253. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Nixon1

Dear Mr. President:

We have already conveyed to you certain reflections regarding the developments in the Hindostan peninsula that we had in connection with your preliminary considerations transmitted through Mr. Kissinger.2 Now your letter3 has been received, and I would like to set forth to you, in an urgent manner as required by the acuteness of the question, our considerations in greater detail.

I would like to note, first of all, that we are also profoundly concerned about the situation in the Hindostan peninsula, the more so that the dangerous events are taking place in immediate proximity to the borders of the Soviet Union.

The events that had led to the armed conflict between Pakistan and India, are well known to you as well as to us. Striving to forestall their deterioration we were in mutual contact and kept informed of the [Page 707] actions of each other. Yet, the military confrontation still could not have been averted.

Concerned about the dangerous development of events in the Peninsula and interested in maintaining good relations both with India and Pakistan, the Soviet Union from the very outset took the position aimed at a peaceful solution of the questions at issue, and did everything necessary in this respect, trying in every way to convince both sides of this. We stated to President Yahya Khan and the Pakistani Government that the only way to proceed is the way of political settlement, and that a political settlement requires political means. Also, we repeatedly laid emphasis on the essence of the problem to be solved.

And that essence is that as a result of the reprisal by the Pakistani authorities against those political forces in East Pakistan which were given full confidence by the people in the December 1970 elections and as a result of cruel repressions against the broad masses of the East Pakistani population, India was flooded with a stream of refugees unprecedented in history—some 10 million people. This influx of many millions of those ill fated and deprived is a misfortune not only for themselves but also for India. That would be a misfortune for any country, even the richest one.

But it was clear all along that it would be impossible to get the refugees back to their native hearths without a political settlement in East Pakistan itself through negotiations between the Pakistani Government and the East Pakistani leaders who were elected by the people, and elected at that by universal vote which the Pakistani authorities themselves termed as completely free. That is why we advised President Yahya Khan to speedily take that path. We figured that the United States, too, would act in the same direction, and told you about it.

Our approach in this matter has not been and is not one-sided. We persistently expressed to both Pakistan and India our view about the necessity of a speediest political solution of the problem at issue. We sought to exert influence on the Pakistani leadership not because we were interested, for some special considerations of ours, in supporting the other side. We acted in that way because we saw the events in East Pakistan as the main cause of what was happening. And our viewpoint has not changed.

Unfortunately, President Yahya Khan and his Government did not take our advice. We are still puzzled as to the reason why the Pakistani leadership did not want to follow the way of political settlement—the way of negotiations. But the fact remains that they preferred to conduct the affairs in such a way as to make the guns speak and blood shed. Nobody can tell how many people have already perished—and still many more may die.

I shall not, however, go into this side of the matter. I would like to draw your attention to another thing, We are far from making the [Page 708] conclusion that everything is now lost and nothing can be done. Such a conclusion could only be dictated by lack of confidence in the power of reason and in the possibilities for action, which remain in the present situation as well.

The Soviet Union applies and will continue to apply most determined efforts in order to stop the bloodshed and to turn the course of events towards political settlement. We trust this is possible.

You refer to your understanding that in times of international crises neither we nor you should seek unilateral advantages. I agree with this. But I would go beyond that and would say that it is important not only to formulate this realistic principle but also, on its basis, to act for the purpose of overcoming the crisis. In general I believe that a favorable element, from the viewpoint of prospects in the struggle for ending the conflict, is that there is no confrontation here of our two powers. And this being the case, we have all the more ground for parallel actions.

The thing to do now is to stop the war already underway. This requires a cease-fire. But the question arises—what is the best way to achieve it? It seems to us that, proceeding from the situation which developed from the very start, effective can be such a cease-fire which would be connected with a simultaneous decision for a political settlement, based on the recognition of the will of the East Pakistani population. Otherwise it is impossible to ensure the respect for the lawful rights and interests of the people of East Pakistan and to create conditions for the return of the millions of refugees. Without it a cease-fire will not be stable.

You already know about this proposal of ours, i.e. to solve together and simultaneously both questions—of cease-fire and of immediate resumption of negotiations between the Government of Pakistan and the East Pakistani leaders concerning a political settlement in East Pakistan. Those negotiations should, naturally, be started from the stage at which they were discontinued. We feel that this proposal provides a way out for all, including Pakistan. On the other hand, all would lose—and Pakistan maybe even more than others—on the way of continuing the war and rejecting a political settlement.4

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That is why I would like to pose a question to you: is the above mentioned basis for the restoration of peace and ensuring the political settlement acceptable to the US? We think that it does not contain anything that cannot be acceptable, and we have in mind to apply our efforts in this direction, wherever this question is considered.

The crust [sic] of the whole matter, as we are convinced, is the question of how to exert due influence upon President Yahya Khan and his Government. We continue to do that. But here, it seems, you have more possibilities.

The events in the Hindostan peninsula constitute a major question. It is necessary to do everything in order to bring about a turn towards peace there, and our two powers can in many respects contribute to that. Particularly needed for this purpose is a calm and balanced approach which would take into account both the specifics of the current moment and the general prospects of world development.

My colleagues and I will be waiting for your earliest possible reaction to the considerations above.


L. Brezhnev
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 497, Presidentʼs Trip Files, Exchange of Notes Between Dobrynin and Kissinger, Vol. 2. The source text is an unofficial translation, apparently done in the Soviet Embassy or the Foreign Ministry. A handwritten notation on the letter indicates it was handed to Kissinger by Soviet Minister Vorontsov on December 9 at 8:15 a.m.
  2. See Document 231.
  3. Document 236.
  4. Kissinger briefed Nixon on Brezhnevʼs letter less than 2 hours after he received it: “Theyʼre proposing a cease-fire and a political negotiation between Islamabad and the Awami League.” These he characterized as “old proposals” and added: “It is a very conciliatory letter, which is in itself unacceptable.” He proposed a response: “If this negotiation is within the framework of the united Pakistan, with maximum autonomy for the east, we are willing to discuss it with them. That will separate them to some extent from the Indians. And secondly, it will get us a cease-fire in the west, which weʼve got to have if the West Pakistanis arenʼt to be smashed.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, December 9, 1971, 9:47–9:55 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 633–4)