The Russians are not accepting the settlement worked out between Polish strikers and the Polish United Workers (Communist) Party. This is the interpretation Western obserers give to Pravda's Sept. 1 denunciation of "antisocialist elements" in Poland that are trying to take advantage of economic difficulties for "counterrevolutionary aims." In the Soviet lexicon, this is very strong language.
The Pravda article, by high-ranking commentator Alexie Petrov, also charged that the "antisocialist elements" had links with the Polish emigrants and "subversive centers" in the West and that they were trying to destroy ties between the party and the working class.
Western diplomats take the Pravda article as fully representative of Kremlin reaction to the Polish settlement. It may have been written before the actual signing in Gdansk, but it was written after it was already clear that the Polish party leadership was going to make major concessions to the strikers. If the settlement had changed Kremlin views, the article would have been pulled from Pravda.
An earlier indication of Moscow's unhappiness with the Poles had come in Pravda's Aug. 31 repetition of Us Communist Party leader Gus Hall's charge that the Polish strikes show a "weakness of the leadership and a deformation of socialist method." Pravda would not carry that assessment of the Polish leadership without approving of it, Western diplomats note -- and indeed, it is assumed that Hall would not have uttered such opinions without some Kremlin nudging.
Any more direct assessment of Soviet reaction beyond this Talmudic reading of Pravda has not been possible during the three weeks of Polish crisis. Neither American nor Western European diplomats in Moscow have had any contact with Soviet Central Committee members or with ranking political journalists in this period.
Western diplomats thus have no indication whether the Soviet Politburo has been meeting to discuss the Polish question -- nor how much consultation there may have been between the Polish and Soviet party leaderships.
The assumption from the tone of the latest Pravda articles, however, is that the Kremlin considers Polish consultation to have been inadequate. This has long been a sensitive issue with the Kremlin; every joint communique after Soviet-Polish talks stresses the importance of "coordination" between the two sides.
Diplomats with long experience in Soviet relations regard the primary issue for the Kremlin in Poland as loss of the Communist Party monopoly on political power -- precisely the issue that led to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia 12 years ago. The Kremlin has grudgingly tolerated an independent Roman Catholic Church in Poland, but that is very different from tolerating an independent trade-union organization of the proletariat -- the class that Communist Party power is supposed to rest on. In all Leninist ideology -- and power manifestation -- it has been the revolutionary elite that organized the workers, never the workers that organized themselves.
That these workers organized themselves to the point of threatening a general strike in Poland makes the loss of party power all the more offensive to the Russians. That the Polish Communist Party actually negotiated with independent workers is scarcely less offensive.
If, in fact, the new Polish settlement is unacceptable to the Kremlin, the next question is: What will the Kremlin do about it?
Western diplomats regard the most likely course as Soviet pressure on the Polish leadership to emasculate the agreement in its implementation -- to make sure that the new independent trade union is quickly controlled or co-opted by the party leadership. The Polish workers are very wary of such a weakening of their union, however, and it seems unlikely that Polish politicians could effect a takeover of the new union very quickly.
In that case the Soviet Union might consider forcing a change of leadership of the Polish Communist Party. Western diplomats do not think this would work, however; the deterioration of party control in Poland has probably gone too far to permit any leader -- no matter how responsive he might be to Soviet wishes -- to turn the clock back.
A Soviet military intervention in Poland would be used only as a last resort, diplomats believe. There is no doubt that the Red Army could suppress any Polish resistance, but there are a number of inhibitions against such a bald Soviet use of military power in Europe.
The inhibitions may be summed up as: the militant Polish temperament; Afghanistan; US and West German elections; the remnants of detente in Europe; and arms control.
Any Soviet military invasion of Poland would be much messier than the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet and token Warsaw Pact forces. The 35 million Poles outnumber the 15 million Czechoslovaks, to start with. The Poles have a tradition of fighting for their independence every generation (often against the Russians), while the Czechs have avoided war for three centuries.
The Polish Army is not controlled by Soviet officers, as is the East German Army, nor is it outnumbered by Soviet troops within the country. (There are 14 Polish and only 2 Soviet divisions in Poland; in East Germany there are 19 or 20 Soviet divisions but only 6 East German ones.) The Poles could well conduct a protracted resistance of the sort the Soviet Union is already facing in Afghanistan.
A Soviet military intervention in Poland before the Oct. 5 West German and the Nov. 4 US elections could well bring hawks into power who would be anathema to Moscow: Franz Josef Strauss in Bonn and Ronald Reagan in Washington.
In addition, there is the question of preserving what is left of detente in Europe. The Soviet Union has basked in the continuation of normal contacts with West Germany and France, despite the freeze of superpower relations after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan early this year. Yet West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing specified in their joint statement after Afghanistan that any further Soviet aggression would end detente in Europe altogether.
Despite the almost painful West German restraint over Poland so far -- so as not to give Moscow any pretext of Western interference in Polish affairs -- the Bonn government recently has indicated indirectly that a Soviet invasion of Poland would, indeed, end detente.
It would also end Soviet hopes of preventing NATO's first deployment of new medium-range nuclear weapons in Western Europe a few years hence. These weapons , which NATO agreed on last December to offset the new Soviet SS-20 missiles and Backfire bombers, would be the first weapons since World War II capable of reaching the Soviet Union from West German soil.
The Kremlin has been most eager to prevent this step. It had hoped to use the forthcoming Helsinki-agreement review conference in Madrid to promote European arms control. A Soviet invasion of Poland would wreck the Madrid conference and make any arms and control unthinkable prior to NATO's scheduled deployment.