Kremlin diplomacy is on the move through the broad sweep of southern Soviet border regions, from the Middle East clear around to the Indian subcontinent, in an effort to extract benefits from current chaos.
Western analysts here tend to perceive Soviet strategy with a different emphasis than those in Washington: Those here stress the difficulties in the Soviet path, while a common American view is to be more impressed with Soviet opportunities for expansionism and heightened prestige.
It is agreed, however, that the Soviets are engaged in a fresh burst of diplomacy, with a visit here by Syrian President Hafez Assad, and planned visits by King Hussein of Jordan and Babrak Karmal of Afghanistan.
The Soviets see the need for more efforts in the Middle East to try to capitalize on the sagging state of the Camp David talks among the United States, Egypt, and Israel. They are alarmed at the way fighting between Iran and Iraq is dragging on, and repeatedly warn the US to stay out.
They remain bogged down in Afghanistan, hoping by force of arms to subdue rebel guerrillas who continue to fight strongly. In the subcontinent, they woo India with fervor and excoriate Pakistan, with an eye to containing the Chinese to the north.
Differing perceptions in Moscow and Washington emerged when Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D) of New York, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, arrived here in early October. He was the first member of Congress to visit Moscow for a year.
He brought with him the view that the Soviet threat worldwide was growing, that the Soviets stood to gain from US setbacks in Iran and the Camp David difficulties in the Middle East, and that Soviet policies in Europe and in Asia were menacing NATO allies and Japan.
Western diplomats and other observers agree that Soviet leaders remain expansionist and opportunistic, but they tend to stress the conservatism of the Kremlin, and current problems and dilemmas facing Soviet officials in the Arab and Muslim world.
There is a general agreement on the relentless pace of Soviet military spending and development -- but a disagreement on how best the United States should seek to contain Soviet influence.
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's latest remarks on the Mideast (at a Kremlin dinner for Mr. Assad Oct. 8) repeated the Soviet line of an Israeli pullback to pre-1967 positions, and an independent Palestinian state.
Jordan's King Hussein is soon to arrive in Moscow. The Soviets will try to capitalize on the King's distaste for Camp David. But the King's visit also highlights a major Soviet dilemna: the fighting between Iraq and Iran.
Mr. Brezhnev said explicitly Oct. 8 that "we are not going to intervene in the conflict. . . ." The Soviets don't want to provoke either combatant. But Iran is annoyed that the Soviets won't make a public pledge to stop arms shipments to Iraq. And Iraq can hardly be pleased at the prospect of a new Soviet treaty with Iraqi neighbor and enemy, Syria.
Syria, in fact, is at odds with all its neighbors: Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. Mr. Assad looks to Moscow for support. To what kind of Syrian star has the Kremlin hitched its diplomatic wagon, Westerners here ask.
Syria supports Iran in the conflict: King Hussein fervently backs Iraq against what he sees as Iranian anti-Arab arrogance.
In Afgahnistan, the Soviets show no change. The Soviet press daily claims victories by Afghan forces over guerrillas, even though reports from a medical nurse now in India, and other sources, talk of munting Soviet casualties in heavy fighting almost 10 months after Soviet troops first went in.
Babrak Karmal, installed by Moscow as leader in Kabul last December, was to visit Moscow in mid-October, apparently to help Moscow restate its Afghan position and to claim victory against "outside intervention" on the eve of the UN General Assembly debate on Afghanistan set for November.
Meanwhile, Indian President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy has just finished a visit here. Mainly a sight-seeing trip, it also underlined Soviet determination to tighten relations with India as a way of counteracting Chinese influence in the subcontinent and of opposite Pakistan. The Soviets routinely denounce President Zia ul-Haq for allowing Afghan rebels to use bases in the Pakistani region of Peshawar.