152. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

2624. Sinyavsky/Daniel Trial.2

In view foreign furor, especially by western Communists over Sinyavsky/Daniel case, it worth speculating on factors motivating Soviets in their handling of case, and degree to which Soviet aims achieved.
We were told by Soviet source decision on how to handle case was reached “at highest level,” and we inclined believe this. Before trial and Soviet publicity, there were rumors Sinyavsky and Daniel would be given lenient treatment, possibly even trial by comradely court; and after first press attack, we had report Demichev had stated attacker had gone too far. It logical assume Demichev subsequently overruled higher up, hence at Presidium level. Length of time between arrest and trial does not appear to have been required in order build up case, since prosecution relied primarily on defendants’ writings, culling of which did not require four months. Delay, therefore, may have been result of difference of opinion within regime, difference centering on method and degree of punishment. Fact they should be dealt with in some fashion does not appear to have been questioned.
Tertz/Arzhak3 writings clearly hit too close to fundamentals of system. Once it proved their true identity, regime had to act. Regime doubtless really believes their writings constitute anti-Soviet activity, and in this sense is honest in insisting case is separate issue from that of literary freedom. Tertz/Arzhak writings do, in fact, go far beyond range of current internal literary debate and problem for regime was compounded by fact Sinyavsky, at least, enjoyed good local reputation, especially among more liberal intellectuals and youth.
Problem, as far as regime concerned, was basically internal—culprits had to be punished both for their own sake and to deter others—and this internal aspect took precedence over problems of foreign repercussions. Since regime also apparently felt it necessary to destroy reputations of culprits, publicity was required and this best accomplished by a trial which at same time could reflect “Soviet legality.” [Page 377]In addition, while KGB was probably not averse to seeing intellectuals as whole shaken up a bit, Party seems to have wanted avoid this and have been at pains to emphasize separation of case from question literary freedom. Thus, certain aspect of domestic requirements somewhat dovetailed with problem of avoiding foreign outcry, even though latter was only secondary factor in Soviet considerations.
Above considerations led to Soviet publicity campaign, to semi-open trial (relatives, and some respected individuals such as Tvardovsky were allowed attend), and to unusual spectacle of defendants being allowed plead innocent and have this reported, and being heard, apparently at some length. Trial went on four days.
In context Soviet legal procedures, all was nicely legal, and regime no doubt considers it gave them fair trial. It probably even thought this observance of Soviet legal norms would tend diminish foreign outcries. Soviet judicial procedures, however, are eminently flexible, and in order score their domestic points, regime exploited this flexibility fully, making trial complete mockery of justice: threatening students who tried attend with expulsion, stationing Komsomol thugs outside courthouse, barring all foreigners (including Communists), publishing distorted press accounts containing complete prejudgment of case, suppressing evidence (so reminiscent of Mott case), especially Paustovsky statement defending Sinyavsky/Daniel.
Effect Soviet handling of case will have on primary target, potential shippers abroad of anti-Soviet writings, is obviously impossible to determine, but will presumably be beneficial from regime’s point of view, at least temporarily. In this sense, therefore, they may regard operation as success.
Other domestic effects seem less favorable, however. Trial has certainly left some segments of intellectuals worried. While KGB and certain hard-liners probably not disturbed by this, Party apparatus charged with supervision of intellectuals apparently is, since it prefers intellectuals who behave docilely by choice and conviction, not because they cowed. Hence effort in February 22 Pravda article to reassure intellectuals trial does not affect literary scene was aimed primarily at criminal activity. Meanwhile, facts that trial virtually closed, that press reports distorted, and that evidence suppressed are certainly no secret here. Suppression Paustovsky statement will prove particularly damaging among intellectual circles, since he highly respected figure.
As for foreign reaction, while Soviets were probably willing ride out foreign uproar, they seem to have grossly miscalculated its extent, and are particularly pained by extent of foreign Communist attacks. Latter, furthermore, will have domestic repercussions, especially among intellectual circles, since Soviet public no longer completely shut off from outside news.
It appears, therefore, Soviets probably benefited little from their effort to gain credit by supplying trappings, but not substance, of justice. By this halfway treatment, with its attendant publicity, they created more interest in writers than probably would have been the case if they had thrown them out, as they did Tarsis,4 or conducted secret trial. It was half-open handling of case, and attempts present it as valid legal operation, that made it impossible, for example, for western Communists overlook distortions of justice. Soviets achieved their immediate objective-punishment and deterrence-but at cost, both domestic and international, far higher than what they probably had expected.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 29 USSR. Limited Official Use. Repeated to London, Paris, Rome, and Munich.
  2. Soviet writers Andrei Sinyavsky and DanieYuri Daniel had been sentenced to 7 and 5 years, respectively, in a corrective labor camp on February 14 for anti-Soviet writings.
  3. These were Sinyavsky’s and Daniel’s pen names.
  4. Valery Tarsis was deprived of his Soviet citizenship on February 21; he eventually settled in Greece.