The Kremlin made its first direct criticism of French President Francois Mitterrand today for having abandoned the "independent" policies of his predecessors in favor of closer cooperation with the United States and other NATO countries.
An article in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda chastised French leaders for their latest pronouncements, especially the endorsement of a NATO decision to deploy new American medium-range nuclear rockets in Europe. It said that France "virtually supports" the advocates of a new arms race.
The article made no mention of the Communist role in the French government. Western sources quoted Soviet officials as confiding that Moscow is concerned about the French Communist Party, which it considers to be in disarray and clearly losing ground.
The tone of the article reflected Moscow's uneasiness about being outflanked in Western Europe by Reagan administration policy on rocket deployment. Effort to block the new rockets have constituted a major part of Soviet foreign policy during the past two years.
Pravda also pointedly expressed anger at what it called changes of course in Paris that threaten to undermine the special Soviet-French relationship pioneered by Charles de Gaulle and perpetuated by former presidents Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d'Estaing, all conservative figures on the French political spectrum.
Moscow has shown understanding toward Mitterrand, a Socialist, since his election in June, apparently assuming that his pronouncements were designed to protect his right flank. Inclusion of four Communists in the new French Cabinet has further complicated Moscow's public attitude toward Paris.
Initially at least, the leftist victory in France was ideologically gratifying despite private Soviet misgivings about the Socialist-Communist compromise in Paris.
But during the past two weeks, the Soviet press has used the technique of selecting certain foreign commentaries or quotations to reflect its own views. A lengthy article in the journal Novoe Vremya last Friday obliquely stated official uneasiness about both Mitterrand and the French Communist Party.
Today's article in Pravda was the first direct signal of Soviet displeasure and it foreshadowed more trying relations than those in the past when France has been treated as the most understanding of Soviet negotiating partners in Western Europe.
The article criticized Mitterrand for allowing research on the neutron weapon. Even more pointedly, it quoted NATO Secretary General Joseph Luns after his meeting with Mitterrand as saying that France has adopted "a much better stand" on the issue of Western defenses than some unnamed NATO countries.
Pravda then took to task French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson for endorsing the Reagan administration's view of the Soviet military threat. The minister, it said, asserted that new Soviet missiles of "devilish" accuracy have changed the balance of forces in Europe and that talks on curbing medium-range weapons should start only after the NATO deployment decision "becomes irreversible."
With evident annoyance, the article said that Cheysson "passed over in silence the fact" that the Soviet Union has not increased the total level of its medium-range rockets in Europe and "that the total yeild of nuclear charges even decreased over the period."
The switch from benign neglect of the issue by Giscard to strong advocacy of missile deployment by Mitterrand is seen by Moscow as a political setback in its efforts to generate Western European resistance to the new American missiles.
The article also criticized French Defense Minister Charles Hernu for his assertion that France had to develop new weapons to have its voice heeded by the two superpowers.
"As is known," the Pravda article said, "France has achieved the greatest respect in the international arena not during its years of subordination to NATO's policy of arms race but only when it started pursuing a really independent policy of detente and cooperation with all states . . . and when it refused to follow plans of the Pentagon."