The Soviet Union today unveiled modest economic goals for the next five years, but its new development plans envision increased oil production in the coming decade, contradicting recent CIA projections.
As outlined by the official Tass news agency early today, the general economy will grow at a slower rate than the past five years, reflecting a probable overall energy pinch and meaning a likely further slowdown in improving living standards for millions of soviet citizens. The 1981-85 national economic plan, to be adopted in February at the 26th national Communist Party Congress, dispels any speculation that the Kremlin under Leonid Brezhnev intends major new departures in handling the economy despite possible pressures for reform generated by the Polish economic crisis.
Overall economic growth is projected around 5 percent annually, far better than almost all Western industrialized countries can expect, but also beyond recent Soviet economic performance. The country is saddled with inefficient and aging industries, grossly unproductive agriculture and a backward transportation net. The new plan earmarks major resources in each of these areas, but it is likely the goals will remain unmet, as they have in each of the five-year plans for nearly two decades.
However, it is the energy figures that will be studied most intently in the West, where apprehensions are high that the Soviet Union -- the world's biggest petroleum producer -- may become a net oil importer in the 1980s. Such a development would have major impact on skyrocketing world prices.
The draft plan issued by the party Central Committee calls for production of petroleum and gas concentrate to increase to as much as 645 million metric tons annually by 1985, or 12.9 million barrels a day. In 1979, daily production stood at 12.1 million barrels, and the CIA last year predicted that would drop to around 10 million barrels a day by the mid-1980s.
The new Soviet plan sets a minimum goal of 12.4 million barrels a day for 1985, a sharp slowdown in the growth of oil production, but still far better than the intelligence agency's analysts predict. If the Soviets can attain that minimum goal, they will have lessened the likelihood of Moscow becoming a net importer.
However, the Kremlin and its central planners face major obstacles in achieving even that modest increase, at a time when their important East Bloc allies and Third World clients are pressing hard for greater shipments of energy. The draft plan sketches the keart of these problems:
"The decline in wastes and losses in metal and fuel has been slow. . . .Shortages in rail transport have not been eliminated. . . . Resolution of some economic tasks has been complicated by depletion of many old [and] major mineral deposits. . . .
Soviet oil exploitation now centers on remote western Siberian regions, where costs are astronomical and shipment problems to domestic industries and foreign markets immense. Meanwhile, older energy deposits in western areas of the Soviet Union are increasingly played out.
But the Soviets have mounted a major four-year drive to expand exploitation and have announced drastic energy conservation measures. They also are likely to shift more industries to natural gas, the major star of their otherwise pinched energy picture. Natural gas is projected to rise by more than 50 percent from present productions levels by 1985, an increase that may be helped along by the $1 billion gas pipeline deal cleared recently by the White House.
The Soviet stake in stretching its oil resources is great: the country last year earned more than a third of its precious hard currency through petroleum sales abroad, and has used the money for sophisticated equipment to help modernize its industries.