131. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Poland1

98888. Following is the gist of an Intelligence Note sent to the Secretary today:

All three top Soviet leaders—Brezhnev, Kosygin, and Podgorny—went on an “unofficial,” and clearly unusual, visit to Poland from January 12 to 14.

While unannounced Polish-Soviet consultations on international affairs are not unusual, just-completed visit has all the earmarks of urgent Soviet intervention in Polish internal affairs. Rumors from Poland have indicated Poles were planning major Party and Government changes for near future. The most important of the rumored changes would have shifted Gomulka to specially created post of Party Chairman and made Silesian Party boss Gierek new Party First Secre-tary. Although under reported scheme, Gomulka would have remained in charge of all but internal economic policy—where pressure for younger, more efficient leadership is greatest—such a shift, coming within weeks after ouster of Czech Party boss Novotny, may have frightened Soviets. They generally dislike change and may particularly not want any more East European party shifts on eve of upcoming Budapest conference of communist parties. In addition, two such shifts within a short space of time in two neighboring communist parties could, in Moscow’s and Ulbricht’s view, seriously endanger position of the latter in East Germany. Whether Ulbricht asked the Soviets to intervene with the Poles, or whether Soviet leaders decided to do so on their own, is less important than likelihood that they did intervene and in collective strength.

If we are right that a request for postponement of any change in Gomulka’s Party position was principal reason for Soviet leaders’ visit to Poland, they probably met with a sympathetic response. Gierek, only clear gainer from the supposedly planned shifts, did not take part in the talks, and all Poles who did probably themselves prefer to delay the changes as long as possible.

The inclusion of all three top Soviet leaders strikes one as unusually heavy-handed. The example of 1956, when a much more critical situation [Page 362] existed and Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich, and Khrushchev all descended on the Polish capital only to find Gomulka already virtually installed as Polish Party First Secretary, would seem to have inhibited such an approach. Soviet practice in similar situations in Eastern Europe in recent years, such as the Czechoslovak crisis of December/January when only Brezhnev hurried to Prague, usually has appeared more circumspect. The Soviet leaders, however, have shown a somewhat special regard for Polish-Soviet relations as compared with their relations with other East European states. In addition the impulse to present a united front presumably motivated Soviet regime to send all three leaders. Action also suggests uncertainly in Soviet leadership on how to handle such situations and possibly reflects frustration over how little they were able to influence Czechoslovak shakeup.

There is no reason to doubt communiqué that wide range of international questions was discussed and complete identity of views was displayed. Two issues of greatest interest to Poles—German policy and communist unity—are always on agenda when they get together with Soviets, but neither policy toward Germany nor Budapest communist conference scheduled for February seemed to call for additional top-level consultation at this time. In view of Poland’s membership in the Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese ICCs, current Southeast Asian issues were probably also discussed, but we do not know of differences of views between Poles and Soviets which would have necessitated top level consultations. Therefore, while we do not want to suggest that the visit was concerned solely with Polish internal affairs and the impact of Czechoslovak developments on the rest of Eastern Europe, we do believe these provided most pressing reasons for it.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 USSR. Confidential. Drafted by Jaffe, cleared in EUR, and approved by Sonnenfeldt. Repeated to Berlin, Moscow, and USNATO.
  2. Beginning in 1967, the dates and transmission times of all outgoing Department of State telegrams were in six-figure date-time-groups. The “Z” refers to Greenwich mean time.