The Polish military attache wore his sword but otherwise rattling sabres were in short supply at the Soviet Embassy last night. So were Americans and British and Germans and French and Italians and all the other nationalities that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
It was the second year straight that the U.S. Defense Department had boycotted the annual caviar and vodka reception celebrating the birth of Soviet armed forces.
"Unfortunately, they were ordered not to come," shrugged Soviet Navy Capt. Eugene Smirnov, one of the hosts. "We invited a bunch of them but when I was at the Pentagon the other day they said they had gotten our invitations, 'but, well, you know, we have our orders.' So it's a policy."
Not that anybody had anything against caviar and vodka. But if recent pronouncements by the Reagan administration could be taken as any indication, what kept U.S. military officers, and presumably their NATO counterparts, away in droves last night were a few little things like Soviet activities in Afghanistan, the possibility of Soviet intervention in Poland and the Soviet presence in places like El Salvador, Ethiopia and Southern Yemen.
"There has to be some way of expressing displeasure," said Sol Gordon, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel now in the publishing business. a"The fact that there are no Pentagon officers here isn't going to create a break in U.S.-Soviet relations but it makes a point."
Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin wasn't there either because as a member of the central committee he was back in Moscow attending the 26th congress of the Soviet Communist Party.
"What they decide will give perspective to our lives until 1990," said Irina Dobrynin of her husband's absence.
She dismissed as "nonsense" reports that Dobrynin will succeed Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. "He is in good health. I don't know how these stories start but that isn't true."
She joined Charge d'affaires Alexander Bessmertnykh, the embassy's minister counselor, and ranking Soviet army, navy and air force attaches and their wives in receiving the several hundred guests, most of them military, some of them ambassadors, all of them (except for a few American news correspondents and businessmen) from Soviet Bloc nations in Eastern Europe, from Southeast Asia and from Latin America.
The Cuban Interests Section's Ramon Sanchez-Parodi managed to slip into the crowd swarming around the elaborate buffet table with little more than a "no comment" on Cuba's role in providing arms to Salvadoran guerrillas. Of Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev's call yesterday for a summit meeting with President Reagan, Sanchez-Parodi smiled enigmatically and said, "It should be taken into account."
Bulgarian Ambassador Stoyan Zhulev called the Soviet leader's proposal "the best step for peace. There is no logic to solving any problem through hostilities -- that's just impossible. The only way in the interests of both the United States and the Soviet Union is through negotiation. Nobody can imagine what could be the other way."
Irina Dobrynin said she always worries" when the peace is threatened but "I always hope for the best." Asked if she ever scolded her husband about the status of U.S.-Soviet reltions, her eyes snapped and her tone sharpened.
"His great goal is to achieve peace. I never scold him for his efforts because he is not the slightest way inclined toward war. And all of the people of our country are striving for peace," she said.
As for the State Department's recent refusal to allow her husband to enter the government building by way of the underground garage as he had been used to doing for some time, Irina Dobrynin dismissed the flap as "nonsense -- you are the host country and you are telling your guests where to go. So it's up to you. I don't see any symbolism in this gesture."
When someone commented on Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov's charge that the United States is preparing for war, Mrs. Dobrynin turned defensive. "Some of your people are putting it too strongly," she said.
In keeping with the evening's theme, hor d'oeuvres were pinned by toothpicks to foil-covered frames shaped like military weapons, including a Mig fighter and a rocket ready for takeoff. There are also tables of Soviet literature free for the taking. Among the titles: "The Bolsheviks and the Armed Forces in Three Revolutions," "The Great October Socialist Revolution" and "Soviet Life," featuring a headline, "Trading is Better than Feuding."
Hot off the presses were excerpts of Brezhnev's speech yesterday before the party congress. Neatly divided according to topics, they were stacked in the entrance hall where guests could help themselves on their way home. Included were "Brezhnev's Proposals on Disarmament" and "Brezhnev on Soviet-American Relations."
"A war danger does exist for the United States, as it does for all the other countries of the world," said Brezhnev of U.S.-Soviet relations. "But it originates not from the Soviet Union, not from any mythical Soviet superiority, but from the arms race and from the tension that still exists in the world . . . The U.S.S.R. wants normal relations with the U.S.A."
Upstairs, the combination of gold braid and medals spread across broad chests was dazzling. At least one Soviet officer insisted his decorations were "nothing exceptional." They looked impressive, he agreed, but really stood for 10, 15 and 20 years of military service.
"I've never been in a war," he said. stood for 10, 15 and 20 years of military service.