FROM THE START of the Polish crisis, the Kremlin has shown an ill-disguised ambivalence toward its Polish comrades. Even while demanding that they handle the unrest, it has shown a pronounced lack of confidence that they can or will do so. Sometimes it has even seemed to fear that the Polish party, far from clamping down, will come to terms with Solidarity.
In fact, something like this happened last week in Warsaw. What most of the world saw with relief as the easing of the threat of a general strike, Moscow may have seen with consternation as the consolidation of strong majorities on both Polish sides around a tenative common program -- industrial peace, economic reform and Communist Party "democratic renewal." This achievement was perhaps to the Soviet Union the most troubling development since Solidarity came on stage last summer. New propaganda attacks and military maneuvers, freshening the specter of invasion, were the result.
Soviet bloc troops could move at any moment. Meanwhile, however, it is worth noting the extent to which the Reagan administration has moved to give pause to those in the Kremlin who might now be considering ordering them to do so.
The administration has put virtually the whole range of its bilateral relations with the Soviet Union, including arms-control talks and arms-building restraints, in the balance. It has put Moscow on notice that an invasion would kick off an accelerated campaign of diplomatic encirclement, including especially the Chinese. An invasion would produce new restrictions worldwide on the whole Soviet bloc's access to foreign goods, technology and credits. An invasion would furthermore, contribute to tendencies already evident in the administration to find places outside Poland where the Soviet position is exposed.
Just the other day the administration quietly lent its approval to the Warsaw agreement removing the threat of a general strike: it received a high Polish official in Washington and offered food-short Poland cheap food. The administration's United Nations representative, Jeane Kirkpatrick, provided the rationale for the policy yesterday, distancing the United States from the suggestion that it recognize in East Europe a Soviet sphere of influence in which nations cannot expect to enjoy normal national independence.
We think the administration's responses, are unprovocative and appropriate to the circumstances. If the Soviets invade, it will not be because the United States failed to do what it might have responsibly done to avert the blow.