26. Special Report Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

SC No. 00615/64B

KHRUSHCHEV AT 70:

AN APPRAISAL OF HIS LEADERSHIP STYLE

Khrushchev arrives at his 70th birthday on 17 April with more than ten years’ experience as leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. During this period he has developed methods of operation, a certain style of rule, and a personal impact on policy which cannot easily be disregarded by those who eventually succeed him.

This week’s occasion, like the later decennial birthdays of Stalin, calls for a gathering of the Communist clan and dutiful tributes not only to the man himself but also to Moscow’s special place in the Communist world. It is, then, more than a personal anniversary; it becomes a natural landmark from which to assess Soviet policy as a whole.

Unfortunately for Khrushchev, however, April 1964 is not the most propitious time for doing this. There is very little in the recent record which can be hailed as vindicating his policies and providing a special cause for celebration.

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Khrushchev the Leader

No matter how other Communist leaders may assess the situation, Khrushchev most certainly sees his setbacks and disappointments as only temporary discomfitures. In this respect he epitomizes the old-time Communist revolutionary—holding always to the idea that it is only the long-term prospect which really counts. And fortunately for Khrushchev personally, he enjoys a special status which can accommodate this unbounded optimism. His political primacy no longer depends upon his achieving a continuing string of policy successes.

For Khrushchev at 70, the important thing—other than the maintenance of this special power position—is that he should be recognized as the very antithesis of Stalin, the one person who, while retaining the basic Communist framework, could bring the party back into full power, reform the secret police, reorient the economy and military services, and make the Soviet Union a first-rate world power.

Certainly by his own reckoning there are still good years left to continue this work, and to complete his programs for chemistry and agriculture and start any number of new major projects. Here again the natural Khrushchev optimism comes into play, and it may have been boosted by the feeling that he is more fit today than he was two or three years ago. In any case, by external appearances, he retains most of his stamina and drive, and his temperament—to the extent it has changed at all—seems more even than in earlier years.

As part of the process of maintaining his special seniority, there has been a steady effort, both by Khrushchev personally and by the propaganda machine, to refine the image he projects on the public scene. The picture intended is a composite of world statesman, benevolent father figure, and man of the people, with all traces of the party ruffian neatly erased. As a result, he has been elevated to become one of the great military leaders of World War II and currently the great hope for peace in the world. The crudities are edited from his speeches, and he is even shown to be merciful to old enemies such as Voroshilov and Bulganin.

Despite these various efforts to popularize the man, there are very few indications that he is in fact a respected leader. Although he is frequently credited with raising living standards or harnessing the police, it is more often Malenkov who is considered the real liberalizer. Even to the party hierarchs, Khrushchev is the “old man” who is both feared and distrusted. To the government bureaucracy, he often symbolizes the party agitator who forces through the temporary expedient in his quest for the short-term gain. To the proud army careerists he is the political commissar and military fraud. To many intellectuals he is an untutored tough. To the general public he is still essentially what is known in the Soviet Union as “one of them” —the bosses who impose themselves arbitrarily on the people from above.

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The Uncertain Succession

In part it is because he maintains himself to a large degree by means of entrenched personal power that Khrushchev is seemingly disinclined to face the problem of his own succession. Although he made gestures toward a settlement by singling out first Kirichenko and later Kozlov, there are hardly any indications at all that he provided them with the opportunities to develop their personal networks of operation. The big impediment has always been the fear of starting something which could eventually impinge on his own control. Then there is Khrushchev’s ego and optimism, telling him that there is really no rush and that he can outdistance an Adenauer or anyone else for that matter.

Thus it was only a half-hearted move—reminiscent more of Stalin than anyone else—when Khrushchev brought two of his closest followers, Brezhnev and Podgorny, somewhat to the fore last summer, not only so that they could be assessed better, but probably also to compete at the highest operating levels. Perhaps one of them will be invested as second secretary at the party congress next year, but he is unlikely under Khrushchev to enjoy any major independent political power.

Yet even if Khrushchev decides to do nothing more about the succession, it is clear that he will leave behind him methods of operation and a certain style of rule which cannot be easily disregarded. He has brought the image of the leader out of the Kremlin and into the country and has made himself the continuing and almost sole spokesman on both foreign and domestic policy. He has fostered the impression that he is truly expert in his knowledge of practical problems and that he is actively engaged in improving the lot of the people. He has developed a system of rule which has succeeded in stabilizing the relative weights of the various power groups in Soviet society and he has been able to delegate day-to-day authority to free himself for long periods of rest, extensive trips abroad, and preoccupation with special problems when the need arises.

[Here follow sections on Party and State Administration, The Economy, and Control of the Intelligentsia.]

Foreign Policy

Khrushchev’s conduct of foreign policy through most of the period of his ascendancy has been marked by the same ebullient self-confidence, bold innovations, and flexibility that have characterized his domestic programs. His intention to impose a new style and direction on Soviet policy was symbolized at the 20th party congress in 1956 by attacks on the “ossified forms” of Molotov’s diplomacy and by major ideological reformulations on the issues of war and revolution. These [Page 62]themes were repeated at the 22nd congress in October 1961, when Khrushchev charged that Molotov and “his like” did not understand the changes that had occurred in world politics and Brezhnev hailed the abandonment of “obsolete methods and ossified dogmas.”

