Kremlin rethinking its line toward the West
Soviet policy toward the West seems to be running into trouble, and hints of a new toughness are creeping into some Moscow policy statements. Seen through Soviet eyes, recent political trends in Washington and West Germany are bad news. The electoral defeat of French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who had been on relatively good terms with Moscow, also seems to have disappointed the Kremlin.
Since Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev unveiled a series of negotiating proposals in February, the Soviets have been looking toward Western Europe for help in softening Reagan administration foreign policy.
That approach has not changed fundamentally. Western diplomats still assume that Moscow genuinely would welcome an improvement in the East-West political climate.
Boris Ponomaryov, a nonvoting member of the ruling Soviet Politburo, in effect renewed May 29 a Soviet offer of unconditional talks with Western Europe on limiting nuclear- missile forces.
As reported in the Soviet newspaper Pravda, the Ponomaryov speech omitted all mention of a parallel Brezhnev call for freezing the number of medium-range missiles in Europe at current levels, rejected in the West as merely cementing a Soviet advantage.
Instead, Mr. Ponomaryov revived a 1979 offer by Mr. Brezhnev to reduce the number of Soviet missiles in the European part of the Soviet Union if plans to base new US missiles in Western Europe were shelved.
The Soviet hope is to head off the deployment of these missiles, slated to start in 1983, as well as to convince Washington to go easy on "militarization" and join new strategic arms talks.
A lonely piece of West European good news greeted the Soviets from the Netherlands May 27, where parliamentary election results were seen as weakening chances that nation would accept US missiles on its soil. Neighboring Belgium is also less than eager to take the 48 cruise missiles it is supposed to get.
But far more important in the West European political equation are West Germany, earmarked for the largest batch of US missiles, and France. The French are not getting any of the projectiles and are not part of the military wing of NATO, but they do play a major political role in the Western alliance.
Having secured what the Soviets dismiss publicly as a suspect US promise to renew serious East-West arms talks, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt May 26 won renewed parliamentary endorsement of the planned missile deployment.
New French President Francois Mitterrand, whose Socialist Party has been feuding for the past several years with the country's pro-Moscow Communists, is said to have assured the West Germans of his moral support for the missile deployment.
Since Mitterrand's election, the Soviets have sent several messages to members of the new ruling team calling for continued good relations between Moscow and Paris.
But during the electoral campaign, Pravda came close to endorsing Giscard d'Estaing, who is generally more conservative than Mitterrand but was careful to avoid major squalls in his relationship with the Soviets.
A Soviet official, speaking privately with this reporter, expressed concern that Mr. Mitterrand would at least prove more unpredictable on that score.
The state news media here have been handling the new French government with kid gloves, limiting themselves to objective reports sprinkled with an occasional hint that France's pro-Moscow Communists' support for Mitterrand at the polls should earn them a share of power.
But toward Washington and Bonn, the public Soviet line seems gradually to be hardening. Calls for arms talks continue, with no visible sign they will be abandoned.
In a speech May 9, Brezhnev said that if the new US missiles were in fact deployed in Western Europe, "We will have to think about extra defensive measures. If necessary, we shall find impressive means to safeguard our vital interests. The NATO planners should [in that case] not complain."
Back-to-back commentaries in the Soviet press have suggested a parallel between current West German policy and that of Adolf Hitler, an uncommonly strong statement even by Moscow media standards.
Brezhnev said in February that the arms race was complicating East European domestic economic programs -- and his own.
But the Soviet journal World Economy and International Relations, in an article cited May 29 by the English-language service of the official news agency , Tass said:
"The Soviet Union and the socialist community are capable of accepting and enduring any competition with imperialism in the military-economic field, although . . . they would have preferred . . . to spend their resources only on creative aims."
Tass interpreted the statement as meaning that "the hopes in the ruling circles of the United States that it is possible to 'economically exhaust' the Soviet Union by means of intensifying the arms race are groundless."