Crimean "vacations" for the Soviet-bloc comrades have come around again, but this summer they have taken a new twist. For years, the East European leaders -- with only one exception -- have joined Russia's Leonid Brezhnev there, for all the world like a packaged tour. It always looked as though they went for an ad hoc political summit rather than the suntanning.
The exception was Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu.In foreign policy he is often the odd man out in the communist alliance, rather like maverick France in NATO.
He has never stayed away altogether. He doesn't want to be that far out of line nor to be ganged up on. So he usually goes to the Brezhnev "Camp David" after his East European pals have gone home.
But this summer the package tour for the group of bloc chums was out. Ceausescu and his colleagues came one by one. beginning in late July, Janos Kadar (Hungary), Gustav Husak (Czechoslovakia), and Edward Gierek (Poland) took "official holidays" in the Crimea and -- as the communiques put it -- discussed the problems of their respective countries with their Soviet host.
Mr. Ceausescu will be doing the same this week. And he has tucked in his pocket a freshly signed trade-boosting agreement with the West European Common Market that might have met a chorus of criticism from envious allies had they been around when he arrived.
For their part, the Russians just now may be content to avoid bloc gatherings , however informal, even without Romania. Such get-togethers these days might not prove as "monolithic" as they would like.
That leaves Mr. Brezhnev more time to focus on the state of an alliance that is much less unified, and much more troubled by Afghanistan, than might appear on the surface.
For example, Mr. Husak's Czechoslovakia seems to offer Moscow no major problem 12 years after the brief Dubcek reform period. Hard-liners still command and ensure as orthodox a regime as the Kremlin's sternest dogmatists could desire. But a pending economic efficiency drive coupled with austerity programs this year and next could well rekindle old pressures for reform.