325. Intelligence Memorandum1

USSR Adjusts to Sino-US Moves Toward Rapprochement


The announcement on 15 July that President Nixon will visit China took Moscow by surprise and intensified its concern that Sino-US dealings may seriously harm Soviet interests. Moscow’s behavior over the past eight weeks shows that it has chosen to react very differently toward the US on the one hand and China on the other.

The USSR is determined not to play into Peking’s hands by jeopardizing Soviet-US ties. Indeed, recent and planned Sino-US contacts seem to have given the Soviets added incentive to breathe new life into Moscow’s own dealings with Washington, and they have already taken steps to broaden and accelerate them. Contacts on the official level have been unusually cordial and the Soviets are clearly hoping that the US will show, in tangible ways, that its interest in developing relations with the Soviet Union has not waned. They also seem to be looking for ways to demonstrate that Moscow’s various dealings with the US—in contrast to embryonic ties between Peking and Washington—can and do yield mutually profitable results.

Moscow’s outspoken castigation of Chinese policies, and particularly Peking’s motives in expanding contacts with the US, indicates a Soviet assessment that more aggressive tactics are indicated vis-à-vis Peking. The Soviets seem to have concluded that of their two rivals, the Chinese are the more malicious and the readier to strike anti-Soviet bargains. Izvestia has charged specifically that the “defrosting” of Sino-US relations reflects “Peking’s intention to bring pressure to bear on the Soviet Union.”2 Chinese words and actions serve to reinforce Soviet suspicion and distemper.

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Moscow’s actions may also reflect a judgment that its differences with Peking are more serious and irreconcilable than the matters at issue between the Soviet Union and the US. It is, in any case, easier for the Soviet leaders to lash out at China for they realize that—unlike the situation with respect to their relations with Washington—they can hardly endanger any significant Sino-Soviet dealings that have not long since gone sour.

Elsewhere the USSR is taking initiatives designed to blunt the effects of Sino-US moves and, where possible, to turn them to Moscow’s advantage. Tactical adjustments in Moscow’s approach to key problem areas have already been introduced, and yet others are in the sounding stage.

The unaccustomed speed and flexibility with which the Soviets finally moved toward a satisfactory agreement on Berlin, for example, may have been influenced in some degree by recent contacts between Washington and Peking. These contacts, as well as China’s growing ties with Romania and Yugoslavia, also seem to have contributed to the vehemence with which the USSR moved to warn the Balkan countries against trying to enlist Peking’s support in their differences with Moscow.3 On the Indian subcontinent, the Soviets were able to take advantage of India’s concern over US moves toward China, as well as New Delhi’s present need for great-power support in the East Pakistan crisis, to nail down the Indians to the close relationship with the USSR imbedded in the Soviet-Indian treaty signed on 9 August.

Finally, the unprecedented vigor with which the top Soviet leaders will be engaging in personal diplomacy abroad this fall is perhaps the most graphic illustration of the catalytic effect recent events have had on Soviet efforts.

[Here follows the body of the memorandum.]

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–197, 77, USSR 092, 1971. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Background Use Only. Prepared in the Office of Current Intelligence of the Directorate of Intelligence and coordinated within CIA. Helms forwarded the memorandum to Laird on September 10 under the following type-written note: “I think you may find the attached useful. It is a full review of Soviet foreign policy in the wake of the President’s moves toward China. The paper is also being sent to Dr. Kissinger, Secretary Rogers, Mr. Mitchell and Gerard Smith.” A stamped notation indicates that Laird saw the memorandum on September 11.
  2. Not found.
  3. On August 2, Brezhnev hosted the first in a series of annual “vacation” meetings in the Crimea for Warsaw Pact leaders. For the English text of the resulting communiqué published in Pravda on August 3 and in Izvestia on August 4, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 31 (August 31, 1971), pp. 1–3.