MOSCOW, NOV. 20 -- Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertynkh said in an interview published today that the Kremlin's decision to deploy scores of SS20 medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe in the late 1970's may have been a political mistake.

Speaking in an interview with the weekly magazine Soviet New Times, Bessmertynkh said the decision, under the regime of Leonid Brezhnev, to deploy the new generation of missiles beginning in 1977 was not the "optimal" strategy at the time. Diplomats and analysts have said the deployment of the SS20, with its multiple warheads, to replace older missiles helped to unify the United States and its European allies and reaffirm Washington's role in the defense of Europe.

The SS20 buildup led to the NATO decision to deploy U.S. Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe.

According to diplomats, one of the keys of the Soviet Union's European strategy has been to try to "decouple" the defense of Western Europe from the United States. They said it now appears the deployment of the Soviet SS20 went against the grain of that strategy because it increased the U.S. defensive role in Europe.

"Somewhat different calculations could have been made, in my opinion, when our security goals on the European continent were being defined," Bessmertynkh said. "We had quite enough SS4 and SS5 missiles in Europe. Then we began to deploy SS20s. Technically they are more perfect. But the question is how they fitted into our military-strategic concept of the European theater," he said.

When asked if that was now the official line of the Kremlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov said Bessmertynkh was speaking "in a personal capacity."