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Sees Russians Playing Double Game–keeping Tensions High, but Opposing Mideast War

Russia is deliberately trying to keep tension at a high level in the Middle East, but not high enough to make a new outbreak of general war there inevitable, Washington Post correspondent Anthony Astrachan reported from Moscow today. According to Mr. Astrachan, Moscow is playing a tricky game of inciting war fever by blatant propaganda ploys on the one hand and trying to dampen it by quiet diplomacy on the other.

Neither the Russians nor their Arab clients appear to want a new full scale war with Israel because they are not prepared for it. But Moscow believes it can reap political advantage in the Middle East and embarrass the United States by abetting new crises and then claiming credit for having helped settle them through its diplomatic intervention, Mr. Astrachan said.

The correspondent noted the Lebanese crisis as a recent case in point. “When the United States issued a warning against intervention in Lebanon, apparently intended for Israel, the Soviets and Arabs chose to interpret it as directed against them,” Mr. Astrachan wrote. “Soviet Ambassador (to the U.S.) Anatoly F. Dobrynin then tried some quiet diplomacy. He was cited as the source of reports that Moscow wanted to cool the Lebanese crisis and did not want to see the guerrilla groups, whom it could not control, get out of hand.”

But if a new modus vivendi is reached in Lebanon, “The Soviet Union will actually have contributed to restoring peace–and created new tensions at the same time in the form of a more militant Lebanon that allows the guerrillas a free hand. Some observers think that weighs heavier than Soviet talks about restraining the guerrillas,” Mr. Astrachan reported.

The Soviets, in fact appear to be courting the guerrillas as a possible way to control them, the correspondent said. He cited recent statements in support of the Palestinian commandos fight against Israel by a Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman, Leonid Zamyatin, and Alexander Shelepin, a member of the Politburo.

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