Despite a slight warming trend, gray skies hang over American-Soviet relations
Moscow's weather these days is like its politics: a few gold-tinged autumn days, followed by longer periods of leaden skies and rain that snatches color from tree limbs and leaves the city grayer.
And what kind of winter will it be?
Time will tell.
There is a slight warming: Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko goes to Washington , President Reagan stresses American willingness to negotiate on arms control, and United States and Soviet officials agree to ''keep in touch.''
Then comes the cooling. Over the past weekend in East Berlin, Mr. Gromyko charges that Washington is not really interested in ''solving the pressing problems of our times'' and says the Soviet Union is waiting for more than words to prove US intentions.
Moscow, he said, is ready for an ''honest and serious dialogue.'' But is Washington ready, he asks?
His answer: Time will tell.
That is about the most that can be said about the state of East-West relations, as the US heads toward presidential elections and the Soviet Union heads toward winter.
''Something seems to be up,'' is the way a key Kremlin-watcher here phrases it, ''but we have no choice but to simply wait and see what develops.''
A ranking Western diplomat says the tone of statements in the official press - a good barometer of thinking within the Kremlin - seems to be ''a little more positive, I believe. Certainly than before Gromyko left (for Washington).''
Still the Soviet leadership - in speeches, at press conferences, and through the official news media - insists there is no evidence of a real change in Washington's attitude. A call for ''deeds, not words'' from Washington has become a staple of the Soviet political vocabulary.
Some Western analysts dismiss this as merely a Soviet tactic to extract concessions from the Reagan administration before actually starting formal negotiations, insisting on unspecified ''deeds'' as proof of good faith before agreeing to talk. American officials say the tactic won't work, however, since the Reagan administration has no intention of making any concessions to the Soviets to cajole them back to the bargaining table.
Given this, many analysts here say there are unlikely to be any dramatic breakthroughs in East-West relations soon.
Nevertheless, there are a number of indicators of the general drift of those relations that bear close watching. Among them:
* The progress of ''discussions'' between the US and Soviet governments and their respective ambassadors.
Gromyko's meetings with President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz ended in an agreement for ''discussions'' in both Washington and Moscow, to be carried out by US Ambassador Arthur Hartman and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. The purpose of these talks is to prepare for high-level Soviet-American negotiations in 1985.
These discussions will be conducted in private. But accounts of them will inevitably filter out from both sides. The tone of the discussions may count for as much as the substance of them. It could account for more.
If the talks sour quickly, the outlook for other negotiations - on nuclear armaments, for example - will not be good.
* The language in official Soviet communications.
Earlier, as a Western analyst put it, the Soviets had ''painted themselves into a corner'' by taking positions that left little room for negotiation - and that could be abandoned only with a great deal of public embarrassment.
One example: The refusal to negotiate limits on intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe until new US-supplied nuclear missles are removed from NATO countries. The Soviets knew Washington would find this demand patently unacceptable and that it would inevitably lead to deadlock.
Now, a ranking Western diplomat says, ''They haven't abandoned that, but they haven't repeated it either.''
If Moscow quietly drops this demand from its public utterances - as well as claims that the US is bent on military superiority - it might well indicate the possibility of renewed negotiations.
* The state of the Soviet political leadership. Ambassador Hartman, among others, argues that the Soviet leadership is marked by ''confusion'' and indecisiveness, and that this is preventing the kind of bold action needed for a breakthrough in East-West relations.
Other analysts go further, saying there is a power struggle under way behind the scenes in the Kremlin. While there is as yet no persuasive evidence of that, there have been a number of intriguing developments lately.
For example, there have been persistent rumors - apparently planted by Soviet sources - that the Communist Party's Central Committee will soon meet to consider personnel changes in the senior ranks of the party. Some rumors even hold that party leader Konstantin Chernenko will resign.
One analyst notes that regardless of whether such rumors pan out, the mere fact that they're being planted suggests a degree of turmoil within the party.
Hartman told reporters in Washington last week, ''I think even the Soviets would admit that (Chernenko) does not have the full backing of the Soviet apparatus.''
And there is as yet no clear indicator of why the chief of staff of the Soviet military, Gen. Nikolai Ogarkov, was unexpectedly replaced last month. One analyst says he has ''heard many ... explanations,'' but adds, ''none of them seems persuasive.''
But, he adds, the move was followed by a number of others seemingly calculated to ''convey unity'' between the leadership of the Soviet military and the Communist Party. At the same time, he adds, another key figure in the party - Mikhail Gorbachev - seems to ''have moved up a notch or two'' in consolidating his position as the No. 2 man in the ruling Politburo.
Mr. Gorbachev is frequently mentioned as the front-runner to succeed Soviet leader Chernenko.