7. Memorandum of Discussion at the 236th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, February 10, 19551
[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and discussion of items 1 and 2.]
3. Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security
The Director of Central Intelligence said that he would devote most of his time to an “appreciation” of the situation in Moscow. For over a year now there had been signs that Malenkov was losing power. However, the actual secret of his “resignation” had been very carefully kept. There had been good reason to believe that the summoning of the Supreme Soviet a month ahead of time would [Page 26]have dramatic repercussions, the more so since this coincided with the summoning back to Moscow of a significant number of Soviet Ambassadors abroad.
Mr. Dulles then said that he did not believe that Malenkov’s fall from power was to be ascribed to any of the assertions of guilt made in his statement. For one thing, he had been less responsible for the failures in Soviet agriculture than Khrushchev himself, and he had had certainly as wide administrative experience as Bulganin. The real point seemed to be that Malenkov had lost the second round of a great power struggle. Accordingly, this may be the beginning of the end of the period of collective leadership in the USSR.
Mr. Dulles then gave a brief comparison of the decline and fall of Beria2 and Malenkov, noting that a possible reason for the fact that thus far Malenkov had escaped Beria’s fate was that Beria had actually been caught in a plot to seize power.
Khrushchev, continued Mr. Dulles, was now clearly in the dominant position in the Soviet hierarchy. Moreover, the influence of the military was now at an all-time high in the Soviet Union— this despite the fact that Marshal Bulganin was in truth an “old Bolshevik” rather than a genuine military man. He had had no battle experience, and was usually known as “General Rabbit” by the real soldiers in the Soviet Army. According to the statements of a high-level defector, the Soviet Army now gained for itself the power and prestige in the Soviet Government which had once been held by the MVD.
In the view of CIA, said Mr. Dulles, the committee form of government cannot endure in the USSR. He predicted that the struggle for supreme power would continue, with Khrushchev playing the cagy STALIN game of slowly consolidating his power against his rivals. He had deliberately refused the first job (of Prime Minister) in order to consolidate his rivals against himself.
The difficult question was how and why this crisis had come to a head at this particular time. Obviously the economic issues had played an important part, with Malenkov cast in the role of goat. Foreign policy had also played a considerable part. There was a widespread feeling that Malenkov’s so-called “soft” line had not been notably successful, especially in Europe.
The President interrupted to comment that this judgment showed how different the picture looked to the Russians than to ourselves, who had been so greatly concerned about the apparent success of the Soviets with the soft line of foreign policy.[Page 27]
Mr. Dulles went on to point out that Molotov does not seem to have shared Malenkov’s views on the line to be followed in foreign policy. Molotov preferred the tougher line, and we could certainly expect tougher words on that subject from now on out. It was too early to say whether the actual foreign policy would change along with the words, but very possibly it would not.
Neither economic nor foreign policy, continued Mr. Dulles, sufficiently explains what had happened in Moscow. It was “a truly Russian affair”, with Malenkov obliged to sit and listen while his statement of shortcomings was read before all. It was quite likely that Malenkov would gradually disappear from view.
Mr. Dulles described the appointment of Zhukov3 as “very interesting”. The defectors to whom he had referred earlier had insisted that Zhukov was much too popular in the Soviet Union ever to be appointed to the Ministry of Defense.
The President interrupted to say that Zhukov was, despite everything, “a likable cuss”, and had on more than one occasion manifested to the President a certain independence of his political associates. Mr. Dulles said this might prove to be a matter of the carrot-and-the-stick policy, Zhukov being the carrot and Khrushchev the stick. The President agreed, but pointed out that the increase in Army influence symbolized by the elevation of Zhukov did not necessarily portend a tougher and more dangerous Soviet policy. The Army, said the President, tended to be a conservative force.
[Here follow the remainder of the briefing and discussion of items 4–6.]