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

2979. Approach of Khrushchev’s 70th birthday April 17 will presumably give rise to some speculation in West about his possible retirement. In this connection, pundits may well recall statement of February 27, 1963 that we could not go on forever and attempt to rationalize that ideal time for step-down is now.

In Embassy’s view there seems little warrant for such speculation. We have never been sure that there was much substance to Khrushchev’s “retirement” statement of last year, and if there was, it should be read as reflection Khrushchev’s shaky power position in post-Cuba period rather than of indication Khrushchev’s own desires. In any case, situation has changed considerably. Even if Khrushchev should want to give up premiership and become, perhaps, Chairman of Presidium of Supreme Soviet (which would still enable him participate in future summit meetings), he could not possibly step down now in face Chinese polemics against him personally.

May be noted that as spring approaches this year Soviets are facing some unusually serious problems apart from China. Winter wheat crop, which they are banking on more than usual, may be possibly quite poor. Soviet youth and labor are restless and food shortage has people disgruntled. Authorities seem edging toward more repressive measures to improve discipline, as perhaps implied in March 19 Izvestiya report of Rudenko speech in Central Committee calling for “further strengthening socialist legality and law and order”.

In sum, complex of all these factors make it unlikely that Khrushchev will consider it wise give up any of his present jobs in immediate future.

Stoessel 2
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Cables, Vol. II. Confidential.
  2. Kohler was in Washington for consultations.