Soviet View--Official Gloom; Some Optimism Among Citizens

Times Staff Writer

Glancing at leaden clouds and a steady cold rain, a young Russian recently offered this long-range weather forecast: “Endless fall, followed by endless winter.” His gloom seemed to symbolize the official climate as the Kremlin approaches the summit conference in Geneva.

In Moscow, expectations at the top are very low, and the state propaganda organs have been reflecting this mood, denouncing President Reagan and his Strategic Defense Initiative--nicknamed “Star Wars”--with increasing intensity.

Ordinary citizens seem to be more hopeful than the Kremlin leadership about the possible results of the summit conference, the first since 1979.


Some special groups, such as Jewish “refuseniks,” are almost desperately eager for some favorable fallout from Geneva. Another category--Soviet citizens married to Americans but separated from their spouses--will be encouraged by the Kremlin’s announcement Friday that it will permit the emigration of eight such people, some of whom had been separated for more than 10 years.

Yet, Soviet sources with some inside knowledge of Kremlin thinking believe that very little will emerge from the encounter between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The major reason for this, they say, is Reagan himself.

The President, Soviet officials contend, is poorly informed, badly advised by a group of right-wing diehards and unwisely committed to a space-based missile defense system that will heat up the arms race.

Underneath all this is another strongly held view, apparently shared by Gorbachev, that Reagan simply cannot be trusted.

“He (Gorbachev) can’t do business with him,” a Soviet source with access to high-level officials said. “Maybe the two of them will exchange (propaganda) blows and then go home.”

Lack of Faith in Reagan

His prediction of no forward movement on arms control was echoed by another Soviet expert on Soviet-American relations. He said the main reason was lack of faith in Reagan as a negotiating partner.


At a recent news conference, Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, the military chief of staff, who was on the Soviet team for the second strategic arms limitation treaty, compared Reagan unfavorably to former Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter.

“It took seven years to negotiate the SALT II treaty,” he said. “In the 1970s we saw the willingness of the United States to negotiate while defending its interests. . . . Now, we don’t see this willingness. We see only willingness to force us to accept their proposals. The Soviet Union cannot negotiate on such a basis.”

Gorbachev, speaking in Paris last month, questioned whether the Geneva arms control talks could continue if Reagan sticks by his Strategic Defense Initiative. “If the new stage of space weapons starts, I don’t know how we’d engage in negotiations at all,” Gorbachev said.

The President’s anti-Communist rhetoric about an “evil empire” that will be consigned “to the dustbin of history” still rankles in the Soviet Union. And the Soviet press has ridiculed Reagan’s inaccurate statement that there is no word for freedom in the Russian language, saying that it showed him to be out of touch with reality.

Soviet officials also point to an apparent division in the Reagan Administration on even such a basic question as whether a new arms control agreement should be negotiated.

In contrast to the ironclad unity shown to the world on the Soviet side, the intra-Administration disputes about interpretation of the 1972 treaty on anti-ballistic missiles and Reagan’s own statements about deployment of a missile defense have been puzzling and upsetting to people here.


Questions have also been raised here about the state of Reagan’s health and his ability, at the age of 74, to concentrate for long periods on complex issues of the kind that will be taken up in his talks with Gorbachev.

If Reagan is regarded in such a light by the Soviets, why is Gorbachev going to the summit at all? The answer lies partly in Communist doctrine as reflected in the party program issued recently. While it depicts the United States as the citadel of a doomed capitalist system, it also declares in favor of stable and normal relations between Moscow and Washington.

Therefore, Gorbachev would be doing his Communist duty in seeking to improve Soviet-American ties by conferring with Reagan, even if the results are less than the Kremlin (or the White House) might hope to achieve.

Further, the Soviet leadership is seeking to improve its image in the eyes of Western Europeans and the nonaligned nations by championing detente and arms reduction.

In this view, the Kremlin realizes that it made a mistake by walking out of the Geneva arms talks in November, 1983, when the United States began deploying cruise and Pershing 2 missiles in Europe, under a North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreement, to counter Soviet SS-20s aimed at West European cities.

For more than a year, the Soviets said they would not return to the bargaining table unless the United States halted deployment and removed its missiles. Last March, however, they returned to the Geneva talks without such concessions by the American side.


Now, Gorbachev seems to be appealing to the imagination of the world by proposing a 50% cut in each side’s nuclear delivery systems capable of hitting the other’s territory if the United States will abandon its space-based defense research program.

American officials have protested that this is a one-sided proposal, but Reagan, under pressure from West European allies, has accepted in principle the 50% figure in his counterproposal.

American officials believe that Gorbachev badly wants an arms control agreement so that he can concentrate Soviet resources on massive domestic problems, including modernizing the industrial plant.

