19. Memorandum From the Ambassador at Large (Thompson) to the Deputy Director for Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency (Cline)1

I was quite fascinated by the Agency’s study on the coming struggle for power in the USSR.2 This is by far the best thing I have seen on this subject and I think, in the main, quite sound. I do have a few comments, however, which I hope will be of interest.

Many of the judgments in this report would be affected by the circumstances of Khrushchev’s disappearance from the scene. Most of them seem predicated upon his dying a natural death. Should, however, he voluntarily retire from his two principal positions and take the presidency, many of the appraisals in this report would, I think, be changed. This would be even more so if he were forced out or kicked upstairs.

I have always assumed that Khrushchev’s positions as head of the Party and head of the Government would be divided with Brezhnev, Podgorny, and Kosygin being the principal contenders. If this happened, I should think the split between the Party and the bureaucracy could develop rapidly. If, in order to prevent this, one man gets both jobs, I should think it would be difficult, at least in the early stages, for the bureaucrats and technocrats to exercise their influence.

One subject which is not touched on in the study, but which seems to me important, is the influence the press would have at the time of succession. As matters now stand, Izvestiya tends to be a Khrushchev organ, while Pravda is more likely to carry opposition views. Adzhubei 3 is a complete opportunist and would quickly jump on whatever he thought would be the leading bandwagon, but I should imagine that changes in the editorship of the leading papers might be one of our first clues as to who was succeeding in the power struggle.

Although I agree that Brezhnev seems more likely than Podgorny to be tapped as the heir, I am inclined to think Podgorny would be more likely to come out on top in the long run as I do not believe Brezhnev has the qualities to hold a leadership.

Although Polyansky is very much the Party type, I think he was much impressed by his visit to the United States and might not be as much of a conservative as is indicated in your study.

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Your study does not mention Ilichev,4 but I am afraid he might be a contender if the Stalinists should come out on top.

Llewellyn E. Thompson 5
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/AL Files: Lot 67 D 2. Secret. Drafted by Thompson.
  2. Document 17.
  3. Alexis I. Adzhubei, editor of Izvestia and Khrushchev’s son-in-law.
  4. Leonid F. Ilichev, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.