While Soviet foreign policy under Khrushchev’s guidance has displayed considerable versatility and resourcefulness in making pragmatic adjustments to the realities of the nuclear age, the Soviet premier’s behavior since the spectacular failure of his Cuban missile venture has reflected a growing recognition that the wide-ranging political offensive against the West which was launched in 1957–58 has run its course without yielding the expected results. Events over the past three years, particularly the Cuban fiasco, have called into question the fundamental assumptions of this strategy—that time and long-term trends in the East-West contest were working to the advantage of the USSR and the socialist camp. Khrushchev’s adjustments to this situation have been symbolized by the limited test ban treaty last summer and the relaxation of pressures on Berlin and other exposed areas.

One of the most important factors that has shaped Khrushchev’s foreign policy outlook has been his strong desire to gain world recognition of the USSR’s status as the great-power equal of the US. This impulse has been evident in his dealings with American leaders and public figures and in the pleasure he finds in personal contacts with other non-Communist statesmen. [18 lines of 2-column source text not declassified]

Another characteristic of Khrushchev’s foreign policy approach is great confidence in his ability to determine accurately the risks in any venture and to control the course of events in such a way as to maximize advantages and minimize the danger of losing control of a situation. Throughout his long Berlin offensive, Khrushchev frequently voiced confidence that the West would not go to war over a separate peace treaty with East Germany. He has tried to impress Western visitors by displaying detailed knowledge of the policies and intentions of his opponents as well as his own ability to manipulate developments without risking a military collision. Following the confrontation between Soviet and American tanks at the Berlin wall in October 1961, Khrushchev told the West German ambassador that he had issued clear instructions to Soviet forces in Berlin not to get involved directly with Western forces even though this might require retiring and requesting further instructions.

Khrushchev has relied heavily on bluff and intimidation tactics and on his technique of alternating deliberate creation of crises with proposals for high-level negotiations and hints of Soviet concessions. His long campaign to alter the status of West Berlin and achieve some form of Western recognition of East Germany has been based on a combination [Page 63]of repeated pressures and inducements calculated to draw the West into negotiations under conditions favorable to the USSR.

Khrushchev has also shown a penchant for clever stratagems designed to entrap and confuse opponents and to increase pressures on them to grant concessions. His exploitation of the U–2 incident was intended to produce a storm of protests against US policy and to embarrass President Eisenhower on the eve of the Paris summit conference. Khrushchev confined his initial announcement of the shoot-down to bare details and then sat back to await the expected disavowal from Washington. After the US issued the cover story of a missing NASA research U–2, Khrushchev announced that he had withheld information that the pilot and aircraft were in Soviet hands, “because had we told everything at once, the Americans would have invented another version; just look how many silly things they have said.”

In February 1962, after the US publicly announced detection of an underground nuclear explosion in the USSR, Khrushchev declared that this test had been staged deliberately to disprove the West’s contentions that on-site inspections were necessary to enforce a prohibition on all nuclear tests.

There is reason to believe that Khrushchev has encouraged circulation of rumors abroad that his efforts to improve relations with the West were facing strong opposition within the top leadership. These hints of Khrushchev’s political vulnerability clearly were intended to persuade Western governments that some concessions were necessary to help Khrushchev resist his domestic enemies.

The outcome of Khrushchev’s attempt to exploit the U–2 incident and to deploy missiles to Cuba point up his greatest weakness in the field of foreign policy—his vulnerability to self-deception and his ignorance or disregard of the mentality and reactions of his opponents.

In the case of the U–2, Khrushchev’s miscalculation derived from his gamble that by absolving President Eisenhower of all personal responsibility for the U–2 flight, he could prevent events from getting out of hand and endangering the summit meeting and his “déétente” policy of that period. But the President’s assumption of personal responsibility shattered this scheme and exposed Khrushchev to charges by Communist critics that he had been deceived and that his peaceful coexistence strategy had been proved a failure.

Khrushchev’s radical misjudgment of the probable US reaction to the deployment of missiles to Cuba appears to have been the product of two main factors. His misreading of the US conduct of the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961 and the shift in US policy in Laos represented by acceptance of a coalition regime pledged to neutrality seems to have led him into the fatal error of underestimating American resolution. Khrushchev also allowed himself to believe that the high stakes [Page 64]involved in the missile venture justified a sharp reduction in the margin of safety which had characterized his previous major foreign decisions. The great advantages he anticipated from using the threat of Soviet missiles in Cuba to force a major diplomatic showdown on Berlin made Khrushchev vulnerable to what one former Western ambassador in Moscow has described as “an incurable political shortsightedness which prevents him from foreseeing the remoter consequences of his words and actions.” (Secret)

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Vol. III. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Prepared by CIA’s Office of Current Intelligence.