Once again the Kremlin is sounding the alarm about counterrevolution in Poland. The new Soviet warnings are sharper and more explicit than before, and they have been accompanied by an internal propaganda campaign designed to whip up popular indignation against Poland's independent trade union federation, Solidarity.
The latest Soviet letter to Poland's Communist Party criticizes the absence of "any resolute measures" to halt what the official Soviet news agency, Tass, described as "a broad and unbridled campaign of lies and slander against the Soviet Union." It called on the Polish Communist Party and government to take "prompt and resolute measures" to prevent anti-Soviet activities, and warned that further "leniency" by Poland's leaders would contradict Warsaw Pact obligations.
Adding to the atmosphere of tension was a report by Western diplomatic sources that only some of the 100,000 troops that took part in recent Soviet maneuvers near the Polish border have returned to their garrisons. These sources said that all of the military equipment brought to the area, along with a substantial number of troops, remain in a state of readiness.
The harsh tone of the latest Soviet protest to Poland suggests that earlier hopes for a compromise between Polish communist authorities and Solidarity have vanished.
The Soviet note called Solidarity's recent first national congress at the city of Gdansk "a tribune from which slander and insults against the Soviet Union sounded for the whole of Poland to hear." Tass quoted Soviet Ambassador Boris Aristov as telling the Polish leaders that "anti-Sovietism is penetrating ever more deeply" into Poland's public life, "including ideology, culture and the educational system."
Western analysts in Moscow said the note was much stronger in tone than the Soviet letter to the Polish Communist Party last June. The latest protest was addressed to both Poland's party and its government, a subtle difference emphasizing Moscow's desire for a coordinated Polish crackdown on Solidarity.
In their condemnations, the Soviets have seized on Solidarity's message of support for independent unions in other Soviet Bloc countries. This is, at least rhetorically, the most provocative resolution adopted at Gdansk and is publicized here as an attempt to "export counterrevolution."
Privately, however, informed Soviet sources dismiss the message as a reflection of "Polish romanticism and megalomania." Their concern, which is stated openly, focuses on the overall program of Solidarity. As seen here, its aim is to destroy socialism in Poland by demolishing socialism's base: the leading role of the party.
The Soviets did not need the Gdansk resolutions to conclude, from Moscow's point of view, that Solidarity is a completely unacceptable organization in a socialist country and should be crushed. But the Soviets knew that outside intervention would involve great costs, both inside Poland and in Soviet relations with the rest of the world. Hence, policy choices narrowed down to the lesser of two evils.
But the Gdansk congress brought to the surface two things in the Soviet perception of what is happening in Poland: Solidarity's proposals were seen as demands for radical political changes--the external sign of a deeper shift in the union's position. And its appeal to workers in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was assessed as a tactical mistake that could make Solidarity vulnerable in the entire region.
Until now, the Poles carefully have maintained that events in their country constituted a specific Polish response to unique Polish problems. But by offering their changes as a model for others, they openly have challenged the Soviets, and left themselves open to charges of interference in the internal affairs of other Soviet Bloc countries.
In this vein, the Soviets and other East Europeans are using Solidarity's appeal to portray the situation in Poland as a threat to the entire socialist community.
The harsh Soviet condemnation of Solidarity emphasizes that Moscow wants Polish authorities to curb the union's activities. Some Western diplomats also read it as a Kremlin demand to prevent the convening of the second stage of Solidarity's national congress next week.
The latest military maneuvers, and the extensive publicity given them in the Soviet media, are seen as a warning that Moscow is prepared to use its muscle if necessary.
Perhaps the most ominous development is the Soviet campaign of ostensibly spontaneous meetings at factories and shops here. Workers are being told that Solidarity, in collusion with Western intelligence services, is trying to restore capitalism in Poland.
Whether this campaign is designed to increase pressure on Poland or prepare the Soviet population for future actions is unclear. But given the gravity of the charges, the Soviet people clearly are led to wonder why nothing is being done about the Polish crisis.
This is not to suggest that Soviet intervention is imminent. There still are hopes here that Polish authorities will be able to restrain Solidarity and the union will be forced into a compromise with the party. It is thought that the coming winter, with food scarcities and other economic difficulties, may undermine Solidarity's credibility among Poles.
The frustrating aspect of the situation, and perhaps the main deterrent against intervention, is the absence of any strategic understanding between the superpowers. However grave the Polish situation--and both public and private statements here indicate that Moscow regards it as grave indeed--the Soviets are more concerned about the Reagan administration's policies and the future course of bilateral relations.
Soviet sources say a key element in Soviet calculations on Poland is the effect intervention might have on Moscow's relations with Western Europe and the United States.
If the Soviets were to take President Reagan's rhetoric at its face value, said one well-placed official here, most Soviet constraints would disappear. According to this reasoning, why should the Soviet Union show restraint over Poland when the United States has said that it is not prepared to come to a new understanding on such matters as arms control that involve more fundamental Soviet interests?
Against this background, the meeting next week between Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and U.S. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. appears to be of crucial importance for Soviet assessment of American intentions and, indirectly, for future Soviet policy toward Poland.