -- and by having Mr. Gromyko promptly grant a request for a follow-up meeting here with US Ambassador Thomas Watson. Mr. Gromyko met Mr. Watson for 90 minutes May 26.
Both in public and in private, the Soviets have indicated they want to see SALT II ratified. For them, it puts limitations on the US cruise missile (under the treaty protocol) and also lets them retain their basic heavy missile force. For the US, the treaty limits the number of warheads each side can hang on its long-range launchers (to 10) and forces the Soviets to dismantle some older launchers.