Ranking Soviet officials express deep pessimism about the Reagan administration and see no hope for any improvement soon in Soviet-American relations.
In separate background interviews, four members of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee said they had trouble understanding current U.S. policy. They pointed out as a contradiction the administration's anti-Soviet rhetoric accompanied by the lifting of the grain embargo and the new U.S. eagerness to sell even more grain to the Soviet Union.
Aside from peripheral policies, the Soviets say, as one official put it, that the Americans have become "dangerous for the world because of their lack of war experience," and they are "devaluing" the threat of nuclear holocaust with their "Hollywood ideas of war."
Thus when both superpowers are entering what is expected here to be a period of acute economic and political difficulties in the 1980s, the Americans have embarked on the path of rearmament and confrontation, the Central Committee members said, that the Soviets feel compelled to match.
"We can bleed each other white; we can create other troubles for one another, but where does this all lead?" one official asked.
The Central Committee members conceded that "mistakes" were made by both sides, but they contended that the Reagan foreign policies that have emerged so far have been "either bad or disastrous."
"This is why we are sliding into a dangerous period," one official said.
The Soviets complained that there are "no world leaders" today who think in global terms fully taking into account the changes wrought by the quick pace of technological developments. Both sides face practical problems whose solutions are likely to be deflected by the arms race.
The West, according to the party leaders' argument, has problems including mounting unemployment, inflation, high interests rates and the difficulties in the Middle East and Central America.
The problems of the Soviet Bloc, they added, include the Polish crisis, food shortages, growing consumer expectations, demands for better housing and new roads and the absence of such economic tools as free flow of labor and capital.
One official said, "These are real problems before all of us." Then there are the issues of nuclear energy, ocean resources, food production and the North-South dialogue. "Our cooperation could play a big role in solving a great many of these global problems," the official added.
Reagan's confrontational policies have produced deep skepticism here, the officials say, and the recent meeting between Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko has done nothing to ease Soviet concerns about the course of international events.
The Kremlin leaders say the United States is not interested in serious arms talks, and the prospective negotiations on limiting nuclear missiles in Europe are seen as a "gimmick to pacify" West Europeans.
"You have a fragile consensus on increasing defense spending," one official said. "If these talks are successful, that would destroy the consensus. Consequently, the administration does not need success at the talks because that would prevent it from proceeding with its arms programs."
Apart from this alleged contradiction, the Soviets see another problem: a number of people whom they regard as rabid anti-Soviet ideologues placed in strategic administration positions who would be capable of "sabotaging" a change in Reagan's hard-line policies should the president decide to moderate them.
To top it all, the officials expressed concern about what one called a "terrible" new U.S. Senate in which Jesse Helms has assumed the role of "your political commissar." Other senators close to Reagan "make Scoop Jackson look like a gentlemen," the official said.
The Reagan high command, in this view, seems incapable of thinking beyond the current problems with the Soviet Union to the larger issues of the world in the 1980s and beyond.
The main argument put forward by the Soviets in philosophical terms is that no nation alone -- not the Soviet Union and not the United States -- can solve these problems and that all must work together toward a joint management of the world's limited resources before it is too late.
With considerable frankness, the officials appeared to outline the current situation not only in terms of a struggle between East and West but also a conflict of priorities.
On Afghanistan, they said they decided to intervene only after a series of hostile Western decisions. They cited the proposal for a U.S. Rapid Deployment Force, the 1978 NATO decision to boost military budgets for the rest of this century, the 1979 decision to deploy U.S. medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe and the subsequent freezing of SALT II, and particularly the Carter administration's decision "to play the Chinese card" by opening relations with China.
The cumulative impact of these Western moves coincided with internal developments in Afghanistan, they said, where "mistakes" of the pro-Soviet government could have led to a takeover by a "hostile" government. Noting their 4,000-mile border with China, the officials suggested that they could not tolerate another hostile government along the Soviet-Afghan border, which is 1,700 miles long.
A large part of the conversation focused on problems within the Soviet Bloc, presumably to suggest that the Soviets had no interest in a confrontation with the United States.
On Poland, they said, the Kremlin leaderhip has displayed remarkable restraint, although one official added that "it was not always easy to show the degree of coolness and calm" that they did. Moscow is going to continue its economic assistance to Poland, they said, but they made it clear that the lines of communications to East Germany are viewed here as top priority.
They said Romania is also facing serious economic difficulties but noted that a summit meeting of Warsaw Pact leaders is being prepared to discuss ways to create a Common Market-type organization permitting free flow of labor and capital and changing price and management policies.
"All that is before us," one official said.
They said that plans are under way to "restructure the entire economic mechanism" in the Soviet Union. "It cannot operate the way it used to operate 10 or 15 years ago," an official said.
In particular, they said, the problem of agriculture has turned into a social problem with young people leaving farms and joining urban workers.
"Within a relatively short period a big portion of the farm population has become consumers of agricultural products and no longer producers," one official said. "This is why we have food shortages.
"Moreover, young people make good money, and they want to buy everything they see. Thus the agricultural problem has become a social problem for this country. It has become the matter of good homes and roads."
The officials said that the system lacked motivation and stimuli to encourage greater productivity. "But we cannot simply copy the methods of capitalism; we are trying to develop means natural to our own system," one Central Committee member explained.
Another official put it this way: "Our people have always lived in the extreme circumstances -- the revolution, civil war, Stalin's forced industrialization, then world war again. This is the first period of normalcy in our history. This is why we want detente -- whose main promise is to allow each nation to concentrate on its development."