The treason trial of Anatoly Scharansky to begin here tomorrow is an event without parallel in this decade, posing old questions about the government of this nation at a time of considerable importance in its complex relations with the West and specifically with the United States.
The trials advent summons reflections on the methods and attitudes of the Soviet Communist Party in its 61st year of power.
The escalating tough response of the Carter administration announced personally by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in Washington yesterday is likely to be viewed here by the leadership as one more unwarranted U.S. attempt to deter the government from its appointed rounds with those whose ideas embody dangerous challenge to the ideological sanctity of the one-party state.
The elaborate measures of state control in stagemanaging the trial harken back to Stalin era show trials. No outsiders, or even family members, will be allowed into the court room during much of the proceedings on the grounds that the evidence allegedly involves state secrets.
Western correspondents will be briefed twice a day by the press department of the Soviet Foreign Ministry. Thus, the government will [WORD ILLEGIBLE] be the only source of information about the allegations and defense.
This is the first time in recent memory that the state has exercised such tight control, in apparently shutting off any source other than the government as to the proceedings. In the past, even when foreign correspondents have been barred, relatives of dissident defenders have been allowed to attend and have been sources for describing events in the courtroom.
In accordance with Soviet criminal investigation methods. Scharansky has been held incommunicado since his arrest March 15, 1977. This isolation is so complete that his mother yesterday in a telegram to Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev urged him to "issue instructions that we be informed of our son's condition."
Through its controlled press, the governments already has labeled Scharansky guilty of treasonous activity. His principal accuser, Dr. Sanya Lipavsky, made his allegations of espionage against Scharansky in the government newspaper Izvestia.
These allegations revolve around American diplomats and journalists who served here in the mid-1970s. Lipavksy has accused Scharansky and other Jewish activists of seeking state's secret on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In his Izvestia "confession," which preceded Scharansky's arrest. Lipavsky asserted in part: "I was expected to [persuade] a top official of a research establishment outside Moscow to cooperate with the CIA in providing it with important defense information. Judging from the instructions passed on to me from [American diplomat Melvin] Levistsky in a special container, Americans were already regarding me to carry out all their instructions."
Lipavsky also mentioned another former U.S. Embassy first secretary, Joseph Presel, as well as several American correspondents.
The nature of these allegations and names of Americans that will emerge from the official briefings together stand at the center of the Kremlin's counterattack against the dissentors in its own country.
The government has asserted for years that dissidents were bring used by Westerners to injured their country and that the United States was first among the these malicious meddlers. It has sought to break the link between the dissident and foreign reporters whose accounts of reputed injustice here are broadcast back inside the Soviet Union by Western radio stations which are no longer jammed by the Russians and are believed to have an audience of millions.
There have never been more than a few hundred publicly known active human rights advocates scattered among the Soviet Union's major cities of Moscow, Leningrad. Kiev and Tbilisi. Their impact on the thinking of their countrymen in this vast land has been virtually nil, so far as any Westerners here can tell by travel, talks, and the path short of repression adequate to deal with this miniscule, disjointed phenomenon. It is the harshness of the police state response which has brought such stinging criticism from Western governments, who identify with the goals of individual freedoms of speech, religion and dissent espoused by the activists.
That the Soviets have pushed ahead with the trials of Scharansky as well as dissident leader Alexander Ginsburg in the same week demonstrates anew that the regime's need to punish dissent in a well-orchestrated warning to its own people takes precedence over its carefully nurtured image abroad.
For President Carter, who came to office 18 months ago giving the dissidents encouragement from the podium of the most powerful democracy in the world, the Ginsburg-Scharansky trials can be seen as a significant act on the part of the Soviet leadership - a remarkable rebuke to the president and a reminder that it will be the Kremlin that sets the terms of its relationship with Washington, not the other way around.
The president himself has taken the unusual step of publicly asserting that, to his administration's knowledge. Scharansky "has never had any sort of relationship with the CIA."
But some months ago, authoritative sources in Washington conceded that Lipavsky, the principal accuser, had apparently worked as a "volunteer" for the CIA here in 1975. This blunder by the CIA in employing a man who was to later become a witness against Scharansky did incalculable damage to Scharansky's attempts to defend himself, in the opinion of many dissidents and Western diplomats as well.
Few here doubt that the Soviets will seek by every means at their command to repudiate Carter's personal assertion on Scharansky, trying to humiliate the president in the process.
The United States has disclosed cancelation of a visit here next week of a delegation headed by the president's science adviser, Frank Press. Moreover, it has let it be known that many current bilateral agreements will be reviewed. Such agreements represent the slow evolution of the superpowers away from antagonism and fear toward uneasy cooperation.
On the central issue of strategic arms control, the administration has taken the position that the current talks are too important to be influenced by other aspects of the complex bilateral relationship. But this antiseptic view may not stand up in the post-Scharansky atmosphere in Washington and Moscow.
The regime's treatment of dissidents in the past 18 months has been marked by severity. Every activist so far brought to trial in recent months has been dealt the harshest possible sentences available under Soviet law. This includes Yuri Orlov, founder of a group to monitor Soviet compliance with the human rights provisions of the Helsinki agreements: Vladimir Slepak, who for eight years was refused an exit visa to Israel; Ukrainian activist Mikola Rudenko and many others.
Ginzburg and Scharansky were early members of the Moscow Helsinki group. As presidential candidate, Carter sent Slepak a telegram of support; as president, Carter issued a statement of "concern" after Orlov was arrested.
Arina Ginzburg says her husband is convinced he will be found guilty and sentenced to the maximum penalty of ten years in prison and five years internal exile for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda when his trial ends in Kaluga, a provincial city south of here.
In the view of many Western observers here on the eve of the Scharansky trial, the Carter human rights campaign has been a failure. "If you weigh up what it was supposed to do - help dissidents - with what has happened," said one senior Western diplomat, "the evidence shows it amounted to nothing."
But the families of the Soviet activists believe differently, they say, Scharansky's older brother. Leonid, said yesterday of the president's human rights advocacy. "His actions are correct. It's the only way to win."