Kremlin policy on Poland: two tests to watch
The Soviet Union is facing two of the clearest tests yet of its intentions toward neighboring Poland. The first is how to react to the Solidarity union movement's declaration of support for creation of similar groups in other East-bloc states.
Moscow has long been suggesting that Solidarity poses a threat not only to Poland, but also to the entire Soviet bloc. It would now seem to have been handed its first black-and-white "evidence" with which to press much further with such charges.
By Sept. 13, the Kremlin had taken what could be an initial step in that direction, criticizing the Solidarity message as "openly provocative and impudent toward the socialist countries" while orchestrating a series of indignant replies to Solidarity's statement from Soviet workers.
But, said one Western diplomat here, "given the nature of the Solidarity message, this kind of response would seem almost automatic . . . even mild in comparison to what the Soviets might have said."
The second test of Soviet policy toward Poland consists in what to do with the 100,000 land and sea troops grouped for Soviet war games near Polish frontiers, the largest such maneuvers in the area for many years -- and much larger than any of the exercises that have been taking place off and on during the yearlong Polish crisis.
The Soviet news agency Tass announced the end of the exercises late Sept. 12 and said the forces involved were returning to base. But at this writing it remained unclear just how and when the dispersal would be carried out.
Before its troops moved into Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the Soviet Union staged major maneuvers there with other Warsaw Pact forces. Although Moscow announced the end of the exercises in late June, many troops stayed behind for at least several weeks -- or even longer.
Neither of these tests of Soviet policy toward Poland is likely to indicate for sure whether the Kremlin will ultimately intervene there as well. Such an operation would likely carry a far higher price tag -- military, political, and economic -- than the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
But both seem likely to provide a sorely needed analytical context for what has become virtually continuous Soviet news media criticism of events in Poland.
For Western analyst trying to guess ultimate Soviet intentions, official media assaults have lost much of their meaning over the long Polish crisis.
There are precious few accusations that the official Soviet media have not yet made. The Soviet propaganda machine has already generated the justifications for direct intervention -- if the Kremlin decides on that course.
Solidarity and other "antisocialists," Moscow says, are in league with Western intelligence agencies, want to seize power in Poland and return to capitalism. Poland's leaders have vowed to get tough, but the crisis goes on.
And so diplomats and other foreign analysts in Moscow have been reduced to combing the Soviet media for a new word here, an extra comma there, with the strong suspicion that the Polish reform movement will not stand or fall on the strength of Tass commentaries.
Equally constant has been a clear Soviet reluctance to intervene militarily if such a step can be avoided.
One sign whether this reluctance is eroding could be the extent to which Moscow seeks to portray Solidarity's open message to other East-bloc workers as a dangerous departure from past "antisocialism" in Poland.
Another could come in watching what happens to the enormous Soviet troop force which, by Tass's account, is "returning to places of . . . permanent stationing."