Despite the new harshness of Soviet attacks on Poland's restive workers, U.S. officials do not believe that the rhetorical warnings coming out of Moscow are a signal of any imminent, drastic Soviet moves against Poland.
That is understood to be the cautious but widely held judgment of Carter administration officials analyzing the Soviet Union's response to the settlement reached between the Polish government and striking workers.
Since the weekend, a crescendo of ominous-sounding criticism has been directed at "antisocialist elements" in Poland by the Soviet Union's official government and Communist Party news organs. The criticism focused on unacceptable "political" demands by the Polish workers and implied a lack of confidence in the Polish leadership's handling of the crisis.
The bitterness of these attacks, in turn, has triggered considerable concern in the West about whether the Kremlin leadership has concluded that the situation in Poland is out of control and is preparing to intervene there militarily or in some other overt way that would force Polish authorities back into a hard-line stance.
U.S. officials refused to comment yesterday on the Soviet statements or to go beyond past U.S. assertions that Poland's problems are "an internal matter for the Polish people and government to decide."
However, it was know that the prevailing assessment in U.S. official circles tends to the view that the Soviet attacks, while clearly a form of psychological pressure, do not mean Moscow is ready to take the high-risk route of direct intervention.
Since the Polish turmoil reached crisis proportions more than two weeks ago, U.S. officials have been keenly aware of the danger that the workers' demands for free trade unions and other political concessions could escalate to the point where Moscow considered them a dire threat to preservation of its carefully erected system of East European communism.
However, while the officials also are aware that the situation could reach that stage, they are understood to feel that the Soviet leadership believes its wiser course is to await events and see what ripple effects, if any, the Polish settlement has in that country and the other communist states of the region.
In the meantime, according to this view, there are other major considerations inhibiting Moscows from precipitate, drastic action. The Soviet Union is still on the defensive in world opinion as the result of the Afghanistan invasion, and any kind of assault or harsh pressure on a European neighbor like Poland would destroy the last strands of Moscow's hopes for detente with the West and severely damage the credibility of the Soviet system as a model for the Third World.
If it came to a choice between these factors and the very survival of the system, there is no question about which way the Soviet leadership would go. But, according to the U.S. analysis, things simply don't seem to have reached the point yet where Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev and his associates would feel compelled to make such a choice.
Instead, the U.S. view is that the rumblings in the official Soviet press are designed to keep the pressure on Poland's Communist Party chief, Edward Gierek, and the Polish workers by reminding them of the limits beyond which Moscow will not permit them to go.
These limits -- retention of a basic communist system within Poland and its continued fidelity to its obligations in the Warsaw Pact military alliance and Comecon, the Soviet bloc's common market -- have been spelled out very clearly in the warnings from Moscow, And, in the U.S. view, it is that message that the Soviets are most interested in getting across at this stage.