274. Special Analytical Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


  • Suppression of Dissidents
  • by [name not declassified] CIA

As relations between the US and USSR have become more strained, Moscow has intensified its campaign against the Soviet dissident movement. The authorities have detained more than 40 dissidents since the crackdown began in October 1979, concentrating particularly on human rights activists such as members of the Helsinki Act Monitoring Group. The activists have been subjected to continual harassment, including repeated house searches and close surveillance. [handling restriction not declassified]

The greatest blow to the dissidents was the exile in January of Andrey Sakharov to Gorkiy, which removed the human rights movement’s most prominent spokesman. He is now isolated from contact with all but family members. [handling restriction not declassified]

In the past, Sakharov’s remarks automatically commanded the attention of Western correspondents in Moscow and shaped world opinion against Soviet tactics toward dissent. Without Sakharov, the members of the Moscow Helsinki group believe that they are being ignored by Western media at a time when the group is being decimated by arrests. [handling restriction not declassified]

There was little publicity in the West when Malva Landa, one of the most prominent members of the Moscow group, recently was sentenced to three years of internal exile for “slandering the Soviet state.” Trials of several other human rights activists in custody should follow shortly. [handling restriction not declassified]

The Soviets had been expected to remove likely troublemakers before the Olympics, but the severity of this latest campaign appears aimed at paralyzing all forms of dissent. Following Sakharov’s exile, a number of dissident activists reportedly were warned by Soviet officials that the action taken against Sakharov demonstrated that the authorities are prepared to take measures against any member of the dissident movement. Some reportedly were told that the authorities expect to “finish off” the movement within a couple of months. [handling restriction not declassified]

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Dissidents Discouraged

The US Embassy reports that most dissidents believe that the Soviet human rights movement will survive the crackdown, while others are less optimistic that it will be able to continue in its present form. The Soviet intelligentsia has allegedly become disenchanted with the movement, partly because the dissidents are preoccupied with the arrests of their colleagues rather than focusing on the main problems in the USSR. [handling restriction not declassified]

In addition, the current climate of cynicism and apathy among students has resulted in fewer young people being drawn to the dissidents. Those who do become activists are attracted by the nationalist and religious dissident movements, which apparently have a broader base than does dissent over human rights. According to the Embassy, the human rights movement has lost much of its sense of purpose and is being forced into a period of relative inactivity. [handling restriction not declassified]

Restrictions on Jewish Emigration

Although not directly linked with the crackdown on dissidents, new restrictions on Jewish emigration reportedly were introduced about the same time. A reduction in the number of visas became evident last November when the total dropped to 3,600 from the year’s monthly average of 4,200. A slow decline has continued through March, lowering the total for the first quarter of 1980 by more than 25 percent as compared with the same period last year. [handling restriction not declassified]

The reduction is caused primarily by a severe cutback in emigration from the Ukraine, a result of strict enforcement of a regulation limiting sponsorship of emigrants to immediate family members living in Israel. Considerable variation in emigration practices is still apparent among the Soviet republics, however, with the majority showing a slight increase in the number of emigrants this year. [handling restriction not declassified]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR, and East/West, Brement Subject File, Box 59, USSR: Dissidents/Defectors: 6/79–11/80. [classification and handling restriction not declassified]