Despite Mik-hail Gorbachev's assurance that Moscow will not oppose the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, anxiety is growing in Central Europe about Soviet intentions.
Only this week Andrei Kozyrev, the liberal foreign minister of the Russian Republic, warned, "If the forces of darkness prevail in the Soviet Union, Central Europe is next on their agenda."President Lech Walesa of Poland sees a "deadly threat" on the horizon.
The First Deputy Minister of Interior of Czechoslovakia, Jan Ruml, warns of "the state terrorism of Soviet forces, which, under certain circumstances, could destabilize the situation in the former Communist countries."
Prime Minister Jozsef Antall of Hungary has just postponed his first official visit to the Soviet Union.
Although Moscow may be economically and politically too weak to crush these new democracies, its capacity to create instability is considerable.
There are disturbing signs of a hardening Soviet attitude toward the former satellites, particularly Poland.
Most alarming is the uncertainty over when - or if - Soviet troops will leave the region.
Having agreed last year to withdraw from Hungary and Czechoslovakia by mid-1991 and from eastern Germany by 1994, the Soviet Union now says it will not pull out of Poland until after its large contingent leaves Germany.
Another bad omen is the resemblance between the crackdown in the Baltics and previous Soviet interventions in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, which all took place while the West was distracted.
What lends credence to Central European concerns is the Soviet debate about who "lost" eastern Germany and the rest of what was the Soviet bloc.
The democrats maintain that the Soviet Union is better served by stable neighborly relations (as with Finland) than by domination.
Centrists believe Moscow should have demanded a better deal for its withdrawal.
Because of their growing power the key question is what the conservatives in the party, military and KGB want.
Above all, they hope the Central European experiment with pluralism and the free market fails: That would fortify their case against perestroika.
If Poland is mired in strikes, Hungary consumed by nationalist passions and Czechoslovakia torn by fighting between Czechs and Slovaks, the conservatives could say to Soviet citizens: Is this what you want?
Having experienced upheaval at home and retreat abroad, hard-liners also want the Soviet Union treated with respect.
They want no more anti-communist rhetoric from former allies, no declarations of support for Lithuania, no talk about joining NATO.
If the conservatives had their way Moscow could try to pressure and intimidate the Central Europeans by holding military exercises in eastern Germany, by refusing to withdraw from Hungary and Czechoslovakia on schedule and by further slashing Soviet energy deliveries.
But what would be achieved by pursuing such seemingly self-defeating policies, moves that would cause incalculable damage to Soviet relations with the United States, Germany and the rest of Europe?
The troubling answer is that Soviet diehards want more confusion, more tension, more disorder.
Only if the Russians are leaving Central Europe is the Cold War over. If not, we are back to square one.