Despite the outcry by the Carter administration, the Soviet Union is unlikely to step back from the new role as a major power broker in black Africa that it is seeking to carve for itself and its Cuban allies.
This is the consensus of veteran diplomats here as the official Soviet press continues to project a pugnacious and distorted view of the invasion of Zaire's Shaba Province, the latest African conflict.
"The Soviets' response to tough talk in public is not to admit any backing down," said one dipolmat.
"The Soviets have talked tough in Africa for years," said another observer. "But what Carter has to worry about now is that they have the means to deliver on their threats." This person pointed to the successful Soviet-Cuban backing of Ethiopia in its victory over Somali troops in the Ogaden region, the Soviet-backed faction's victory in Angola three years ago and what he described as Soviet-Cuban assistance to Ethiopia in its effort to crush the Eritrean rebellion.
"They've got the capacity in airlift and allies willing to put their lives on the line.That's going to mean continued difficulties in Africa, apart from the Cuban troops there, and the Americans are going to have to get used to it," he said.
The official Soviet press has painted the Shaba invaders as patriots seeking to establish a new nation in Zaire. It has ignored the fact that Zairian President mobutu Sese Seko sought help and has called the Franco-Belgian rescue operation a U.S.-backed NATO exercise.
If that's a NATO exercise," said one source, commenting on the contentious discord between the French and Belgians, "then Russia's got nothing to worry about from NATO!"
The Soviet press has also said that the French and belgians massacred whites in Kolwezi as a pretext to stay there. It has made no mention of eyewitness accounts by survivors that some Shaba rebels committed atrocities.
Yesterday the official Soviet news agency Tass called the kilweze rescue operation an "occupation!"
"The troops of Western NATO countries which intruded are expanding and consolidating the occupation in a bid to ensure their military-strategic and economic interests in that region, rich in mineral resources," declared Tass. "Imperialist monopolies and military strategists of NATO are attracted to Ziare by gold and diamonds, copper and cobalt and uranium reserves."
Tass asserted that "NATO troops" are "spreading their control to other towns" and went on to say that "Western countries are obviously trying to avail themselves of the events in Shaba to undermine the national liberation movement . . . and progressive governments in the continent. The gross armed interference into Zaire's internal affairs creates dangerous tension and greatly imperials the peace and security of African state. The world wrathfully denounces the NATO aggression against free African and the bloody crimes on Zaire's soil."
Several sources suggested the shrill nature of the Soviet propaganda in an attempt to stave off the impact of probable eventual disclosure that the Shaba invasion got strong help from the Cubans and East Germans and was directly abetted by the Kremlin.
"This is what they usually do when they fear getting caught out," said one source. "They try to distract from the truth."
The Soviets, who typically spend precious resources on special institutes to study politics, economy, and othe important aspects of regions which interes them, are acutely aware of the role African raw materials play in Western economies and of the strategic geographic positions of parts of Africa relative to sealanes. Soviet writings on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa earlier this year stressed the importance of the region to shipping lanes vital to oil-hungry capitalist countries.
Writing last month in the theoretical journal "International Affairs, G. Roshchin enumerated a long list of U.S. raw material imports from Africa give their "complete support" to a "vigorous international struggle to obliterate" capitalist exploiters from the African countries.
The aging, Soviet leadership has spent years trying to expand influece in the third world. The weekly magazine New Times itself has called the rise of Third World governments "a specific phenomenon of the '60s and '70s." In the long-held Soviet view, this provides a fitting arena to contest the power of the United States and other Western nations and has nothing to do with strategic arms agreements or cultural exchanges.