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

  • SUBJECT
    • The New Soviet Leadership—Brezhnev Up

The Soviet leaders choose to maintain the appearance of stability and continuity, rather than deal directly with the problem of removing or retiring the older members. The old Politburo of 11 members thus was reelected, and four new members were added (three former candidate members and one—Kulakov—promoted directly from the Secretariat).2

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Overall, however, the trend toward a strengthening of Brezhnev’s position continues.

  • Kosygin suffered a mild demotion by being ranked third rather than second.
  • Brezhnev’s protégés or those thought to be close to him have improved their positions, while those believed to be his opponents have suffered, at least in prestige.
  • —The fifth position in the Politburo behind Brezhnev, Podgorny, Kosygin, and Suslov is occupied by Andrei Kirilenko.3 For practical purposes he will be Brezhnev’s man in charge of the Secretariat, and Suslov’s probable replacement—a confirmation of what most observers have believed to be the actual fact for the last year or so.
  • —The promotion to the Politburo of Kunayev and Scherbitsky is a clear gain for Brezhnev, since both are clearly linked to his career.
  • —The importance of these promotions is reinforced by the downgrading of Shelepin and Voronov4 in the rankings, suggesting that they are increasingly out of favor. The failure to remove them, however, testifies to the inability of Brezhnev to purge his opponents, at least for now.

The most interesting change was the direct promotion of Kulakov from a position on the Secretariat to the full Politburo, without an intervening tour as a candidate. Given his long experience in agriculture and in the bureaucracy of the Russian Republic, it would appear that he could be an eventual replacement for Voronov as premier of the Russian Republic.

In effect what has happened is that a shadow top Politburo group is shaping up, with certain people, mostly Brezhnevites, standing right behind the older or less influential members as their probable replacements. Since the next Congress is now five years away, the present expanded fifteen-man Politburo cannot possibly survive as a political unit.

Thus what Brezhnev has done is to ensure a majority in the Politburo which will grow to a clear predominance as the older members fall by the wayside. In the next two or three years Podgorny, Kosygin, Suslov and Pelshe5 can be expected to depart from active politics, thus leaving the Politburo a creature of Brezhnev’s. Ironically, of course, [Page 494]Brezhnev himself may not make it to the next Party Congress five years hence, since he is now 64.

Brezhnev’s predominance and growing strength does not immediately translate into policy terms. At the Congress he identified himself with the consumer, at the expense of heavy and defense industry, and with his “peace program.” He reiterated both themes in his closing speech. More important may be that he is gaining more power and therefore probably some more freedom of action. He may thus be inclined to move on some of the international issues that we are engaged in—SALT, Berlin, etc.

But—and this is an important qualification—it is worth recalling that past patterns of Soviet politics suggest that as collectivity declines and one man emerges, he also becomes more vulnerable, and must maneuver more carefully with the major interest groups. Khrushchev greatly strengthened his power position after 1957–58 but was frustrated in implementing major changes in domestic, including military policy. Again, he seemed to get a second wind in late 1962 and early 1963, which enabled him to sign the test ban treaty, but within a little more than a year afterward he was put out by the very men who we all believed to be his protégés and minions.

Moreover, in the major substantive issues between us, Brezhnev almost certainly sees himself as operating from considerable strength. His propensity for concessions is likely to be limited accordingly since he will expect to be able to wait us out and to let the “peace issue” do its work here as the election approaches.

Nevertheless, a reasonable net judgment would be (a) that Brezhnev has some room for genuine negotiation, and (b) has an incentive for some stabilization with us to help him accomplish his domestic goals and control divisive tendencies in his empire.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII. Secret. Sent for information. Printed from a copy that indicates that Kissinger signed the original. Drafted by Hyland on April 9. Sonnenfeldt forwarded the memorandum to Kissinger on the same day under a covering memorandum in which he concluded: “His [Brezhnev’s] freedom of action is probably increased, but we do not know if this will mean important policy changes. There is some chance, however, that he may want to do some business with us.” (Ibid.)
  2. Elected to full Politburo membership on April 9 were: Dinmukhamed A. Kunayev, First Secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party Central Committee; Vladimir V. Shcherbitskiy, Chairman of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic Council of Ministers; Viktor V. Grishin, First Secretary of the Moscow City Party Committee; and Fyodor D. Kulakov, Chief of of the Agriculture Department of the CPSU Central Committee.
  3. Andrey P. Kirilenko, Secretary, CPSU Central Committee.
  4. Aleksandr N. Shelepin, Chairman of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions; and Genadiy I. Voronov, Premier of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic.
  5. Arvid Y. Pelshe, Chairman of the Party Control Committee of the CPSU Central Committee.
  6. According to Kissinger, Nixon wrote in the margin of the original memorandum: “We will have the answer in thirty days.” (Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 833–834)