At the risk of criticizing a respected colleague, I must say that Patrick Cockburn's article "R.I.P. Kremlinology" {Outlook, Feb. 14} seems unusually simplistic.

His assertion that Kremlin watching is obsolete because the Kremlin now talks in public is like a doctor saying his patient needs no examination once he's removed his coat.

With all the changes in the Soviet Union, the need is for Kremlinologists to refine their science, not dispense with it. Since when do journalists cease probing just because a government holds briefings?

Mr. Cockburn also observes that the ship of state built by Lenin and Stalin is dissolving and that the changes look permanent because they are necessary. One word of caution: the roads of Eastern Europe are paved with 30 years of assorted reforms (most were just talked about, some happened and were reversed). Few of the changes described as permanent turned out to be so.

Once again in the East bloc, we're looking only at the few features that have changed, not at the larger number that have stayed the same. We made that mistake with Poland in 1981. Let's defer judgment of the Soviet Union.

With the help of a Kremlinologist or two, we may just dig deeper and hit quicksand.


The writer is a BBC TV correspondent in Washington who was expelled from Moscow while serving as a BBC correspondent there in 1985.