WASHINGTON — Washington. Hordes of structurally unemployed Soviet rewrite men must be calling the Kremlin job office on hearing that despite everything, Mikhail Gorbachev will deliver the Nobel prizewinner's traditional speech on peace this spring.
Only last year, in the wake of the relatively peaceful revolution in Eastern Europe, the Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to Mr. Gorbachev. In December, he sent an emissary to Oslo to fetch it, because he was busy at home. Now, he seems confident that those troubles will be calmed in time for him to speak, probably in May.
Why he seems so confident was not stated, but it may be that he thinks the Persian Gulf war will still be going strong, so any conflict between what he says and does will still be just a $H footnote to the news.
In recent days, he has caved in to the hard-liners in his party and army. He has moved to curtail press freedom. He has used force to crack down on Baltic independence movements. His agents have dared tell Sweden and other Western governments to mute their criticism lest it lead to ''dangerous inflammation'' of the Baltic situation. Seldom have those stories made Page 1 or had more than a blink of air time in the West.
Although Western European governments are reconsidering a $1 billion aid package to the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev has heard little more than pro-forma diplomatic complaints from politicians who used to huff and puff against Soviet occupation of the Baltic ''captive nations.'' The White House says President Bush will go ahead with next month's Soviet-American summit meeting.
If there were no Gulf war, Mr. Bush might be speaking out more angrily about the course reversal in Moscow. He is grateful that the Soviet Union is giving at least lip service to the anti-Saddam Hussein alliance, rather than siding with its erstwhile client in Baghdad. Thus he does not want to alienate Mr. Gorbachev while the Gulf fighting goes on.
But aside from that, Mr. Bush has a major stake in Mr. Gorbachev's political success. To speak out loudly against him now would only make Mr. Bush's earlier embrace of the Soviet president seem impetuous and naive. Besides, as a matter of cynical Realpolitik, the survival of a stable Soviet Union matters more than the independence of the annexed republics.
In this delicate situation, Mr. Gorbachev can call upon a whole class of historians, journalists and speech writers to help him explain in Oslo how what he is doing contributes to world peace.
Those are the craftsmen who proved in the past that Josef Stalin was a great humanitarian, and later that he was a cruel dictator. They explained how Soviet tanks put down democratic revolutions in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the name of the people. The more imaginative of them persuaded fellow travelers that Russia invented baseball.
Since glasnost came along, these writers have been retired or on short hours, but their skills are pertinent to today's world. If current trends continue, they can dig out of their files the excuses used when Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev crushed earlier independence movements. And if they are as ingenious as they used to be, they will point to the history of other countries, including the U.S., to justify what Mr. Gorbachev is doing in 1991.
This is the you're-another technique demonstrated lately by Saddam Hussein himself, who responds to international outrage against his invasion of Kuwait by pointing to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mr. Gorbachev's propagandists already have sought understanding of his repression by asking how an American president would react if one of our states tried to secede.
One answer is on record, of course: when 11 states announced their secession in 1861, Abraham Lincoln's response was the most devastating crackdown in U.S. history, costing more dead than all our other wars put together. But the 20th century is more pertinent.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 via a secret protocol to the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin. What the Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians thought did not matter. Alaska and Hawaii became states only after their people voted to get into the United States. In the Baltic republics, the people voted to get out of the Soviet Union.
By refusing their right, Mr. Gorbachev is doing what the Berlin wall did -- keeping people in when they want to go free. Invoking traditional Soviet logic, he can explain that by doing so, he is promoting peace -- because if they insist on freedom, it means war.