Like crocuses in November, promises of improved relations are suddenly pushing through the barren ground between East and West. They are springing from both sides - and within the Western alliance itself, which has had its own internal frictions to alleviate. They challenge national leaders to seize the moment for progress toward stability.
But is there actually a moment to be seized? Yes, if a number of factors are put together. These include:
* An expectation of various Soviet peace initiatives - on arms control, detente, and Afghanistan, for example - that are forecast to be intensified in the post-Brezhnev era. Moscow has plenty of economic and diplomatic reasons to give a self-serving thrust to moves reducing the drain of military expenditure and international tensions. But this is no cause for the West to fail to consider any good-faith steps and respond in kind. The new Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, should be taken up on what he said amidst the usual defiance of imperialism the other day: that Moscow is ''always ready'' for equal, honest, and mutually beneficial cooperation ''with any country,'' which must include the United States.
* European efforts to start restoring unity among the Western allies. One sign was the attitude of West Germany's new leader, Helmut Kohl, on the way to his meeting with President Reagan yesterday. Ironically, the representative of America's firm friend almost echoed the words of adversary Andropov in talking of a new beginning in US-German relations based on partnership and equal rights. To foster this unity with the US throughout Western Europe would make the alliance more effective in preserving its mutual security and thus more effective in negotiating new peace steps with the Soviet Union.
* American efforts to restore unity among the allies - and ease tensions with the Soviet Union. Both aims appeared to be addressed by President Reagan's lifting of the sanctions against the Soviet gas pipeline to Europe.
To be sure, he said that the sanctions were being removed in favor of even stronger measures against Soviet repression - namely, an agreement with the Europeans on certain restraints of trade with Moscow. Thus, particularly in relation to his hardline right-wing supporters at home, Mr. Reagan gave himself the difficult challenge of showing that the new measures really would be tougher than the sanctions. The challenge was not made easier by France's quick dissociation from the European agreement he cited.
As it was, lifting the sanctions appeared to be a tactical retreat in the face of displeasure by the allies as well as US companies that have been hurt. At least realism was expressed by White House economic adviser Martin Feldstein: that side effects of the sanctions on the US and its allies made them an ''inefficient'' way to penalize the Russians.
Can Mr. Reagan have things both ways? For example, he used to justify ending the Soviet grain embargo as a way not of helping the Russians but forcing them to spend hard currency. Now he suggests that the move really was a favor to them for which the US has received nothing in return.
Similarly, the ending of the pipeline sanctions is supposed to be in the interests of harder measures against the Soviets. Yet he hopes it will be a signal ''that we are ready for a better relationship any time that they are.''
Certainly Moscow has done nothing yet to ease the repression against which both the grain and pipeline sanctions were directed. (Warsaw's release of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa looked more like a coincidence than an excuse for the White House to back down.)
In that sense, whatever Mr. Reagan's reasons for turning away from the sanctions, this action does remove obstacles to constructive East-West relationships. Even while treating the action with disdain, Moscow could reciprocate in effect by proceeding with the peace initiatives it is said to be contemplating.
Here a little, there a little, the moment could be seized, the crocuses could last till spring.