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The Soviet bear growls again over Polish developments

Poland's latest eruption of labour trouble is bringing new signs of concern -- and pressure -- from Moscow. A commentary carried Jan. 28 in the Soviet Defense Ministry newspaper leveled uncommonly tough and explicit charges of a Western "campaign" to split Poland from the East European military alliance, although the allegation itself was not new.

The article, attributed to a political writer from a Polish newspaper, seemed to the more jittery Western analysts here like a pretext for eventual escalation of Soviet or Warsaw Pact intervention in the crisis. There has never been much doubt among diplomats here that, were such an escalation to come, it would be at the formal "invitation" of Warsaw.

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At least, Western analysts argued, the commentary in the Soviet military journal, coming at a time when Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops remain poised near Poland's borders, amounts to fresh pressure on that country's beleaguered Communist leaders to sort out their troubles.

Just when, how -- and, indeed, whether -- the Soviets might move from tough words to tough actions remained anyone's guess.

The educated guessers known hereabouts as Kremlinologists suspect that Soviet leaders, themselves, remained in a quandary on those questions and that many of the answers might still lie in Warsaw.

There were also some signs that heightened Soviet involvement might still not come immediately.

Also appearing Jan. 28 -- and carried in all major Soviet newspapers -- was a news agency report highlighting Polish economic woes. It portrayed the Polish leadership as still open to "negotiation" with restive labor groups.

The Polish crisis was far down on the list of Moscow radio's morning headlines. The radio's English service even broadcast a distinctly business-as- usual report from Warsaw, focusing not on labor troubles but on Polish calls for European disarmament talks.

Some diplomats also interpreted a recent decrease in Soviet media references to Polish communist chief Stanislaw Kania as a possible indication Moscow might prod another power reshuffle in Poland before resorting to more direct intervention.

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Finally, even the tough commentary in the Soviet military daily Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) could be read as a wary endorsement of Poland's ruling communists. The headline vowed that the West's alleged plans of subversion "will not come true."

The commentator expressed confidence that the Polish party would prevail against "the antisocialist elements inspired and led by the [Western] imperialists." The victory, he wrote, would come "under the banner of the even greater consolidation of the fraternal ties binding Poland with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries."

Yet on balance, even these words seemed to most seasoned analysts here as much a warning as an endorsement: in effect, a further nudge for the Poles to get their own house quickly and fully in order, lest they finally force reluctant outsiders to "help."

If the article in Krasnaya Zvezda is any indication, at least some influential Soviets have even settled on the form the Poles' housecleaning must take: in a word, aggressive.

Nearly gone from the commentary were earlier media allowances for the Polish unions' presumed good intentions -- the idea that gullible, but fundamentally responsible, union officials were being manipulated by a minority of troublemakers.

The problems are now portrayed as more pervasive, requiring not so much a compromise between the party and the unions as a strong reasser tion of party control.

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