254. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

    • Visit of Soviet Ships to Cuba

The Soviet submarine tender, which recently had been in Nipe Bay off Antilla, Cuba for twelve days, has left the Caribbean. The Soviet nuclear powered cruise missile submarine which had been alongside the tender departed on June 4 and has not been located subsequently. U–2 photography yesterday confirmed that the submarine was not in Cienfuegos. Although it is possible that the tender will reverse course and return to Caribbean waters or that the E–II class submarine will visit Cienfuegos or another Cuban port, it appears that this Soviet visit has been terminated.

As you may recall, when TASS first publicized the visit on May 21, I called in Ambassador Dobrynin and emphasized the seriousness with which we regarded the announcement.2 During that conversation I reminded Ambassador Dobrynin that the presence of a tender in Cienfuegos was all that was needed to make it a base. Dobrynin claimed to be unaware of plans for a visit and said that he would try to reverse [Page 759] them if they had not already been stated publicly. The places to be visited and the type of submarine had not been announced. After the cruise missile submarine was identified alongside the tender on May 28, I called Ambassador Dobrynin and emphasized that this was an unfortunate development.3 He promised to transmit our views to his superiors but remarked that Moscow felt the understanding provided for a “visit” announced in advance.

While the first visit of a nuclear powered cruise missile submarine to Caribbean waters since our clarification of the understanding with the Soviets last October indicates a continuing pattern of testing the limits of our tolerance, there are some positive aspects to the Soviet response to our firm démarches concerning this visit.

  • The Soviet submarine tender did not visit Cienfuegos. It appears that a visit to Antilla was planned well in advance. A salvage tug, associated [less than 1 line of text not declassified] with the tender on May 13, departed Cienfuegos on May 17 and was in Antilla several days prior to arrival of the tender. However, an article in the Soviet military newspaper Red Star on May 22 referred to a visit to Cuban ports. While this may be the result of sloppy editing, the fact that the tender only visited one port may indicate a certain Soviet responsiveness to my emphasis on the seriousness of a tender visit to Cienfuegos.
  • The submarine and tender left before my meeting with Dobrynin at Camp David last night. In my conversation on May 28 I had stressed that the mooring of the submarine to the tender was particularly unfortunate. The submarine left on June 4 and the tender departed Nipe Bay on June 7. It is possible that the Soviets were trying to create a better atmosphere for yesterday’s meeting.
  • There were several other indications that the profile of this visit was kept low. The tender did not go into a pier, the visit was not well-publicized, and the duration of the stay in Cuba was relatively short. On at least one of the three visits to Antilla in the past the tender has tied up to a pier rather than remaining anchored at Nipe Bay. Checks of information up to May 28 revealed no mention in Cuban or Soviet newspapers of the visit other than short articles on May 22 reflecting the TASS announcement. This low key publicity, however, is not un-characteristic. The Soviet sailors may not have gone ashore even though the TASS announcement said they would, but it will be some time before our sources can confirm this.

The Soviets will undoubtedly continue to visit Cuba periodically and make further tests of the limits of the understanding. There may, [Page 760] however, be, as Dobrynin alleges, some differences between the military and other segments of the Soviet bureaucracy concerning these operations. Therefore, although the evidence is not conclusive that our timely and firm démarches affected Soviet decisions concerning this visit, it would seem prudent to repeat these tactics in dealing with future Soviet ship visits to Cuba.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 6 [part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; [codeword not declassified]. Printed from an uninitialed copy. A map showing the movement of the Soviet submarine tender, May 20–25, is attached but not printed. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Haig forwarded a draft at Kissinger’s request on June 9. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 128, Country Files, Latin America, Chronology of Cuban Submarine Base Episode, 1970, 1971 [2 of 2])
  2. See Document 228.
  3. See Document 247.