The Soviets are watching with apparent satisfaction the unfolding of the Falkland Islands crisis amid clear indications that they expect to make diplomatic and propaganda gains without taking any risks.
This is the prevailing view among diplomats and informed observers here, who rule out the possibility of Soviet military involvement in the South Atlantic.
There are three basic elements, according to this view, that Kremlin policy makers regard as comforting:
First is the dilemma confronting the Reagan administration, which is seen here as facing a painful choice between a traditional NATO ally and a major Latin American friend.
In addition, the crisis has weakened the conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whom the Soviets would like to see fall. Thatcher is viewed here as Reagan's staunchest supporter in NATO councils and the most hawkish ally on planned U.S. deployment of medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe.
Finally, the crisis has provided Moscow with the opportunity to fight its image among Latin Americans as a superpower bent on promoting internal revolutions. The Soviets have endorsed Argentina's claim on the disputed islands, saying it is an issue of decolonization, and they have insisted that the dispute be resolved by negotiations. Most Latin American countries are reported to be supporting Buenos Aires, although some of them are clearly uncomfortable about Argentina's use of force as possibly setting a dangerous precedent for the continent.
"After numerous declarations on the final renunciation of colonialism, the West displays amazing unity on attempts to prevent the return to Argentina of the Falkland Islands, which were forcibly seized by Britain in 1833," the Communist Party newspaper Pravda was quoted as saying Sunday by The Associated Press. The paper did not mention the April 2 takeover of the islands by Argentina, but accused the United States of "duplicity" for announcing in public its neutrality while providing Britain "secret information on the location of Argentine armed forces," AP reported.
The crisis appears to have fortified the ties between the Kremlin and the Argentine military junta, which have expanded significantly in commercial matters since former president Carter's grain embargo against Moscow.
In just two years, the Soviet Union has emerged as the principal purchaser of Argentina's main export commodities. Last year, for instance, the Soviets bought 85 percent of Argentina's grain exports. The two countries signed an agreement under which the Soviet Union would import 100,000 tons of Argentine beef annually for the next five years. The Soviets bought more than $3 billion worth of Argentine goods last year.
Soviet exports to Argentina have also grown. Argentine purchases of Soviet goods have risen from $36 million last year to more than $200 million so far this year, according to Argentine officials. The Argentines are buying heavy water, which contains the isotope deuterium, for their nuclear reactors. They are also buying oil drilling equipment and turbines for hydroelectric plants.
The current crisis seems to have added an extra dimension to this relationship. The two countries signed an agreement last week allowing Soviet vessels to fish within Argentina's 200-mile territorial waters.
If the British government attempts to use military force to settle the dispute, the view here is that Moscow would provide diplomatic backing but not involve itself otherwise. The Argentines are not expected to ask for Soviet assistance.
Logistically, the Soviets would not want to be involved in the South Atlantic, where they are weak, according to analysts here. Nor would a Soviet show of strength serve larger Soviet interests including East-West relations and the prospect of strategic arms limitation talks with the United States, they say.