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

2637. INR sent following Intelligence Note to Secretary March 6 on Soviet intervention in Ethiopian-Somali dispute:

Sov Dep Foreign Minister Malik’s second visit Addis Ababa in slightly over a month and two Khrushchev letters to Emperor Selassie on Ethiopian-Somali dispute within roughly same period underscore Moscow’s effort to play “peacemaker” and exercise predominant influence in Horn of Africa. Khrushchev in effect maintained pro-Somali stance by urging Ethiopians to assure peaceful settlement of conflict with Somalia while ignoring latter’s irredentist activities which are cause of dispute’s eruption into hostilities. Soviets probably calculate, and with apparent accuracy to date, that their economic-military support of Somalis will soften Ethiopians up to Soviet overtures rather than alienate them and thus enhance Moscow’s influence with both disputants.

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Khrushchev’s February 22 letter to Selassie expressing concern over Somali allegations that Ethiopia was carrying out air attacks on Somali territory from French and British airfields may have been partly motivated by Soviet concern, reinforced by that of Somalis, over past bombing-strafing and possibly future Ethiopian moves of even greater magnitude against Somali territory. Recent report Soviet technicians in Somalia will participate directly in defense planning work along Somali-Ethiopian border suggests effort by Moscow to reinforce Somali position as well as gain firsthand knowledge of situation in border area.

Khrushchev letter still stops short of open endorsement of Somalia’s territorial claims on Ethiopia, and there are cogent factors impelling Moscow to maintain this position. Open Soviet espousal Somali irredentism would cut across Khrushchev’s circular letter December 21 on peaceful settlement all frontier disputes and deprive Soviets of flexibility they now using so successfully in dealing with both disputants. In addition, it would jeopardize Moscow’s relations with many African countries which are wary of irredentist causes and, even more so, of outside interference in African affairs. Soviets probably see their interests best served by continuation Somali-Ethiopian dispute, but below crisis level that would either create heavy pressure on Moscow to involve itself directly in support of Somalia or lead to internationalization of dispute and curtailment of Soviet role as arbiter.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 32–1 ETH–SOMALI. Secret. Drafted by Ben M. Zook of the Office of Research and Analysis for the Soviet Bloc in INR; cleared by Director of the Office of Soviet Union Affairs John C. Guthrie and Chief of the Soviet Bloc International Political Activities Division in INR Helmut Sonnenfeldt; and approved by Director of the Office of Research and Analysis for the Soviet Bloc in INR Howard Trivers.