Poles edgy that Soviets might try economic squeeze
After the initial shock of the Kremlin's latest pressures on Poland, relief is now giving way to anxiety. Relief because the Soviets' recent warning about Solidarity's opposition and "anti-Sovietism" could be more bark than bite.
Anxiety because the warning might not have been all that Soviet Ambassador Aristov delivered to the Polish leaders.
First there were rumors, but now there are claims, from usually very well-informed sources, that Mr. Aristov had presented a further warning or "protocol" which was not published along with his political statement.
In this, it is said, the Soviet Union gave a strong hint -- even "a definite threat" -- that unless the leadership quickly brings Solidarity and its extremist factions to heel, economic action might be taken.
If, in fact, the Soviets have lost patience with the Poles to the extent of making such a decision, then economic action could take two possible forms:
1. It could mean a cutback in Soviet trade, including such essential raw materials as oil and gas, for which Poland is, of course, totally dependent upon the Soviet Union.
2. It might mean, at least at the start, the Soviets would cut off only the additional aid in foodstuffs and other consumer goods which, with hard currency loans to purchase more elsewhere, they have been giving the Poles since the crisis and the resultant economic slide started 12 months ago.
The motivation would obviously be the fact that the Poles themselves admit having through this period seriously defaulted on their own trade obligations with the Soviets and other Warsaw Pact allies. At this writing the Polish government announced it was ready to take undisclosed exceptional measures following its second emergency meeting in a week Sept. 20.
Already East Germany and Czechoslovakia have begun to scale down their deliveries to Poland to compensate for the Pole's failure to meet commitments fully. As a result Poland's neighbors had to make good with hard currency purchases elsewhere.
The Soviets, however, maintained their own commitments and the Polish press has frequently sought to impress Poles with the Soviets'"selfless generosity" in providing deliveries in excess of agreement as well as additional loans and aid.
The Soviets, it is said, might now warn the Poles that in future trade will be brought back to strictly reciprocal levels -- a "one for one" arrangement -- according to how the Poles fulfill their contracts.
There are reports that the Council of ministers was holding an unusual Sunday meeting -- its third in less than a week -- and that the party committee is to be reconvened soon.
It is also being said that a change of party leadership might be one of the options under consideration. The latest Soviet warning gave neither the assurance of continued aid nor an expression of confidence in the leadership to overcome the crisis, both of which have been part of previous communications from Moscow.
Nonetheless tension does seem to have lifted a little here in the last 48 hours.
The obvious essential, as seen here, is that the second stage of Solidarity's congress, a week hence, must not become a repetition of the first which many Poles -- while still supporting the union as the only real outlet for the whole spectrum of public feeling -- feel went much too far into political areas.