172. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • The Soviet Leaders Speak Out

Last week the three top Soviet leaders—Brezhnev, Podgorny and Kosygin—all gave their “election” speeches. Taken together they represent a rather comprehensive report on current Soviet policies.

No major shift is foreshadowed in the three speeches on foreign policy. All of the leaders seemed to take a somewhat softer line than might have been anticipated in light of tensions in the Middle East and Asia. We came in for what appears to be a standard share of criticism, some of it sharp and pointed, especially for our policies in Southeast Asia. Yet there seemed to be an effort to insulate Soviet-American relations in general, from specific crisis areas.

Kosygin was the most forthright in calling for establishment of good relations; Podgorny was the more pessimistic in describing our relations as “frozen.” Brezhnev, who was in the middle, rhetorically asked if good relations were possible, and answered positively. In particular, he took pains to stress that it would be possible to solve major international problems with the U.S.

There was no mention whatsoever of SALT, in marked contrast to Kosygin’s press conference2 of May 4 in which he warned that our Cambodian operations generated distrust that could affect SALT.

The Soviet position on Vietnam and Cambodia, stripped of some of the propaganda hyperbole, was rather guarded. Brezhnev spoke of Soviet support for the “just principles and demands of the patriotic forces of the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as the basis for a political settlement,”—thus slighting the military aspects.

On the Middle East, however, the Soviet position remained tough. Brezhnev boasted that the “defense capacity” of the Arab states had been “restored,” and that the “liberation” of the captured Arab territories was the “key prerequisite” for a settlement.

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The most optimistic note in all three reports concerned European affairs. Relations with Germany was singled out for a positive evaluation, and Brezhnev generally anticipated a favorable conclusion to the current negotiations with Bonn on a renunciation of force treaty. (He spoke before the recent German elections which may have the effect of inhibiting Brandt’s policy.)

In contrast to the favorable impression of their Western prospects, all of the Soviet leaders were critical of Peking and pessimistic over their border talks. Kosygin was more restrained, Podgorny the sharpest, and Brezhnev, again, in the middle.

Most of the speeches of the leaders were taken up with internal matters, with all making the usual pledge of a better lot for the Soviet people. Sharp differences were apparent, however, over the question of continuing the economic reform. Brezhnev mentioned it only in passing, Podgorny added a critical note, and only Kosygin made a spirited defense of the reform. All this suggests that drafting of the next five year plan, which is now underway, may be causing divisions within the leadership. This may be part of the growing speculation, confirmed by several sources, that Kosygin will go into voluntary retirement this year, which probably would strengthen Brezhnev’s predominance.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 712, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VIII. Confidential. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. A copy was also sent to Sonnenfeldt, who drafted the memorandum to the President based on a June 10 memorandum from Hyland to Kissinger summarizing Kosygin’s foreign policy address, and another on June 12, summarizing Brezhnev’s election speech. (Both ibid.)
  2. See Document 157.