234. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford 1
- Intelligence Report on Current USSR Thinking
The Central Intelligence Agency has reported two recent contacts with one of the higher-visibility career Soviet KGB officers, Viktor Lesiovskiy, in which Lesiovskiy commented at length on Angola, Soviet politics, possible changes in the Soviet leadership, US-Soviet relations and SALT. Lesiovskiy had just returned from a two month visit to the United States. He told the CIA contact that his remarks reflected the conversations he had had with Ambassador Dobrynin and he stressed that he was speaking authoritatively. While his remarks cannot be accepted at face value, Lesiovskiy has a long record of candid talk about important policy matters, and his remarks—summarized in the following paragraphs—provide an interesting window on current developments in Moscow.
Soviet Internal Politics
Illustrating his inside information on Soviet domestic developments, Lesiovskiy cited his confidant, “the then Deputy Minister of ‘Reserve’” who had informed him of Nikita Khrushchev’s fall three months before it occurred. As a wheeler-dealer in his own right, Lesiovskiy insists that everything in Moscow is achieved by pull and personal connections; he attributes to such well-placed connections not only his own flamboyant career but also his inner knowledge of Soviet policy. In commenting on Khrushchev’s fall, Lesiovskiy said that skill in domestic and economic affairs is essential to achieving and maintaining power in the USSR; foreign policy successes or skills are largely irrelevant. Lesiovskiy insisted, however, that the current Soviet leadership nonetheless is seeking concrete results from its present foreign policy in the time frame of just before and just after the Party Congress.[Page 886]
Lesiovskiy’s overall perception of the Soviet internal scene at present is that the current complexion of domestic policies will continue for about two years, after which he anticipated radical changes. He personally believes that much needs to be changed and that this will require new people not identified with current policies, but rather resolved to carry out extensive innovation. He thinks that the initial turnover from the present leadership may well be via an interim leadership which will not differ radically from the present hierarchy. Internal pressures would then force changes, and these might escalate rapidly into a more or less “muted explosion.”
Lesiovskiy said that Brezhnev will be free to visit the U.S. in March or April 1976, assuming that that would work out well with the Ford Government. Lesiovskiy explained that Moscow assumes that you are watching your domestic situation carefully, including the early primary elections, and would be in a position to have meaningful meeting with Brezhnev only if you had in the meanwhile been able to overcome those domestic political problems. In this connection, Lesiovskiy commented that he did not understand the origin of rumors concerning Brezhnev’s early departure from the public scene; he claimed that he, Lesiovskiy, would be informed if this were true, which it is not.
Soviet Leadership Changes
Lesiovskiy made the point more than once that the Party Congress will lead to no “dramatic” changes in the leadership. Certainly, Brezhnev would not step down, and he might go on for a couple of years after the Congress. Some likely would leave the scene at the Congress, however. Lesiovskiy offered as examples of those who would be departing:
1. Premier Kosygin, who is physically unable to continue;
2. Politburo Member Arvid Pel’she, who is too old to go on;
3. Central Committee Secretary and Politburo Member Mikhail Suslov, who is 70 years old and will also perhaps step down.
The man of the future is Politburo Member Fedor Kulakov. According to Lesiovskiy, this was signalled to the world a couple of weeks ago in a photograph of a vote in the Supreme Soviet, in which Kulakov was shown in a central position in the second row. This contrasted with Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko and KGB Chief Yuriy Andropov who were only in the third row.
In addition to Kulakov, First Secretary of the Leningrad Oblast Party Committee Grigoriy Romanov is also destined for a higher role, perhaps even higher than Kulakov. Romanov is more dynamic and better prepared than Kulakov, and a candidate to succeed Kosygin as Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Candidate Politburo Member Petr Masherov is “a nice man”, but does not have as much standing as Romanov. In addition, Masherov’s position as First Secretary of the Be[Page 887]lorussian Party gives him a smaller platform for advancement than the Ukraine gives Ukrainian Party First Secretary Vladimir Shcherbitskiy. Shcherbitskiy is a leading candidate for the Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers. He is widely liked and respected. He will certainly be promoted, since running the Ukraine is a responsible position very similar to central Soviet leadership.
Andropov wants very much to leave his post as Head of the KGB in order to return to party work, but this is unlikely. It would be difficult to replace him; there is no one to take over. Much has been said about Gromyko leaving the Foreign Ministry in order to step up to a higher level, but Lesiovskiy, who claims to know him well, does not believe it. For one thing Gromyko relies heavily on his own apparatus. This is formed essentially of Foreign Ministry officials who, like Lesiovskiy, are loyal. According to Lesiovskiy, Gromyko would not be able to operate as confidently without them and he would not be able to establish another apparatus.
