138. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1
992. At two receptions yesterday afternoon, Turkish national holiday and Afghanistan Embassy reception for visiting Prime Minister, Khrushchev, Bulganin, Molotov, Shepilov were at both, plus Zhukov at Turks. Despite efforts British Ambassador and myself avoid more than normal courtesies, Bulganin and Khrushchev at both receptions made dead set for both Hayter and me and seemed anxious to be seen in conversation with us.
Soviet leadership in general appeared considerably better spirits than on past two occasions.2 It is probable that there was full meeting [Page 336] Presidium yesterday, since British Ambassador saw many Zils going into Kremlin, and Soviet Government presumably has reached decision on handling Hungarian matter. Certain points of interest on other subjects which emerged these conversations will be reported separately, but only extended conversation I had on subject Hungary was with Marshal Zhukov who also sought me out at Turks.
Zhukov stuck straight to party line and as will be seen from observations made to me on Hungarian situation was indulging in mixture untruths, half-truths and possibly some elements of real fact. I asked Zhukov whether Nagy broadcast of the night before which stated Soviet troops would be leaving Budapest immediately and that negotiations for the total withdrawal from Hungary would be undertaken3 had been made in agreement with Soviet Government, and if this represented Soviet intention in regard to troop withdrawal. Zhukov replied Nagy broadcast had not referred to immediate withdrawal from Budapest and that Soviet troops having gone there at request Hungarian Government would remain until that government requested withdrawal or until “order had been restored”. On general withdrawal he said this was matter consideration members Warsaw Pact, repeating to me privately what he said earlier to press.
Zhukov then made following statements to me in regard to situation:
- No Soviet reinforcements had been sent to Hungary “recently” since there were sufficient Soviet troops for purpose without this. I challenged this statement by pointing out there was information to contrary on this point and that Soviet Representative UN had not so far as I was aware issued any specific denial to statement British Representative that reinforcements had come in from Rumania.4 Zhukov said he had not read SC debates but reaffirmed his statement.
- He said Soviet troops had only opened fire when some of their officers had been killed by insurgents, and that in last forty-eight hours there had been no firing by Soviet troops. I again told him I had information to the contrary which he stated was false. (BBC this morning spoke of Soviet artillery fire Budapest against army barracks.)
- He stated that Soviet troops Budapest were not under his command, but under that Hungarian Minister of Defense.
- Soviet troops had only been in action Budapest and had not taken action against any “new” local authorities in many places Hungary.
- He volunteered statement that contrary foreign news reports there had been no single incident defection any Soviet soldier to rebels.
Zhukov attempted to take “soldier’s” attitude in defense Soviet troops, stating that he was not a politician and that function of army [soldier] was to carry out orders given to him. In addition he attempted along standard lines to present Hungarian action as counter-revolutionary putsch and when help was asked for by government member Warsaw Pact, Soviets could not refuse. He inquired what would happen under any alliance in similar circumstances to which I replied NATO contained no provision for use foreign troops for intervention internal matters, to which he replied Warsaw Pact was for support Socialist camp and, therefore, for protection Socialist governments from any threat. In answer to my comment that I knew nothing in text Warsaw Pact which would justify internal intervention, Zhukov said such action was “envisaged” in pact.
He attempted, though somewhat mildly, to stress “foreign connection” of insurgents mentioning that they have captured large quantities of American rifles, as well as German cannon. He did not, however, assert that these alleged American arms had been sent by US but said they were probably World War II supplies smuggled into Hungary from Austria.
He said he regretted action three Western powers bringing matter before Security Council since it was internal affair Hungary. I immediately challenged him on this and said he could hardly expect otherwise since intervention Soviet troops gave it strong international aspect. He made no answer.
In course conversation I asked him if it was not simple fact that when a government was forced to appeal foreign troops for help this was clearest evidence that government did not enjoy support people. Zhukov in feeble reply spoke of exploitation legitimate discontent for past policies by unscrupulous and criminal elements, which is standard Soviet line.
With reference to future Soviet policy, Zhukov did not go beyond statement that troops would be withdrawn from Budapest immediately when Hungarian Government so requested or when cease fire became operative. (Shepilov meantime had been telling press roughly same thing only one report on BBC this morning has him going farther in stating that troops would remain Budapest until rebels had laid down their arms.)
Zhukov made number interesting observations in regard to Polish situation in discussing Hungarian events. He cited as proof Soviet unwillingness intervene internal affairs fact no troops were used Poland, although he said there was more than ample force in East Germany, White Russia and Poland itself for this purpose. He became quite vehement at this point and said “they” could have crushed them like flies. When I asked him who “they” were he made no direct reply, saying that Soviets had shown great restraint in Poland. He said in fact [Page 338] in order to ensure that troops in East Germany did not move Poland he had purposely sent Konev there to make sure forces remained on spot. This is confirmation of what was suspected before that actual use of force in Poland was most seriously considered by Soviet Government and may indicate army had urged action in Poland.
I have no way of judging truth Zhukov’s remarks that Soviet troops have confined action to Budapest and had by-passed towns, other areas Hungary where nationalists were in control. However, from general tenor his remarks, as well as statements to press by Shepilov and him, it looks as though Soviet decision was to support Nagy government to end, although possibly primarily in Budapest leaving provinces and other towns for subsequent mopping up if resistance can be broken in capital, thereby hoping to avoid total military occupation Hungary by Soviet forces. In this light it would appear Nagy’s statements on night of 28th regarding Soviet troop withdrawal from Budapest was nothing more than trick, with Soviet connivance, to cause insurgents to cease fire.
Since in all probability I will see Zhukov this evening Kremlin reception, would appreciate urgently any reliable information in regard to specific points he made to me concerning Soviet troops activities, particularly re reinforcements and limitation action to Budapest.
(For London: British Ambassador, whom I gave brief account talk with Zhukov, had asked if it were possible for this report to be made available to Foreign Office. Suggest, therefore, substance containing Zhukov’s statements, but without my comments, should be given to Foreign Office.)
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 761.13/10–3056. Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Repeated to London and Paris.↩
- In telgram 949 from Moscow, October 26, Bohlen described the spirits of the Soviet leaders at a reception for the Belgians. (Ibid., 033.5561/10–2656)↩
- See footnote 3, Document 132.↩
- U.N. doc. S/PV.746, p. 14.↩