159. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
[Page 488]

In reference to the telephone proposal conveyed by Ambassador Dobrynin on November 16,2 I indicated to him that we would be prepared to proceed on the basis of his proposal, recognizing that the Filatov case3 in principle is an internal Soviet affair and would be resolved by the Soviet side separately; however, how the Filatov case is resolved would affect U.S.-Soviet atmospherics and hence we could not be entirely indifferent to this matter. Therefore, if the Soviet side in the meantime and on its own resolves the Filatov case by commutation, we would be ready to proceed immediately with the proposed exchange.4 If the Soviet side were to carry out the execution, it would doubt-less have some effect on the atmosphere of our relations and we would have to reassess the proposed exchange in the light of the circumstances.

Dobrynin responded, at least initially, with some heat. He asserted that the Soviet side has gone a long way to accommodate American demands. It has given us Ginzburg,5 it has conceded simultaneity of the releases, and that we were nonetheless insisting on linking the Filatov case, making the exchange conditional on its resolution. He went on to say that in his view the Soviet side would not be prepared to accept this and the whole arrangement could become unstuck.

I responded by saying that I hope Dobrynin will convey to his principals not only our response but also the genuinely conciliatory spirit in which it is being conveyed. I added that our main concern is to eliminate extraneous sources of irritation, and that it seems to me in[Page 489]conceivable that he did not understand that the execution of someone for allegedly spying for the United States would convey a negative message regarding the state of our relations. Moreover, the Soviet side itself injected the Filatov case by forwarding to the President a letter from Filatov which asserted that the President is morally responsible for whether Filatov lives or dies. Such a letter was obviously transmitted with the cooperation of the Soviet authorities, and hence I do not understand how now the Soviet side can insist that we can be entirely indifferent to what happens to Filatov.

Finally, I stressed that we, too, have made significant concessions, the most important of which was to omit Shcharanskiy from the exchange, a fact for which we will doubtless take some political heat. As the discussion unfolded, Dobrynin became increasingly conciliatory and started asking me questions as to how I would envisage the “entirely separate and independent” resolution of the Filatov case. For example, would we be satisfied if the Soviets informed us privately that Filatov would not be executed; would we take public credit for it; would we leak it?

In response I assured Dobrynin that we would not link or make any claims regarding the Filatov case in the event that his life was spared, and that we would see the exchange as involving purely and only the other individuals. I could not guarantee that leaks would not occur, and I added the hope that in some fashion the Soviet side could make it known more publicly that Filatov was not being executed, since that doubtless would contribute also to better atmospherics.

Finally, I again asked Dobrynin to convey to the Soviet side not only the substance of our position but our genuine desire for a constructive resolution of these matters, with both sides necessarily making some concessions. I got the distinct impression toward the end of the discussion that something along the above lines might be contrived, even if the initial Soviet response is negative.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, President’s Personal Foreign Affairs File, Box 5, USSR (General), 9/77–12/80. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House. Carter initialed the first page of the memorandum. Brzezinski recalled in his memoirs that he and Dobrynin “had prolonged exchanges” on the Woodbridge Two. “At times the arguments were quite heated, especially when I insisted that the execution of the Soviet citizen would jeopardize any possible deal on the Soviet spies. Dobrynin kept insisting that this matter was none of my business, but I pointed out to him that the Soviets themselves had made it our business by generating a letter from the prisoner addressed directly to Carter, pleading for assistance. That step had been taken presumably to embarrass Carter, but it enabled me to argue that the Soviets had thereby made it also our concern.” (Power and Principle, pp. 338–339)
  2. A memorandum of a Brzezinski-Dobrynin telephone conversation, in which they discussed which Soviet dissidents would be included in the exchange, is in Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 19, U.S.S.R.—Prisoner Exchanges: (8/78–5/79).
  3. Anatoli Filatov, a diplomat in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was convicted of having been recruited by the CIA in 1974 and conducting espionage for the United States until his arrest in 1977. On July 14, 1978, he was found guilty and sentenced to death for espionage. Telegram 18874 from Moscow, August 9, transmitted an August 8 letter from Filatov pleading with President Carter for his help: “Three years ago I was enlisted by American intelligence and fulfilled its assignments in the capacity of an agent.” In his accompanying commentary, Toon asserted, “I have been briefed on the Filatov case, and I feel strongly that we owe him nothing. Moreover I have long felt that as a matter of principle when an agent is caught we should simply regard the development as a casualty of the intelligence wars. . . . I would wish to do so if you plan to discuss with Stan Turner.” (Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 19, U.S.S.R—Prisoner Exchanges: Alpha Channel: 7/78–5/79)
  4. In September 1980, The New York Times reported that Filatov’s sentence had not been carried out, but had been commuted to 15 years in prison. (Craig R. Whitney, “Spy, Thought Dead, Now Reported Alive,” The New York Times, September 24, 1980, p. A1)
  5. Alexandr Ginzburg, who was convicted on July 13, 1978, of anti-Soviet agitation and sentenced to 8 years of hard labor, was released from the Soviet Union on April 27, 1979, along with Eduard Kuznetsov, Mark Dymshits, Valentin Moroz, and Georgy Vins. In exchange, the Woodbridge Two, Rudolf Chernyayev and Valdik Enger, were released and returned to the Soviet Union.