266. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford 1


  • The 25th Soviet Party Congress

The 25th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party will convene on February 24. The Congress, the first in five years, is expected to reconfirm Leonid Brezhnev and the core of leaders around him in their positions and to reaffirm the basic outlines of their present policies. Shifts among second-echelon leaders, as well as some innovations in domestic programs, are possible, and could offer some clues as to how policy and the succession problem may develop in the post-Congress period. The following paragraphs, based on a CIA assessment, review the status of the leaders and possible changes at the Congress as well as [Page 1007] the effects of events at home and abroad during the last year on present and future policies.

The Leaders

Brezhnev appears secure and determined to continue in office. The policy disappointments at home and abroad over the past year and a half have not seriously damaged his status. His health and stamina have stabilized in recent months, and he is able to function effectively, albeit at a reduced pace. Rumor and speculation—some from Soviet officials—that Brezhnev would soon retire have abated. At the republic congresses now under way, Brezhnev is being accorded a full portion of praise and honor.

Major changes in the rest of the leadership are also unlikely. A congress is not the usual occasion for a high-level shake-up. So long as the dominant senior members of the Politburo—Brezhnev, Kosygin, Podgorny, Suslov—hang together, underlings who desire a more vigorous leadership (and a bigger role for themselves in it) find no opening to promote change. The extremely small turnover of officials with Central Committee status who have been elected at the lower party meetings preceding the Congress suggests continued stability at the top.

The leadership is likely to make some adjustments in its membership at the secondary level. Premier Solomentsev of the Russian Republic and Leningrad party boss Romanov are among leaders who have some claim to promotion to full membership in the Politburo. At the same time, Arvid Pelshe, 77 and not influential, may retire honorably. The leadership has avoided recriminations over the harvest disaster, but it still may offer up someone—perhaps Agricultural Minister Polyansky—as a scapegoat.

If a top leader should go, Kosygin seems to be the most likely. Periodically, reports have circulated that he would like to retire and his health has been indifferent recently. Over the years his governmental apparatus has suffered attacks and incursions from the party, including Brezhnev, and reports of criticism cropped up again in December. Moreover, he is the only top leader who has an obvious successor, First Deputy Premier Mazurov. Even so, his departure is only a possibility, not a probability.

Although Brezhnev will remain at the helm, the Congress proceedings may give some indication that the leadership is beginning to address the problem of succession. Brezhnev has so far made no moves to establish a long-term successor, and most present candidates lack a good claim to his mantle. Shifts among junior leaders—for example, enhancing party secretary Kulakov’s status or bringing Ukrainian party [Page 1008] chief Shcherbitsky to Moscow—could signal that succession maneuvering has begun and suggest who might be a front-runner.


Foreign Policy: There seems little reason to doubt that the 25th Congress will reconfirm the CPSU’s dedication to the peace program outlined five years ago. The USSR’s foreign policy line is not seriously in question, and the tone as well as the specifics of Brezhnev’s report to the Congress will convey satisfaction and optimism. This will be attributed in the first instance to the growth of the USSR’s military capabilities, and the increased respect which must consequently be accorded to Soviet demands throughout the world.

On specific issues:

Brezhnev will be able to point with pride to SALT I and the other agreements that were reached with the US in 1972. He will come out for a new SALT agreement and may put in a word in favor of future reductions, while repeating his call for the banning of new weapons of mass destruction. He will probably note that MBFR negotiations have begun since the 24th Congress in 1971 and call for more rapid progress in those talks.

—The treatment of the US relationship will probably be relatively sober. SALT II, MFN, credits, and Angola have helped create an atmosphere that would make it very difficult for Brezhnev, even if he were so inclined, to give a strongly positive cast to the US relationship. He will note the increasing activity of “anti-détente forces” in the US. At the same time, Brezhnev will want to signal—particularly in a US election year—that Soviet policy aims at getting détente with the US back on the tracks.

Brezhnev will probably be positive on Moscow’s progress vis-à-vis West Europe. He can point to the Berlin quadripartite agreement, the treaty with the FRG, and expanding economic relations with Bonn, Paris, and London as concrete evidence of progress. Pride of place is likely to go to CSCE, which will be portrayed as a major achievement. Nevertheless, loss of momentum in bilateral relations with the FRG and France, serious difficulties in managing relations with Communist Parties in Europe, and disappointment with recent developments in Portugal, will all combine to give the West European part of the report a more subdued tone than would have been the case two years or even a year ago.

—Soviet treatment of China at the Congress is difficult to foresee. In the past week or so Moscow has been unusually harsh in its treatment of Peking; this could be a warm-up for a blast at the congress. But there is also a possibility that the Soviets are only reacting in a tactical way to what has been coming out of Peking since the unusually tough [Page 1009] People’s Daily editorial on New Year’s Day. At the 24th Congress, Brezhnev treated China with remarkable forebearance, given the fact that the border fighting was less than two years away. One argument in favor of such an approach this year is the recent leadership changes in Peking. The Soviets are not optimistic, but they might strike a moderate pose so as either to encourage “pro-Soviet” elements in China or, at least, to avoid giving additional ammunition to Moscow’s enemies there.

Brezhnev will probably emphasize Moscow’s support for the “struggle against imperialism” and for national liberation movements. Communist successes in Vietnam and Angola will be prominent, not only because they are “successes,” but because Brezhnev will be seeking to underline the point that détente has not prevented the Soviet Union from carrying out its international socialist duty. He may also lean forward in this area in order to breathe life into the idea that the Soviet Union does have a leadership role in the world communist movement.

Domestic Policy: Most of Brezhnev’s ambitious plans to put his stamp on the country’s future at this Congress will come to naught. A long-term economic plan (1976–90) and a new constitution, which he promised for the Congress, are evidently far from ready. His rather vague calls for a comprehensive rationalization of agricultural and industrial management have generated little response. At the Congress next week:

—The leadership will try to gloss over present economic difficulties and to retain the verbal commitment to a consumer program that has for the time being lost much of its substance. Quality and efficiency will be stressed over quantitative growth. Brezhnev may be tempted to launch some modest management reorganization proposals for agriculture or industry to create a more convincing image of initiative in these areas.

—In the ideological sphere, Brezhnev will convey the message that détente and the CSCE agreements do not mean a slackening of the ideological struggle or of internal discipline.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 18, USSR (30). Confidential. Sent for information. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, the text was taken nearly verbatim from a February 13 assessment prepared by the CIA. In a February 18 memorandum to Scowcroft, Clift reported: “At our request, CIA has prepared an assessment of likely developments at the Congress—in both the leadership and in policy—based on the latest available intelligence information.” (Ibid.) A note on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Ford also initialed the memorandum. According to an attached correspondence profile, the President noted it on February 25.