611.61/6–1952: Telegram

No. 511
The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Department of State


2044. I called on Vishinsky as scheduled and had conversation with him which, to my mind was extremely interesting and somewhat encouraging. It was my first discussion of any political subject with any Sov official since my arrival here, and I think my long silence and restraint lent a desirable emphasis to it in Sov eyes. He received me courteously but quite seriously, there was no banter or small talk. Since he did not bring up the question of our relations I did so myself, referred to the Secretary’s talk with Panyushkin, said I would not repeat the Secretary’s remarks but could say that they reflected such reports as I had been obliged to my great regret to render about the violent anti-American propaganda with which I had been greeted on my arrival. I emphasized to him how painful this had been to me and how difficult it had been for me to discover any reasons for all this which could conceivably be compatible with a desire on the Sov inside to improve Sov-Amer relations. I said that I had worked hard up to this time and had done all in my power to bring about an improvement in the atmosphere surrounding the relations between the two governments, that I was not a pessimist and would be glad to continue to use my influence in this direction, but what I had seen here since my arrival really caused me to question whether there was any point in such effort, since it could not be entirely one-way street.

I was less surprised by the content of Vishinsky’s reply than by its terms and tone of utterance. He spoke quietly and reasonably, with no trace of vehemence or unfriendliness, and in a manner quite different from that which he uses when he is reiterating propaganda formulas designed for the public record, or when he feels under any pressure from higher authority to be aggressive and unpleasant. He referred immediately to statements made on our side of the water, some of them, he said, by high-placed persons, and also to the Grew diary,1 the press attacks, etc. He made particular reference, in what seemed to me to be really plaintive terms, to the Gubichev case.2 He did not specifically mention [Page 1012] Katyn,3 but I am certain that it was this he had most prominently in mind. He dwelt at some lengths on these matters and left no doubt about their being the Sov Govt’s official reason for the propaganda.

I did not wish to be drawn into an argument with him about propaganda exchanges and incidents of the past, and terminated the conversation by saying to him that I deeply hoped that the anti-Amer propaganda might cease at once and that so far as such things as the Grew diary were concerned, I would ask that we be judged by the present and not by the past. In parting he took occasion, to my surprise, to indicate that the Sov Govt had high regard for my person and that none of the unpleasantness had any reference to myself.

By way of comment on the above I would say only this. The past has taught us the need for greatest wariness in dealing with the Sovs precisely in their better moments. Eager optimism is the enemy of all progress at such junctures. We know that when we run across reactions and motives on their part which are at least understandable in normal human terms, they are usually intermingled with other impulses of which this cannot be said. What Vishinsky said to me of the background of the anti-Amer campaign is only part of the story, and the misunderstandings to which his statement points are extremely serious ones, since they have roots in the stubborn Sov refusal to understand the nature of Amer public opinion and its channels of expression. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that this talk was useful and encouraging. It indicated a certain concern for my opinion, and represented at least something like an effort on his part to present an explanation for the campaign—and that in itself was not something to be taken for granted. If nothing occurs in major Amer utterances to rock the boat in these coming days, I think we may soon see a relative decline in the amount of anti-Amer material appearing here. This does not mean that I think there is possibility that the tone of the Sov press will shortly become friendly to us. I merely think it possible, as a result of the Secretary’s helpful statements to Panyushkin4 and in [Page 1013] the light of this talk with Vishinsky, that the abnormal pitch of anti-Americanism may now wane fairly rapidly, if no new factor appears to exacerbate the situation. Its possibilities must have been fairly well exhausted by this time, in any case.

In light of above, I hope no major statement or move will now be made by us until I have chance to discuss matter with Secretary in London next week.5 For what I feel to be good reason, I have not told local press about this meeting with Vishinsky and hope that news of it may be closely held in Washington.

  1. See footnote 5, Document 499.
  2. Valentin Alekseyevich Gubichev, a Soviet citizen and former member of the Soviet Delegation to the United Nations subsequently serving as an engineer with the U.N. Secretariat in New York, was arrested in New York on Mar. 5, 1949, for receiving stolen government information from Judith Coplon, an employee of the Department of Justice. Gubichev was indicted for having violated the espionage laws of the United States, tried, and convicted. A long prison sentence handed down by the trial judge on Mar. 9, 1950, was suspended on condition that Gubichev be deported from the United States, which in fact occurred on Mar. 20, 1950. For documentation on the Gubichev case, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. v, pp. 776805.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 499.
  4. Reference is presumably to the conversation between the Secretary of State and Ambassador Panyushkin on June 6; see Document 506.
  5. In telegram 1910, May 31, Kennan informed the Department that he was planning to visit Berlin and Bonn in late June for consultation with authorities in Germany and to assist his family in travel to Moscow. Kennan planned to leave Moscow on June 21 and return to Moscow on June 30. (123 Kennan, George F.) In an exchange of messages with and at the suggestion of Secretary Acheson, Kennan broadened his itinerary to include a visit to London on June 27 for luncheon with Acheson. (123 Kennan, George F.)