"When Germany attacked without warning in 1941," said Vladimir Lomeiko, the head of the Soviet Foreign Ministry press department, ". . . Hitler had been convinced he was stronger than the Soviet Union. We do not want history to repeat itself, and for that reason we will never permit anyone to have superiority over us."
Soviet officials say history weighs heavily on their minds as they head into arms talks with the United States March 12 in Geneva. Chances for success in the talks, Lomeiko said, will depend largely on whether the U.S. approach "is aimed at treating us with respect and equality . . . or aimed at achieving superiority."
To the Reagan administration, the Soviet Union's massive missile forces already are superior to their smaller and less numerous American counterparts. But through the Soviet end of the telescope, a combination of new U.S. weapons and projects threatens to tip the balance against the Soviets in the future.
As the Soviet Union sees it, new medium-range U.S. Pershing II missiles being installed in West Germany are meant to knock out civilian leadership and military command posts. New long-range MX missiles would be targeted on Soviet missile silos. And Reagan's new "Star Wars" project to develop a futuristic antimissile shield around the United States would, even if not perfect, be able to handle whatever the Soviets had left to fire in a retaliatory strike.
In interviews here last week with a number of Soviet officials, specialists on arms control and U.S. affairs, academics and journalists, the Soviets made or suggested the following points:
* Moscow is prepared "to go very far," as one Soviet official put it, in making "more radical" cuts in their strategic offensive missile forces to get a three-part agreement at Geneva that would prevent a Star Wars defense and include cuts in U.S. long-range and medium-range missiles.
The official, who stressed that no final Kremlin decisions had been made, hinted that the cuts could go from the 20 percent reductions proposed by Moscow last year at the now-abandoned START talks to perhaps 25-30 percent. The last Soviet START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) proposal included a reduction from the current level of 2,250 Soviet missiles and bombers to 1,800.
* If anything, Moscow appears to be more adamant now than in last year's now-defunct talks on Intermediate Nuclear Forces on being compensated for British and French missile forces, both of which are being modernized and are aimed at Soviet targets. The Soviet officials said they would agree to an equal number of allied medium-range missile warheads in Europe matched against theirs, but would insist on keeping their SS20 missiles targeted in Asia out of such calculations.
While concerned about U.S. nuclear forces in Asia, the Soviets seemed to be more concerned about possible new Chinese missiles. Western sources said they sensed the Kremlin is worried about a growing U.S.-Chinese-Japanese triangle on its Asian flank involving technology, money, military assistance and raw material resources.
* Moscow has not lost interest in a ban on testing antisatellite weapons, despite an abrupt and mysterious silence on the subject in recent months. U.S. and Soviet officials said an American delay in testing a U.S. system is the result of apparent technical problems, not any secret deal.
Soviet officials said it is simply that the Star Wars antimissile defense had overwhelmed other aspects of arms control. But another Soviet specialist hinted that Soviet interest in developing antisatellite weapons could be increased if it becomes necessary to target space-based elements of a Star Wars defense. The Soviets already have a crude system but are trying to stop a more sophisticated U.S. version.
* The overwhelming priority of Soviet tactics is to stop the Star Wars defense, officially known as the Strategic Defense Initiative. But many Soviets interviewed said Moscow understands the impossibility of cutting off with certainty all research and is ready to accept that some could go ahead. What they want ended is the awesome financial commitment to the project, currently $26 billion just for research, and an agreement that bans production.
The impact of Star Wars here goes well beyond Soviet concern over American technology and the potential impact on superpower relations in a crisis if one side has a defense it thinks will work.
There is a widespread view that Star Wars is, as another official put it, "a cynical attempt to economically bankrupt" the Soviet Union and delay what another called "socioeconomic progress" by forcing an economically strapped Kremlin either into concessions or a costly arms race.
One specialist said new missile projects, once under way, are probably harder to stop here than in the United States. He added that the Kremlin would soon have to face decisions that would have financial implications for decades on whether to build more offensive weapons to overcome Star Wars.
Several persons interviewed resented the implication in statements by U.S. officials that the Star Wars project frightened Moscow and forced it back to the negotiating table after a Soviet walkout from arms control talks in late 1983. The Soviet officials suggested that such statements are condescending and add to the suspicion that Reagan is not serious about wanting an agreement.
Indeed, some western diplomats, not Americans, claim to have heard Soviets say privately that the emergence of the Star Wars project provided Moscow with an excellent excuse to return to the Geneva talks without drawing too much attention to the reasons why they walked out in 1983.
In this view, Moscow realizes that its 1983 decision worked against it and that in removing itself from the arms negotiations it had also removed the focal point and forum around which western peace movements could rally.
Throughout the interviews here, however, there was a sense of defensiveness in Soviet statements, from Lomeiko's emphasis on being treated as equals to resentment over the implications that the Soviets could be economically squeezed into concessions.
Although the Soviets said their leadership is intact and their policy consistent despite the illness of Konstantin Chernenko, western diplomats here said Chernenko's illness means that there is no one at the top who could take a decisive and imaginative decision to cut through the arms control issue and the Soviet bureaucracy and grab at an interesting new solution if one were available.
Even if Chernenko dies and a new leader takes over, it would take time for him to consolidate power and might even be more difficult for a new Soviet chief to make a deal than the present one. Thus, both Soviet and western specialists here said the chances of reaching agreement are slim in the near future, even though the first two years of Reagan's second term, in which congressional support for Reagan is likely to be most secure, could be the best time from Washington's standpoint.
The Soviets said they do not believe Reagan wants to be remembered as having gained an arms agreement. Rather they said he would rather be viewed historically as the president who made America invulnerable to attack.
Despite recent warning by Chernenko against being too gloomy over arms control prospects, most Soviets here are pessimistic.
They cited the size of the U.S. defense budget, the extraordinary technical complexity added by Star Wars, the unwillingness of Washington to take a good-will first step by signing unratified nuclear test ban treaties, and the prospect that the momentum of new weapons projects on both sides will outpace arms talks.
They also cited recent statements by Reagan and other U.S. officials suggesting Star Wars is not negotiable as poisoning the atmosphere.
Lomeiko, the only one interviewed who was willing to be quoted by name, said there "are certain facts that are encouraging" and added that "the Soviet side is sincerely interested in success in negotiations and in improving relations with the United States."
Apologizing for dwelling on World War II, Lomeiko insisted that history is important.
"For our part," he said, "we've never forgotten the meeting on the Elbe River" in Germany between U.S. and Soviet troops in the closing days of the war. But the "objective truth is," Lomeiko continued, that Americans never underwent all the hardships, including 20 million dead, that the Soviets did in paying the price for being viewed as weak.