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

  • SUBJECT
    • Some Unusual Light on Brezhnev’s Personality and Policies

The Canadians have provided the State Department with a fairly detailed account of Brezhnev’s recent talk with Prime Minister Trudeau (Tab A).2 The Canadian rendition is almost certainly accurate, though possibly abbreviated. Brezhnev, for his part, undoubtedly tailored his approach and substantive comments to his audience, which he presumably was certain would ultimately also include the US Government. Even so, there emerges a rather unusual picture of the Soviet leader, who has often been portrayed as rude and overbearing as well as intellectually pedestrian.

You may wish to scan the entire Canadian text which Secretary Rogers forwarded for your attention. Its more interesting elements include

  • Brezhnev’s highly unusual, explicit effort to deny published reports that he is a hard-liner;
  • —his concern with his image in history as a “realist,” “humanist” and “democrat” rather than a “rabid reactionary” (we had felt that at the 24th Party Congress Brezhnev had shown distinct concern with his historical role);
  • —his unusual references to his personal background and to his long tenure in the top Soviet leadership and resultant experience with five American Presidents;
  • —his clearly one-sided view of American post-war behavior (unresponsiveness to Soviet overtures, concern with building overseas military positions to “encircle” the USSR) but at the same time his apparent recognition that the Soviets have a problem of establishing “confidence” in themselves;
  • —his obvious pre-occupation with Soviet-US relations;
  • —his view that the behavior of American Presidents toward the USSR is cyclical: starting out with friendly overtures which then give [Page 777] way to a harder line which in turn, “at the end” is again replaced by “good”-sounding speeches;
  • —finally, his view, which he has recently stressed in speeches, that American public opinion is gradually producing desirable changes in US policy, for example with regard to Vietnam. (Brezhnev said he had seen movies of anti-Vietnam demonstrations by US veterans.)

In sum, the Trudeau conversation tends to support the view that some time before the 24th Party Congress Brezhnev decided to stand on a “peace and prosperity” platform, presumably because he considered this most advantageous in terms of domestic Soviet politics, Soviet opportunities in international affairs and the historical judgment of his period of leadership. It is interesting, in this context, that Kosygin, who in the past had been cast in the more pragmatic and reasonable role has of late consistently taken a harder stance than Brezhnev on international relations. (In his recent “election” speech,3 Kosygin failed to mention the May 20 SALT announcement and intimated that Vietnam would continue to cloud bilateral US-Soviet relations.) Kosygin appeared to move down one notch in the Soviet pecking order at the Party Congress and the marked contrast between his and Brezhnev’s stance may signal the approaching end of their alliance or at least a reversal of their traditional roles in the Kremlin.

Recommendation

That you take the opportunity to look through the Canadian report on Brezhnev at Tab A.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII. Secret. Sent for information. Sonnenfeldt forwarded this memorandum with a memorandum to Kissinger on June 17. According to a notation and an attached correspondence profile, the President saw the memorandum from Kissinger on June 24.
  2. At Tab A, not printed, is a June 15 memorandum from Rogers to the President and an attached unsigned Canadian report, dated June 10.
  3. See Document 259.