From the outside, the Soviet handling of the Polish crisis may seem to many Westerners like a brutal and diabolical repression of freedom carried out by proxy forces and calling for an equally harsh retaliation by the West.
But seen from Moscow's point of view, the Soviet motivations appear a result of desperation and self-defense. In a country where preoccupation with security is a pervasive fact of life, the Polish unrest was threatening not only to weaken fatally the East European Bloc but also posing a direct challenge to Soviet security.
Historic Russian fears of hostile neighbors--whether or not they justify the military takeover that Kremlin officials had urged on the Polish leadership for some time--may help illuminate Soviet policy in the wake of President Reagan's economic sanctions against both Warsaw and Moscow.
After an initial angry condemnation of Reagan's decision, the Soviet media have advanced more detailed and less polemical arguments written by the country's leading specialists on American affairs.
Georgy Arbatov, director of the Kremlin's think tank on North American affairs, published a long commentary on U.S. policy toward Poland in today's Communist Party daily, Pravda. His deputy, Radomir Bogdanov, wrote a commentary for the government news agency, Tass.
Conceding that the military takeover was an "unpleasant, painful" matter, Arbatov argued that the Reagan administration is trying to create an "artificial" crisis over Poland for its own domestic reasons.
One of the main reasons, he continued, is to create a climate that would help Reagan press ahead with his military buildup. The other is to obscure from the American people what Arbatov called the failure of Reagan's economic program.
Both commentaries assailed an "amoral aspect" of American policy. Arbatov, who emphasized that the crackdown in Poland did not involve foreign forces, said that U.S. presidents on nine occasions since 1945 have called out the National Guard to handle domestic disturbances.
Both commentators charged the use of American military power in overthrowing what they said were popular regimes in Iran, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. They also charged U.S. involvement in the military coup in Chila.
"Why are they bemoaning Poland in Washington today and not shedding tears over the terror in El Salvador or the Republic of South Africa?" Bogdanov asked.
Arbatov said that the very mention of martial law prompts Washington to "assume the pose of moral guardians" and pretend to be "sacredly innocent" despite the fact that the United States "is supporting shamelessly various military regimes."
Behind Reagan's rhetoric, the authors contend, is Washington's desire to "destabilize the security system that has emerged in Europe after World War II."
It is always difficult to be sure that what Soviet spokesmen say about their motivations is what they really think and not merely propaganda. But there is a considerable anti-Polish sentiment here and there is little doubt that the average Soviet citizen would resent deeply an unfriendly regime in Warsaw.
"Can you imagine how much Russian blood was spilled to get to Berlin?" asked one Soviet who is not an official.
Moscow has never been under any illusion about the intensity of anti-Russian feelings in Poland. The Russians annexed large slices of Poland during that country's three partitions between 1772 and Poland's annihilation in 1795. Only in 1918 did Poland declare itself an independent republic and begin to expand again.
Most of the men in the Kremlin today remember the Polish attack on Russia in 1920. But in 1939, following a pact between Hitler and Stalin, the Soviet Union won the upper hand again and held the eastern part of Poland until Hitler attacked in 1941.
The men in the Kremlin also remember that the United States, Britan and other powers attempted after the Bolshevik Revolution to help counterrevolutionaries fight the communists.
Furthermore, President Leonid Brezhnev was 28 years old when Washington finally consented to recognize the Soviet government in 1933.
Arbatov today asserted that the days of unmatched American power are over. "But recently official America has again and again forgotten about the realities of our epoch. These include the fact that the situation is dangerous enough without trying to artificially create crises," he said.
Neither Arbatov nor Bogdanov blamed Reagan directly. Arbatov argued that the U.S. reaction on the Polish crackdown was determined by "second-echelon" figures in the Reagan administration whom he described as "provincial ideologues and crusaders" who belong to the "extreme right wing."
What would have happened if governments during the past decades allowed "one local event or another" to affect the international climate, Arbatov asked. He answered his question by saying that if world leaders always followed their "instincts, sympathies or antipathies" there would have been a nuclear catastrophe.
The arguments advanced today were calm and reasoned and appeared addressed to Western Europe. Arbatov referred to the U.S. sanctions as a "declaration of economic war into which Washington wants to involve West European countries."
Their thrust appeared designed to convey genuine Soviet concern about Poland as well as the notion that Washington had "overreacted" to the situation. This is underlined by explicit assertions that the logic of nuclear age demands cooperation between the two superpowers.