Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Moscow keeps Warsaw guessing

Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev has received visiting Polish leaders with one carrot, two sticks, and no visible hint of his long-term strategy on the Polish front.

the carrot: a promise, if nonspecific, of some measure of continuity in what has been sizable Soviet economic aid to the Poles over the past year.

About these ads

The sticks: announcement of major Soviet land and sea maneuvers near Poland early next month; and release of a joint communique Aug. 15 suggesting Soviet lack of confidence in the Polish Communist leadership.

But despite what appear to be renewed Soviet jitters over the situation in Poland, the latest summit talks produced no visible sign of precisely how Mr. Brezhnev and his Kremlin colleagues hope to defuse the crisis.

The consensus guess among foreign analysts here is that not even Mr. Brezhnev can answer that question at present.

The summit communique suggested the Soviets want to keep political pressure on the Poles, and to keep all Kremlin policy options open, but are also keenly aware of the costs of any direct intervention in the crisis.

In purely economic terms, one Soviet official remarked forthrightly in a private conversation earlier this month, intervention would mean "feeding 36 million Poles."

Indeed, even without intervention, the Soviets have had to divert substantial resources to an increasingly chaotic Polish economy in the past year -- over $4 billion by Warsaw's estimate.

One aim of the recent summit talks, held at Mr. Brezhnev's Crimean summer retreat, seems to have been to put some method in what, to Soviet eyes, must look suspiciously like madness.

About these ads

The communique announced that Moscow had agreed to defer repayment of Poland's debt to the Soviet Union until "the next five-year [plan] period," which begins in 1986.

The largest chunk of Poland's enormous foreign debt is to the West. Some diplomats suspected that Mr. Brezhnev, in agreeing to defer repayment of Soviet loans, was hoping Western creditors might find the spirit contagious.

There was no mention in the communique of further Soviet loans. The statement did pledge the Soviets to provide unspecified "additional" amounts of "certain consumer goods" and "raw materials for light industry," adding:

"The Soviet Union will facilitate a more comprehensive utilization of Poland's industrial potential."

The implication was that Mr. Brezhnev had accepted a Polish proposal, first made in June, that the Soviets deliver supplies designed particularly to get a few stalled Polish factories working again.

The sales pitch back then, as reported by the Polish news agency, was that such "cooperation could play an important part not only in the more efficient utilization of Poland's economic potential, but also in increasing deliveries to the USSR . . . ."

Diplomats here assume the last phrase, particularly, appealed to Mr. Brezhnev and fellow weary Poland-watchers.

On the political front -- especially against the background of the announced September military maneuvers -- the Aug. 15 communique seemed to suggest little Soviet confidence that the Polish Communist leadership was about to turn its country's crisis around.

After cataloguing all the things Poland's leaders hoped to achieve, the joint communique quoted Mr. Brezhnev as saying, "Soviet Communists . . . follow with close attention the events in the Polish people's republic."

He was quoted as saying the Soviet stand on the issue was "internationalist" (one of the qualities officially attributed to Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968) and that the USSR "wishes" Poland a successful strengthening of communist rule.

Western military attaches in Moscow, meanwhile, have been formally notified of the coming Soviet maneuvers near Poland's northeast frontier and in the Baltic Sea. Under East-West accords such notification is required for exercises involving more than 25,000 troops.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.