165. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

177. Ref State 4411.2

I have been increasingly concerned at stream of vituperation directed against us in Soviet press and TV, as well as at naivete and surprise this regard of many recent visitors to this country—including some who should know better. I am also disturbed at current tendency which I sense in US—especially in academic and journalistic circles—to think of Soviets as “good guys” struggling with Chinese “bad guys” to introduce moderation and peacefulness into international Communist movement. This outlook—which ignores repeated Soviet endorsements of “wars of national liberation”—inescapably leads many in US to excuse Soviet actions re Vietnam on grounds that Kremlin leaders “cannot help themselves” because of their dispute with Chinese. While there is, of course, kernel of truth in this line of reasoning, it is harmful to us in terms of our relations with USSR because it encourages Soviets to exploit double standard and roundly condemn US in most objectionable manner both publicly and privately and, at same time, feel confident that their efforts will be “understood” because situation in SEA is “extremely complicated one.”
I am, therefore, viscerally sympathetic with Ambassador Bowles’ suggestion that we should adopt a tougher line toward Soviet efforts re Vietnam. I believe this should be done by taking extreme care that no official statements or speeches by US officials contain explicit or implicit apology for Soviet line of action in Vietnam. Nor should we allow others to believe that we satisfied re Soviet “moderation” there. Thus I have been glad to see publicity given to Ambassador Goldberg’s [Page 402]“put up or shut up” statement and to George Ball’s television interview Monday3 in same vein. However, I do not believe that extensive and concerted propaganda campaign in all appropriate capitals and throughout world press, as suggested reftel, would be productive or, given present climate, necessarily convincing. It might even be interpreted as having ominous overtones or as evidence growing desperation in US re Vietnam.
Despite Soviet hostility and the torrent of abuse hurled at US, it should be kept in mind that one of realities of Vietnam situation is fact that Soviets thus far have been relatively cautious in avoiding any actions which could lead to collision with US. It is obviously in our interest not to back Sovs into corner—e.g. boasting re relative ineffectiveness of their SAM’s—and thereby pressuring them to step up efforts against us in Vietnam. Should also be kept in mind that Sovs, to best of our knowledge, have never ascribed their actions Vietnam to fact that they cannot allow Chinese to be more revolutionary than they are. Their rationale is that they cannot leave fellow socialist country in the lurch. With or without Sino-Soviet dispute, Sovs would have felt obliged to provide DRV, in present situation, with some form of military aid, even under Khrushchev. Indeed, it can be argued—and Soviets themselves argue it all the time and in our view quite convincingly—that Sino-Soviet dispute has lessened effectiveness Soviet aid to Vietnamese over what it would have been had Moscow been able to patch up quarrel with Peking.
Finally, I cannot endorse our hinting that Sovs may really want war between US and China. Despite Chinese avowals that they would not call for Soviet support if hostilities with US ensue, Sovs acutely aware that Sino-Soviet defense treaty still valid (Sovs reiterated its validity this year on Feb 15 anniversary of its signing—Embtel 2507).4 They further aware that serious threat of Sino-US war would pose immense policy problems which at very least would necessarily affect their internal economic and military planning. It is almost truism to state that Soviet leadership not anxious to cope with such problems at present time, if ever.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66 POL USUSSR. Secret; Exdis. No time of transmission appears on the telegram, but it was received in the Department of State at 8:19 p.m. on July 12.
  2. Dated July 6. (Department of State, S/S-I Limdis/Exdis Microfilm)
  3. July 11.
  4. Dated February 14. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, EDU 6 USSR)