With a new government in Paris, Soviet commentators have taken off the kid gloves generally reserved for former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. In contrast to his predecessor, French Socialist President Francois Mitterrand is sharply critical of Soviet troop presence in Afghanistan."Giscard d'Estaing looked through his fingers on that one," a senior Moscow official acknowledges privately.
On the Middle East question, he is more friendly toward Israel -- "slightly pro-Zionist," says the official.
And -- presumably most unsettling of all for Moscow -- Mr. Mitterrand has taken an out-front position in support of basing new US nuclear missiles in Western Europe.
The official Soviet news media's barbed reply does not seem to signal a complete about-face in Moscow's approach toward Paris. One highly placed Soviet analyst commented to the Monitor that he still sees no "serious" change from traditionally good Soviet-French ties, and suggested some recent French policy statements have been "tactical," intended for audiences within France or within the Western alliance.
Soviet commentators have continued to show restraint toward the French on such issues as the decision to grant asylum to former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr.
And the moscow media have in large part avoided personal criticism of Mr. Mitterrand, preferring instead to focus on the likes of French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson.
Officials here suggest privately that the Kremlin still hopes for generally good relations with Mr. Mitterrand's government, which includes a few French Communists.
So far, the Soviets appear to have no intention of advocating Communist withdrawal from the French coalition. Mr. Mitterrand has a parliamentary majority without the Communists, but they could conceivably cause trouble in the labor unions should they decide at some point to break with him.
The Soviet ambassador to Paris emerged from a meeting with Mr. Mitterrand July 31 denying any crisis in relations, saying:
"We have both the hope and the conviction that the efforts of France and the Soviet Union . . . will contribute to the solution of acute problems facing us on the international scene."
Foreign diplomats here tend to see the Soviet media switch on France as in line with Moscow's carrot-and-stick approach to other major West European states.
The idea seems to be to encourage pressure on West European governments from their more left-leaning constituents, in hopes these governments will, in turn, pressure the US to talk (and talk more nicely) to Moscow.
This implies sometimes-barbed public criticism of various West European policies -- in France's case, support for Western rearmament -- coupled with suggestions that a more moderate stand will win wide Soviet cooperation on political and commercial issues.
"West Europe has its own interests" independent of Ronald Reagan, one Soviet official here explains.
He pointed to "rather sharp differences" on economic issues at the recent Ottawa summit of six Western nations and Japan.