An article in Sunday editions said incorrectly that Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) cancelled plans to visit the Soviet Union. It should have said that Soviet officials withdrew the invitation they had extended the senator.

In the spring of its second year, the Carter administration confronts in the Soviet Union a powerful nation that has successfully adventured in Africa, continued to maintain powerful alliances in the Middle East and blunted the U.S. drive to dramatize its human rights shortcomings.

All is not cloudless for Moscow, however. The Soviets are deeply worried that the technoligically superior United States may in fact be moving away from a desire for nuclear parity and tending toward a return to the postwar years of nuclear supremacy that the first strategic arms limitations (SALT) agreement was designed in part to neutralize.

The Soviets have made their nervousness on this issue evident in recent weeks.

In private conversations with American diplomats and private citizens here on business or unofficial visits, senior Soviet bureaucrats reportedly expressed frustration at Carter administration fears of Congressional disapproval even if a new SALT accord is reached.

Carter's troubles stem from opposition led by Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), chairman of the arms control subcommittee of the Senate Services Committee. Jackson recently canceled a trip here after Soviet officials told him that he cold not meet leading dissident Andrei Sakharov if he wanted to see President Leonid I. Brezhnev.

This Soviet response to Jackson exemplifies the contradictory nature of Soviet-style "detente." As a well-informed diplomat put it, "The Soviets have successfully compartmentalized detente so that they can seek arms control at one level and persecute dissidents at another and still call it detente."

Rapprochement with the West in general and the United States in particular is preached by the Soviets even as they act in ways that anger and alarm the Carter administration. At the same time, the Soviets find no contradiction in accusing Carter of seeking to torpedo detente.

"The Soviets seem unable to comprehend that when they go adventuring in Ethiopia with a massive arms lift, they have an enormous effect in Congress," one diplomatic source said.

Visiting Americans who have spoken confidentially with Soviet officials say they are genuinely concerned that the Soviets do not understand the effect of public opinion in the United States on the way Congress and the White House respond to issues.

One recent visitor talked with Georgi Arbatov, head of the Canada-U.S.A. Institute, on this point. "He listened very closely and seemed to understand quite well. But does anyone listen to Arbatov?" asked the American.

Meanwhile, the Soviets have achieved a victory in Ethiopia by backing the Marxist revolutionary government with arms and technicians and adding 13,000 Cuban combat troops to sweep the invading Somalis from the Ogaden region. It was the second major triumph of Soviet policy in Africa in the past two years.

In 1976, a similar massive aid- and sea lift stiffened by Cuban troops carried a sympathetic faction to power in Angola, the former Portuguese colony.

"The Soviets will continue to look for immediate gains through this kind of operation," said one source.

"The days when the Soviets talked tough and couldn't deliver are over and the U.S. ought to get used to it," another said. "This is a different world."

In both cases, events over which the Kremlin had little direct control placed the Soviet Union in a position to exploit turmoil, and support an ideologically compatible movement. Moscow is unlikely to apologize to any country for such action and can be expected to continue to seek similar opportunities.

Events now are shaping another situation Moscow clearly will seek to exploit: the turmoil in Rhodesia over Prime Minister Ian Smith's attempts to forge settlement allowing transfer of power from his white government to black leaders based inside the country.

The settlement has been attacked by guerrilla leaders based outside the country, some of whom received Soviet support. The Kremlin propaganda apparatus, which for years has trumpeted the cause of the "Zimbabwe Liberation Front," now is at a fever pitch over the issue.

In the view of some senior Western observers here, Soviet aid will soon increase to the guerrillas, and it is unclear what leverage, if any, the Carter administration has at its disposal to prevent such a move.

A March 22 Tass editorial was typical of the Soviet media's attitude toward the so-called "internal" settlement. "The united forces of international imperialism and racism have put a puppet neocolonialist regime in power in southern Rhodesia," Tass said. "This regime is just as unlawful as the Smith clique itself because it was created on the basis of a collusion between Smith and traitors of the Bimbabwe people, behind their back and without its mandate."

In Ethiopia, Moscow is expected to try to further strengthen the Marxist military government and use it and the radical regime in South Yemen to increase pressure on conservative oil-producing states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In the Middle East, the Soviets have railed against the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, but have neglected to tell their own people that the cause of the incursion was a terrorist attack by Palestinians on civilians. At the same time, however, Moscow did not block a U.N. Security Council vote sending a peacekeeping force to help achieve a cease-fire. This was the wish of its Arab allies, so the Soviets abstained.

"They will continue to cooperate with the U.S. in avoiding something that could blow up into a major confrontation," said one source.

"They have no new proposals to break the deadlock on a peace settlement," another source said. This source observed, however, that President Carter's talks with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin "play right into Soviet hands." The two leaders reached no agreement on new ways to keep alive Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's initiative of last fall. The Soviets want to get a resumption of the Geneva Middle East peace conference, and insure a role for the Palestine Liberation Organization, but there is no progress in sight on that issue.

The Soviet willingness and ability to suppress essential truth about any situation - external or internal - is surely one explanation for the Kremlin's seeming failure to see the impact of public opinion in the United States.

By disregarding facts and explaining almost anything in legal terms that seemingly justify its acts, the Kremlin blunts its own appreciation for the way others will preceive its rule.

Thus, while the Kremlin was denouncing the United States at the completion of the recent Belgrade conference for attempting to question Soviet compliance with human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki accord, the government at virtually the same time was banishing virtuoso cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife.

Also, on Thursday, city prosecutors warned Sakharov not to demonstrate again as he had on March 12 in protest against Palestinian terrorism.