“Foreign policy is way down on the real Soviet priority list,” a senior Western diplomat said. “He (Gorbachev) will come to the summit overloaded with thoughts about what he’s doing in his own country.”

Also, Gorbachev, a vigorous 54-year-old, is the first Soviet leader in at least five years who is healthy enough to meet with an American President. His three immediate predecessors--Leonid I. Brezhnev, Yuri V. Andropov and Konstantin U. Chernenko--all had serious health problems that precluded such meetings after Brezhnev’s 1979 talks with Carter in Vienna.

Still, despite the bleak outlook for Geneva presented by the state-run Soviet newspapers and television, recent interviews with ordinary people reflect a measure of optimism.


A 47-year-old engineer, watching the first snow of the season slow traffic on Kalinin Prospect, described as excellent the idea of a face-to-face encounter at the highest level. This man, who gave his name as Igor, said he expects good results in the form of some limits on nuclear weapons.

However, he, as well as others, voiced suspicion about Reagan’s intentions.

An army officer, interviewed in a beer bar near the Smolenskaya subway station, said: “I hope something good will come of it. I fought with Americans in World War II and I know they really want peace.”

For many Soviet citizens, the summit is regarded as a bread-and-butter issue. If there is some kind of arms limitation, there may be less belt-tightening and more consumer goods in their future. A negative outcome, on the other hand, may channel the same or even greater resources to the military sector.

For others, though, the meeting is seen as a way to change their lives in other ways. Dr. Alexander Lerner, a leader in Moscow’s community of Jewish refuseniks, those who have been denied exit visas, said the meeting has stirred great expectations of a more liberal Soviet emigration policy.

“Everyone waits for change, and there’s a feeling that something good will happen,” Lerner said, “but it could be that the mountain will give birth to a mouse.”

Jewish emigration peaked at 51,000 in 1979, the year of the last summit meeting, and has since fallen sharply to less than 900 in 1984.


Now that the Kremlin has said it will allow the emigration of eight Soviet citizens married to Americans, the remaining 12 separated from their American spouses have high hopes that they also will be allowed to leave.

Still, Western diplomats have said they see little reason to expect a general liberalization of emigration policy under Gorbachev. On human rights issues, generally, the diplomats said, the Soviet policy line has hardened and officials have become more combative.

As the Kremlin sees it, American leaders raise such issues to discredit the Soviet Union unfairly or to seek to intervene in internal matters. Despite widespread criticism of their human rights record by such neutral nations as Sweden and Austria, Soviet leaders insist that they are living up to the 1975 Helsinki accords.

At Geneva, Gorbachev may be prepared to accuse the United States of human rights violations on the theory that a good offense is the best defense.

In the weeks leading up to the Geneva meeting, the Soviet leadership has focused almost exclusively on arms control and derided as a diversionary tactic Reagan’s call in a speech at the United Nations for emphasis on regional conflicts.

“The disarmament problem is the central problem, and not only we think so--the Western Europeans also feel this way,” said Yuri Zhukov, chairman of the Soviet Peace Committee, who is considered one of the most hawkish writers for Pravda, the Communist Party daily.


Leaders Mood ‘Very Cautious’

Asked to describe the mood in official Moscow circles on the eve of the meeting, he replied: “Very cautious.”

Other Kremlin publicists have not been so reserved.

Gennady Shishkin, one of the four Soviet journalists who interviewed Reagan not long ago in Washington, told the Bulgarian news agency that Reagan wanted to score propaganda points “without budging an inch from his position.” Izvestia, the government newspaper, labeled Paul H. Nitze, the President’s chief adviser on arms control, as a “gray hawk,” and said he was out to torpedo any possible arms control deal.

Soviet military analysts point to development of the U.S. “Midgetman” missile and the more powerful Trident submarine-launched missile as evidence that Washington is escalating the arms race.

And Gorbachev himself told Secretary of State George P. Shultz that a military-industrial complex controls political decisions in Washington--a view that Shultz described as misinformed.

However, Shultz failed to narrow the gap between American and Soviet positions in his meeting with Gorbachev on Nov. 5.

People in Moscow who retain a positive attitude toward the Geneva meeting are in a distinct minority. One American here said: “The true Soviet position is more realistic than the one given out by the propagandists.”


Zhukov, of the Kremlin Peace Committee, recalled another summit meeting, in 1972. At the time, he said, the United States was waging war in Vietnam and had just bombed Hanoi harbor, nearly hitting a Soviet ship. Yet when Nixon met Brezhnev a few weeks later, they signed the ABM treaty, SALT I and a trade agreement.

“Let us hope that after this meeting there will be a change for the better,” Zhukov said, and added: “People approve of Gorbachev’s going to Geneva, because they believe every opportunity should be used to prevent the dangerous development of events.”