Brezhnev's passage to India -- bartering oil for Asian support
Leonid Brezhnev's trip to India, his first to Asia in seven years, represents a fresh Kremlin bid for influence in the nonaligned world. His four-day state visit, which starts today, has at least four main objectives. Two of these look partially attainable. Two look beyond reach.
Meanwhile, the Soviet leader keeps looking over his shoulder at the crisis in Poland, only temporarily dealt with by the surprise Warsaw Pact summit in Moscow Dec. 5.
[Reuters reported the White House as saying Dec. 7 that the Soviet Union appears to have completed preparations to intervene in Poland and warned Moscow not to take any such action.]
As the world's strongest socialist state turns its attention to the world's largest nonaligned country, the Kremlim wants:
* To exert new pressure against India's rival, Pakistan. It would remind Islamabad that India is pro-Moscow while Afghanistan, on Pakistan's other side, is occupied by Soviet troops.
* To try to persuade India, Asia, and the entire nonaligned movement to resist more strongly the twin influences of the United States and China.
* To use India's low-key reaction to the invasion of Afghanistan, and its recognition of the Vietnam-backed Heng Samrin regime in Cambodian (Kampuchea), as a diplomatic way of reemphasizing the Soviet stand in both crisis areas.
* To try to rally Asian and near-Asian public opinion against US and British influence in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
Moscow expects reasonable propaganda success on its first two goals. But it is likely to be disappointed on the last two.
Pakistan watches the trip with some concern, though it had recognized for a long time Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's pro-Moscow stance.
And Soviet words against the US and China found receptive ears in New Delhi.
Yet it is considered unlikely that Moscow would make tangible diplomatic gains on Afghanistan or Cambodia as a result of the Brezhnev visit.
And much of noncommunist Asia is so alarmed at Soviet and Vietnamese expansionsim in Asia that the Soviet proposal to make the Indian Ocean into a "zone of peace" is generally dismissed.
"All Moscow wants is to remove US weapons from the Indian Ocean so that Vietnam, with its enormous armed forces, can emerge as the dominant power there, " comments one pro-Western diplomatic source here.
Moscow tried to ensure a pleasant welcome for Mr. Brezhnev by agreeing before he left Moscow to make up all the oil supplies India has lost this year because of the Iran-Iraq war. This totaled about 1.5 million tons, sources here reported. Negotiations on what the Soviets will supply India for next year have not yet concluded.
Moscow feels it needs Indian diplomatic support on Afghanistan and Cambodia, and Mr. Brezhnev's mission is to dwell on both areas, as well as on the Indian Ocean. The Kremlin says it is alarmed at the US buildup of forces there and around the Gulf.
The Soviet press gave its usual buildup to the visit by emphasizing that factories and plants in India built with Soviet aid produced more than 40 percent of India's steel, 70 percent of its oil, 20 percent of its electrical power, and so on.
Omitted from the press are the ups and downs the Kremlin has had with India in recent years. relations cooled when the Janata Party defeated Mrs. Gandhi, but the Soviets worked hard to repair them.
Mr. Brezhnev had not been in Asia since he visited India in November 1973. He flew to Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East in November 1974 for a summit meeting with former President Ford, but since 1975, Mr. Brezhnev has visited Europe, both East and West.
During the trip to India he is expected to receive frequent reports on the crisis in Poland.
The Warsaw Pact meeting Dec. 5 seemed to signal to immediate Soviet invasion but continued pressure on party leader Stanislaw Kania and union chief Lech Walesa to cool tensions.