The United States Scene
Lesiovskiy said that he was extremely concerned about what he saw as the danger that Secretary Kissinger might not be able to continue in office. Lesiovskiy said that such an eventuality would be against the desires of the Soviet government. If Secretary Kissinger should be forced out, it would be because of United States domestic opposition to him; Moscow, for its part, would be willing to help him out.
In this regard, Lesiovskiy said that Moscow had favored a Kissinger trip to Moscow during December, but that it had been cancelled by your telephone call to Ambassador Dobrynin.2 According to Lesiovskiy, the Kremlin meeting with Dr. Kissinger was reset for 16–19 January 1976, thus allowing sufficient time for both sides to prepare for a final SALT accord.
In response to a question as to what specific parts of conversations with source were particularly authoritative and should be brought to high-level U.S. Government attention, Lesiovskiy specified that the Soviet leadership’s interest in Secretary Kissinger’s mid-January trip to Moscow for SALT negotiations, a visit by CPSU Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev to the United States around April, and the willingness of the Soviet leadership to make compromises in support of Secretary Kissinger and President Ford all constitute priority topics and “authoritative messages.”
On SALT Lesiovskiy said that there are no substantial military differences which could prevent a SALT accord; the only remaining prob[Page 888]lem is how to make an agreement acceptable to the general public on both sides.
Lesiovskiy said that cruise missiles must be limited in number but added that they do not represent a strategic military threat as such because of Soviet ability to track missile-carrying submarines. He noted, however, that cruise missiles would be useful in a limited war. Similarly, Lesiovskiy insisted that the Soviet “Backfire” bomber posed no strategic threat to the U.S. since it travels at subsonic speeds and even large numbers of them could be tracked by the U.S. Government. Lesiovskiy concluded that these new weapons could be limited in a SALT Agreement but they could not be prohibited entirely. Since the desires of military leaders in both the U.S. and the USSR for the latest sophisticated hardware must be met.
Lesiovskiy said that a deal with the U.S. could also include a settlement in Angola. Moscow has no crucial interest in Angola and could therefore reach a compromise with the United States. This would be based on persuading the current warring Angolan parties to work out a political settlement while the Big Powers shut down their aid. Lesiovskiy had said earlier that Angola is a Kremlin adventure, similar to that of the U.S. in Vietnam, and that it will similarly fail. He said that the USSR had become enmeshed in its involvement in Angola essentially because of its support for the MPLA over a period of 15 years. The USSR found that it could not change that policy now that the MPLA had taken power in Luanda. He added that such a policy change would be difficult just before a Party Congress, but emphasized that the USSR was simply continuing its limited support, limited in that Soviets will not be sent to Angola as an invasion force.
Lesiovskiy said that on the basis of what he had learned in New York he was convinced that such a political solution could be found and that it would be equally satisfactory to the United States, given that country’s large-scale involvement. In this connection, he said that it was significant that the Soviet government had learned three or four weeks ago of the United States’ large-scale involvement but had avoided making propaganda thereof. Lesiovskiy’s assessment of the American public temper—which he has been conveying to his government from the United States and which he will emphasize upon his return to Moscow—is that a U.S./Soviet settlement in Angola would be particularly helpful to Secretary Kissinger at this time. Lesiovskiy said that he will also recommend that Moscow not consider the United Nations as a locus for achieving a settlement on Angola with the United States, at least as long as the U.S. retains its present Ambassador at the U.N. Lesiovskiy claimed that the idea of a Soviet/U.S. deal on Angola forming part of an arrangement to accommodate you and Secretary Kissinger was his own perception, but he said that it [Page 889] was based on the overall attitude confirmed to him by Soviet Embassy officials in Washington “during the past few days.”
- Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 18, USSR (28). Confidential; Sensitive. Sent for information. The memorandum, which was not initialed by Scowcroft, is based on Intelligence Information Cable TDFIR DB–315/13398–75, December 20. (Ibid.) Clift forwarded a draft, along with the cable, in a memorandum to Scowcroft on December 24. Scowcroft wrote in the margin: “I have read the report and the President has as well.” (Ibid.) During a meeting in the Oval Office on December 22, Ford, Scowcroft, Kissinger, and Rumsfeld briefly discussed “Angola and the Soviet [Lesiovskiy] report.” (Ibid., Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 17) According to an attached correspondence profile, the memorandum was noted by Ford and Scowcroft on December 31.↩
- No record of a telephone conversation between Ford and Dobrynin has been found. Reference may be to the meeting between the two men on December 9; see Document 224.↩