54. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Czechoslovakia1
82369. Following summaries two INR Intelligence Notes 975 and 978 sent Secretary December 7 and 8:2
Brezhnev’s December 8 arrival in Prague on unexpected “short friendly visit,” on eve of Czechoslovak Central Committee Plenum reportedly to deal with leadership changes, adds another imponderable to confused Party-Government leadership situation in Prague. Visit comes in midst of persisting rumors in Prague of impending top leadership changes, most of them involving Party First Secretary and President Novotny. Whatever merit of rumors, it is incontestable that recent failures in Czechoslovak foreign and domestic policies have increased disaffection and dissension within Party to such extent they pose most serious challenge to stability of Novotny leadership in more than decade. While no single Party leader or faction has emerged to threaten directly Novotny’s position, his authority and prestige appear to have been eroded considerably over past months.
Arrival of Brezhnev “at invitation of Czechoslovak Party and Government” injects element of possible Soviet intervention in Czechoslovak leadership developments. Although Kremlin undoubtedly [Page 183] reluctant to interfere in Czechoslovak affairs, it may feel it has no alternative to action intended to insure stable regime in Prague. Soviets undoubtedly realize any interference would render them liable to charges from Chinese and others of crass interference in affairs another party and possibly unite Czechoslovak party against Soviets, as nothing else could. Should Novotny be deposed in wake of Brezhnev visit, Soviets could escape these charges.
Probable that Novotny instrumental in having Brezhnev visit Prague, in effort to shore up his position and obtain Soviet sanction for any measures he may take, including personnel changes in leadership, to give appearance of coping with political, economic, and cultural-ideological difficulties. Soviets probably prefer to have Novotny remain in power, since he known quantity to them. Moreover, he could hardly be faulted for not supporting Soviet foreign policy positions on such matters as Sino-Soviet dispute, International Communist Conference, etc. since he long one of strongest Soviet supporters among ruling Communist leaders.