GORBACHEV DESERVES HIGH MARKS

The man has been general secretary only two years now but already has made many new ripples on the surface of foreign and domestic waters.

Not a few Western leaders are impressed. The West, they say, can do business with Mikhail Gorbachev. But the West can no longer go by the old manuals on Kremlinology. New thinking is required to deal with new developments in the U.S.S.R., say the experts. They say ideology has been de- emphasized in Moscow in order to face up to the realities of the age of overkill.Both sides, they say, need to stretch out toward each other in the economic and political spheres.

Western observers say the general secretary can hold his own at international conclaves. The man, they say, even has a welcome platform wit.

Mr. Gorbachev, by most yardsticks, is urbane, intelligent, innovative, articulate, well-informed, affable, courteous. A winning combination, say diplomatic sources. British and French leaders have commented on these favorable traits.

The situation inside the U.S.S.R., say those who study such matters, is no longer the same as it was under Mr. Gorbachev's immediate predecessors. Soviet society is opening up: the media is more liberal, there are new democratic rules for voting, films are being shown which only recently were hidden from the public and some writers who were censored will apparently be published.

Even the noted dissident scientist Andrei Sakharov, recently allowed to return to Moscow from exile, was seen clapping his hands during a Gorbachev speech at an international peace forum in mid-February in which the Soviet leader spoke of a new approach to the humanitarian question.

To the question - Can we get along with Gorbachev? - Western leaders who have met the general secretary are inclined to say yes.

But some Kremlin-watchers raise a funny paradox.

It is this: is it possible the U.S.S.R. now has a leader who is too good, too effective perhaps in dealing with the West, as compared with his predecessors?

Some observers say hardliners in the West openly wonder if the good old days were better because they were easier. Easier, that is, because the Kremlin was led by less forceful men and, thus, Western diplomats had a routine job with no need to rack their brains on how to cope with new Soviet policies or new ideas. There were no new policies or ideas to speak of.

Then it was possible to pin the responsibility for the sourness of East- West relations on the senility of Soviet leaders whose health made new summit meetings problematic.

Now the ballgame is new and far from dull.

And, say observers, sometimes the shoe seems to fit on the other foot.

Recently, in the United States, there was congressional criticism of President Reagan and his closest advisers for failing to prepare adequately for the Reykjavik summit with Mr. Gorbachev. On the other hand, Mr. Gorbachev was ready, pen in hand, to sign major international agreements on reducing nuclear weapons.

Most Russians appear to be pleased with Mikhail Gorbachev, his style, his words, his new policies.

He is, or appears to be, a popular leader, even though a good deal of his reforms have reportedly run into solid bureaucratic opposition.

The Soviet leader often visits factories and offices, farms and workshops in various parts of the U.S.S.R. and holds discussions with ordinary citizens. These talks are published in full in the daily papers. A televised Gorbachev speech is now a big event in the U.S.S.R. and citizens are interested in what he has to say.

Some Soviet pundits, writing about the new Gorbachev policy of glasnost, or openness, ask slyly why all Western democracies don't follow suit to give the opposition a greater voice.

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