Will the real Mikhail Gorbachev please stand up?

This week the Soviet leader tried to enhance his image as a peacemaker by calling for an end to all outside military aid to Latin America and promising to put no Soviet bases or nuclear weapons there.Though such an initiative should be welcome in an area where wars have claimed more than 100,000 lives in this decade, it's hard to square Gorbachev's words with some of his deeds.

It's hard, that is, for people who are aware of those deeds. But plenty seem to remain in the dark, judging from a recent poll showing that only 17 percent of the British people consider the Soviet Union a threat, compared with 42 percent as recently as 1981.

Not a threat? How can such a view be taken seriously in view of the new deal by which Russia is giving Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi Su-24 bombers capable of hitting targets more than 800 miles away and returning without refueling. This puts all of Israel and much of northern Africa and southern Europe within range of the new arsenal of poison gas that Libya is on the verge of producing. The range of these aircraft - which can fly at night and make precision bombing runs while dodging anti-aircraft fire - can be extended by in-flight fueling.

Not a threat? Just try telling that to FBI authorities. A few days ago, Scripps Howard News Service quoted them as warning that Soviet intelligence agents are using "every available platform" to steal U.S. military, high technology, and political secrets. The FBI is convinced that a third of the nearly 700 Soviet diplomats assigned to the United States are spies. Only a few weeks ago, a Soviet military attache in Washington was caught trying to steal American security information stored in computers.

Despite Gorbachev's peace offensive, the Free World had better keep its guard up as long as Soviet words fail to match Soviet deeds.