73. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

7638. Subj: Year-End US-Soviet Relations.

The spirit of yuletide charity is conspicuously absent in Soviet commentary about all things American this Christmas season. Recent visitors from Milton Eisenhower 2 to Reston of the New York Times have been treated even-handedly to harsh commentaries about administration policy, of a consistency and inflexibility which suggest top level inspiration and command. Reston, in particular, was struck by the harder tone sounded by Soviet officials, in comparison to previous visits, and he echoed the question posed frequently by our NATO colleagues: why the change of tone and what does it mean for US-Soviet relations.3
The current Soviet attitude toward the administration is not the result of any single event, but the product of a growing disenchantment reflected in commentary since late 1969. A turning point in the period of testing and trial seems to have come as a result of a number of issues, beginning with Cambodia last spring. Soviet leaders were apparently taken aback by the success of the Cambodian intervention, [Page 222] by our firm support in the Middle East of an intransigent Israel, Sixth Fleet maneuvers during the Jordan crisis, our handling of the Cuban base issue, and renewed raids on North Vietnam. Viewed either as spasmodic diplomacy or part of a single grand design, each was displeasing, probably because of Moscow’s sensitivity to any suggestion that it was being compelled to back down in the face of American muscle.
In our handling of bilateral issues the Soviets have also apparently found the administration a tougher bargainer than they may have hoped. Soviet disappointment is evident in connection with a variety of bilateral issues of articulated interest: notably, opening of a shipping line to New York; extension of the Civil Air Agreement4 to include onward flight rights across the US and beyond; agreement on the opening of consulates and the terms of chancery site construction; the release of Amtorg chauffeur Ivanov, despite repeated high level requests. Continuing American press criticism of the top Soviet leadership, vocal American interest and sympathy for the hard-pressed Soviet intelligentsia, the merger of the general issue of dissent with the escalating campaign in the US over treatment of the Jews in the USSR—have all struck raw and sensitive nerves in Moscow and brought renewed Soviet retaliation against US correspondents.5 Our alleged “connivance” with “anti-Soviet Zionist provocations” has become a major irritant in US-Soviet relations. Events in the field of trade policy also prompt Moscow to see another more basic demonstration of the administration’s continuing hostility toward the USSR. It was probably with the aborted Ford deal6 in mind that Kosygin told Brandt bitterly last August, in effect, “they do not like us and we do not need them”.7
The Middle East crisis deserves special mention since it produced a bitter exchange of accusations between Washington and Moscow and dashed the short-lived atmosphere of optimistic expectation last August which surrounded the then upcoming negotiations [Page 223] on SALT, Germany, and the Middle East. The reasons for Soviet involvement in UAR violations of ME standstill are still matter for speculation. Hinted Soviet justifications for such complicity included: resentment that the June 1970 Rogers initiative was “sprung” on them,8 that they were not consulted in its development and implementation, and that the US ignored a Soviet “initiative” of approximately the same date to elaborate guarantees for a ME settlement.9 One plausible explanation is that the Soviets hoped to gain credit for strengthening the Arab hand and pressuring Israel during the Jarring peace talks, which they very wrongly assumed would not be jeopardized by sabotage of the Rogers plan.
Soviet indignation over the justifiably strong US reaction was ascribed privately to US press charges of bad faith on the part of Gromyko and Dobrynin. In part, the Soviet outburst served essentially propaganda aims: to obfuscate an embarrassing issue, isolate us further from the Arabs as well as to contrast our intransigence with the Soviet spirit of détente in Central Europe. In part, however, the outburst also appeared to reflect a perplexity giving way to anger on the part of the Soviet leadership over the determination of the administration, through the American press, to make a major issue of the violations and pin the label of perfidy on its ideological opponent.
In return Soviet propagandists now accuse the Nixon administration of escalating the war in Vietnam, making policy impulsively and heedless of military risk, and resisting efforts by its allies to come to peaceful accommodation with the socialist world. Difficulties in Berlin negotiations and foot-dragging in connection with proposals to convene a CES are traced to the US. Echoing a familiar dialectical argument that imperialism becomes more dangerous as it becomes more degenerate, Moscow has stressed both the internal problems in America and the danger that the US will use its admittedly mighty arsenal in an unpredictable and irresponsible fashion to sabotage peace and prevent détente. Basically there is fear that with the Nixon Doctrine the US may successfully embark on a course similar to that which has permitted the Soviet Union itself to achieve foreign policy objectives without the declared loss of a single soldier since 1945 (except in combat with the population of Soviet allies and with China).
Fortunately, the deterioration thus far in our relations has been more sound than substance. Negotiations on Berlin, SALT, and other areas have been tough as the issues themselves would dictate, but essentially businesslike. The most dramatic demonstration of bad relations [Page 224] was the cancellation of the Bolshoi Opera tour,10 but the motives may be different from those alleged. On a wide range of issues in many different forums, the Soviet-American dialogue continues normally and American visitors to Moscow, notably important businessmen, continue to be received courteously—suggesting that Moscow has not given up hope of doing business with the US where its interests dictate.
