Moscow reaps windfall profits in the Middle East
For the first time in years, the men in the Kremlin can peer at the Mideast with something like a smile of satisfaction. In Iraq, in conservative oil states like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and in the Egypt Anwar Sadat left behind, Moscow's fortunes are on the upswing.
Nothing resembling a full-scale swing toward the Soviets is in the offing. No perfectly trusting embraces should be expected even here in Iraq, where the turnaround in Soviet stock has been increasingly evident.
But various factors - chiefly the Iran-Iraq war and US setbacks in the Arab-Israeli diplomatic arena - have dealt unmistakable windfall profits to the Soviets. Moscow has gladly taken advantage.
USSR Inc.'s stockholders report - Mideast division - might look something like this:
* Kuwait. The one Arab Gulf monarchy that has formal diplomatic ties with Moscow has just initialed an accord to buy Soviet antiair and other military materiel worth $325 million after being rebuffed in a bid to get similar arms from the US.
According to an unconfirmed report in a Kuwaiti newspaper, the deal will include the dispatch of Soviet military experts and training personnel to Kuwait. for the first time.
(The US warned Kuwait Friday it would be concerned if the country bought an excessive amount of weapons from the Soviets. But the deal apparently will not upset US plans to provide Kuwait with about $50 million in defense equipment.)
* Saudi Arabia. No diplomatic ties yet, and no immediate sign the Saudis and neighbors are hankering to join Kuwait in that club.
But recently released trade data, with a multimillion-dollar jump in the Soviet-Saudi column, suggest Saudi oil deliveries on behalf of allied Iraq to fund the Iraqis' resumed arms purchases from Moscow.
* Egypt. Full ambassadorial ties, cut by the late Anwar Sadat, are set to resume. True, the present regime of President Hosni Mubarak has lost no opportunity to stress the move is not intended as a slap at the US. (If you were getting more than $2 billion yearly in US aid and were in the midst of converting a once Soviet-armed military to US weaponry, you would stress the same thing.)
But Cairo's Al Akhbar newspaper noted recently that the normalization with Moscow is part of a conscious Egyptian ''policy ... for adopting a balanced position between the two superpowers.''
Gone, at least for now, seems the Sadat-era alliance with a US bid actively to exclude Moscow from the Mideast diplomatic arena. If only as part of Egypt's bid to resume a major political role in the Arab world, Mr. Mubarak is not about to play point man for US policy in the way Mr. Sadat did.
* Iraq. The Iraqis - like Egypt, for that matter - still harbor suspicions about Moscow's potential for muddying their internal political waters.
Baghdad's ruling Baath Party has always mistrusted the local communists. They are the only political group with the organizational tools seriously to rival the Baathists.
Besides, a foreign ambassador notes, ''Both parties draw on the same human stock'' - historically disadvantaged folk in the provinces. Only a few years ago , Iraq executed 21 communists on charges of trying to stir trouble in the Army.
Yet not since the mid-1970s - after a Iraqi-Soviet friendship pact - have ties with Moscow been better.
In a spinoff of the Gulf war, sizable Soviet-Iraqi arms sales have resumed. Squeezed for hard currency, Iraq has also shown signs of reverting to the ''Soviet option'' in development projects.
An ambassador says Iraq only recently used a hefty, Saudi-funded arms purchase from Moscow as an entree into a roughly $2 billion Soviet credit line for use in various electric energy and oil-prospecting projects.
A deal has also been signed with Moscow to choose a site for Iraq's first nuclear-energy installation.
On other fronts, too, things are going relatively well for Moscow. Pro-Western Jordan, for instance, has also been spurned in a bid to buy weapons from the US. On a similar occasion in the past, King Hussein reacted by turning to Moscow for his weapons.
There is no firm sign he will do so again. But by the old Mideast saying that ''an enemy of an enemy is my friend,'' any complication in Jordan's traditionally close ties with the US won't cause tears in Moscow.
In the long run, the superpower balance will depend largely on factors of the sort that have smiled on the Soviets in recent months. But as Moscow has discovered in past years, any major resurgence of influence stands to be complicated by infighting among various nominal ''allies'' in the region. Iraq, for instance, glares angrily at its Soviet-armed neighbor and rival, Syria. The Syrians glare not only at Iraq, but also at Yasser Arafat's followers in the Palestine Liberation Organization.