The Soviet Watchers of Washington met last week in the Darkness at Noon Russian Tea Room to be briefed on Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev's rise to the top of the Soviet Union.
Prof. Nicholai Dubokowsky, one of the leading Kremlinologists in this country, gave us the word. "Gorbachev may be around for at least 30 years, so you have to watch him very closely."
"What should we watch for?"
"Since he is only 54 years old you should watch the way he stands when he's on the top of Lenin's Tomb. Remember, he is the first Soviet leader in 10 years who can watch a parade without a Politburo member on each side holding on to his arms so he won't fall down. This has its good and bad implications. The fact that he can stand on his own two feet makes Gorbachev dangerous. At the same time we can expect more credibility from the Kremlin on their leader's health. Now when they announce he has a bad cold, we can all assume he does have a bad cold."
"Why is Gorbachev getting such a good press?"
"Because he speaks English and wears nice suits. One of the reasons Americans never trusted the Soviet leaders in the past was that they dressed so tacky. How could you discuss ways of avoiding World War III with people who wore baggy pants and white socks? Gorbachev is a new breed of Russian. His suit coat fits, and his choice of shirts and ties is impeccable. He's the type of person you're not ashamed to be photographed with at a summit conference."
"Does the fact that he's a snappy dresser mean he's a more formidable adversary?"
"He could go either way. Khrushchev almost brought us to nuclear destruction by hammering his shoe on the podium at the United Nations. Gorbachev would never do this because he's afraid it would ruin his shine. But you still have to watch him very carefully. The fact that he doesn't drool all over the medals on his chest could be to NATO's disadvantage. With the others you knew they weren't going to be around very long, so the West was willing to put up with their peccadilloes for a year or two. With Gorbachev it will be at least three decades before he winds up in the Kremlin Wall."
"Do you think he will flaunt the fact he is only 54 years old in Reagan's face?"
"He has already. In a hand-delivered letter to President Reagan, Gorbachev started by addressing it 'Dear Uncle Ronnie.' That threw the President for a loop. He doesn't even like his grandchildren to call him Grandpa."
"Vice President George Bush watched Gorbachev all during Chernenko's funeral. What was his impression of the man?"
"As you know, Mr. Bush has become an expert at watching Soviet leaders at Moscow funerals. He came back quite impressed. Mr. Bush thinks Gorbachev has the potential to become the first Soviet yuppie premier. The leader seems to enjoy the good things in life, and one of his priorities is to provide more of the same for his people. The vice president believes if we can get Gorbachev to import more Perrier and buy more BMWs with stereo tape decks in them, the Soviets will lose their appetite for world conquest."
"What about Mrs. Gorbachev? Should we spend much time watching her?"
"You have no choice. The press is now referring to her as another Jackie Kennedy. Mrs. Gorbachev could be a big help to the Soviet leader when he travels around the world. The thing to watch is his first trip to France. If he pulls a John Kennedy and says, 'I am the man who accompanied Raisa Gorbachev to Paris,' and it gets a big hand, we're in a lot more trouble than most people think."