There seems to be a wish to avoid or at least to minimize incidents with the US. Foreign Ministry officials and “Americanists” who seem genuinely to regret the down-turn in our relations, have urged us to pay attention to their government’s actions and not its words, as though they anticipate we are passing through a polemical period. Even in the area of words, Moscow continues to show restraint in its general avoidance of direct personal attacks on the President, at least in print; the Vice President and Secretary Laird serve as proxy targets and symbols respectively of growing McCarthyism and militarism in the US. Privately, Soviet officials have expressed some satisfaction that Gromyko’s meetings with the President and Secretary took some of the sharp edges off our relations—although publicly they seem as strained as before.
On the Soviet side, there still seems concern to avoid any radical cutback in our exchanges programs or a correspondents’ war. While Moscow has refused to be hurried in its investigation of Americans in trouble in the USSR (Mrs. Slepuchow, Mrs. Galinovski, General Scherrer party), it has eventually released them rather than prosecuting.11 Acceptance of the long-standing proposal to discuss incidents at sea after the 24th Party Congress, and the proposal for closer cooperation in funding of UN specialized agencies suggest an interest even in widening the dialogue.
At the same time, there are disturbing indications in Soviet politics which may simply be related to preparations for the Party Congress, but which could also reflect a doctrinaire ground-swell whose effects will last beyond the Congress. It is perhaps no coincidence that an increase in anti-American propaganda and charges that the US has returned to the Cold War should parallel an increase in pressure for ideological conformity, stress on the secret police and the need for vigilance, efforts to reduce ties between foreigners and particularly Soviet dissidents, and talk of an increased “class” and “anti-imperialist” struggle abroad. We may have to wait for the Party Congress to end [Page 225] to determine whether the events of the past six months have played into the hands of those more doctrinaire elements in Soviet society, who have become more vocal if not more influential in recent months and who may argue that Moscow cannot, and need not try to do serious business with the Nixon administration.
But even assuming we are in one of Moscow’s periodic doctrinaire phases, I believe that the present ambiguity in US-Soviet relations is likely to persist, combining dialogue and negotiation in many fields with a fundamentally hostile and suspicious view of our policies and intentions. The tone of our relations will be affected by the practical results of upcoming talks on Berlin and ME, as much as by the ideological imperatives of the propagandists. To the extent that Soviet prejudices about the President and administration policy have increased in recent months, negotiations may be stickier and personal relations less warm in the coming year.
The Soviets would doubtless like to repay us in kind for their years in the wilderness, and isolate and ignore us if they could. They realize, however, that an understanding with the US remains still the passkey to agreement on many issues of vital concern to themselves, and conversely, confrontation with us can adversely affect their interests in a wide variety of ways—from threatening their security, to persuading America’s allies to draw back from negotiations with Moscow, to discouraging a firm from selling to the Soviets. Talk of political “linkage” has irritated the Soviets from the beginning (they associate it with a “position of strength,” “diktat” policy) but they are realistic enough to know that linkage and reciprocity will remain a fact of life so long as two super powers confront one another under conditions of hostility and rivalry. I would suggest therefore that there are inherent limits to any anti-American campaign of the sort we presently are seeing.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR. Confidential. Repeated to London, Paris, Rome, Bonn, Bucharest, Budapest, Sofia, Warsaw, Prague, Belgrade, Tehran, USNATO, and USUN.
  2. President-Emeritus of Johns Hopkins University.
  3. In a New York Times op-ed piece on December 20, Reston wrote: “The gentlest thing that can be said about U.S.-Soviet relations at the end of the year is that they are not exactly bubbling with the Christmas spirit. The official attitude here toward Washington is now hard and critical. It is not hostile or menacing, but clearly there has been a marked change for the worse since the first of the year.” On the basis of his discussions in Moscow, Reston reported that Soviet officials objected to the “Kissinger doctrine of linkage,” Nixon’s “diplomacy of surprise,” and the administration’s “anti-Soviet propaganda campaign” on Cuba and the Middle East.
  4. The civil air transport agreement was signed at Washington November 4, 1966, and entered into force the same day. (17 UST 1936; TIAS 6135)
  5. In the most recent round of the “correspondents war,” Soviet authorities announced on October 22 their decision to expel John Dornberg, bureau chief for Newsweek magazine in Moscow, on the charge of producing anti-Soviet leaflets. In a memorandum to Kissinger on November 5, Eliot recommended that the United States retaliate by expelling Leonid Zhegalov, a member of the TASS bureau in Washington. Kissinger approved the recommendation. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 713, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. X)
  6. See footnote 3, Document 71.
  7. Brandt visited the Soviet Union in August 1970 to sign the Moscow Treaty. During his visit, Brandt met Kosygin on August 12 and August 13. For records of their conversations, see Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1970, Vol. 2, Documents 387 and 390.
  8. See footnote 5, Document 3.
  9. See footnote 3, Document 23.
  10. On December 11, citing “provocations by Zionist thugs,” the Soviet Union announced the cancellation of upcoming trips to the United States by the Bolshoi Theater’s opera and ballet companies.
  11. See Document 51.