33. Memorandum From Robert Hunter of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Brezhnev’s Health

At the Political Directors’ meeting last Wednesday,2 both de Laboulaye and Andreani3 commented at length on Brezhnev’s health (they both sat in on two meetings and the official functions), and the Elysee provided Embassy Paris with further details.

Their views take the Brezhnev health situation farther than our people reported from the Vance Moscow trip.

Brezhnev was “painted”—i.e., heavily made up—and seemed to be wearing a corset. He had trouble enunciating, and particular difficulty at the ends of sentences. He had trouble following the discussion, and needed constant prompting from Gromyko, who seemed to be “in control.” There was one exchange on Berlin where Brezhnev seemed bewildered about the facts (though an alternative interpretation held that the Russians were confusing the facts—about East German encroachment in West Berlin—to tease the French). He acted as though he had never heard of Djibouti.

At the official dinner, Brezhnev had the toasts at the beginning, ate and drank nothing, and departed at 10:05. He walked out “unseeing”, and stopped only to say hello to his grandson.

The French were told that the hour’s delay in the start of the final meeting for an hour was due to Brezhnev’s lengthy daily treatments on his jaw, and his desire not to get up too early.

Throughout, Brezhnev spoke almost entirely in generalities, and stayed away from details.

(Another observation, which Bill Hyland says is not out of the ordinary: during the reading of his long speech in the first meeting, Brezhnev kept making asides to Gromyko in Russian that “I really believe in this” or “yes, disarmament, disarmament;” and the French seriously wondered whether he had read the statement before giving it.)

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De Laboulaye’s summary: we might conclude that the succession process has already begun.

Other Items:

You have probably seen reporting that Brezhnev expanded the first meeting at the last moment, to include the two retinues; cancelled the second tete-a-tete; and had one of the cars given him sent back to be repainted blue.

The French were puzzled by this slip-shod performance in contrast to the business-like preparatory visit of de Guiringaud4 to Moscow. At that meeting the French rejected a Soviet draft on detente, and read out an alternative. Gromyko noted some places in the document as it was being read, then instantly accepted it as the basic text. It changed little in negotiation.

The consensus in Paris is that Marchais5 was neither helped nor hurt very much by not seeing Brezhnev—and if anything he was helped slightly, in terms of his “independence” from Moscow. The Brezhnev-Chirac meeting was put on at the last minute, following a further round of pettiness on the part of both Giscard and Chirac, who no longer bother to disguise their mutual distaste (a point to be borne in mind if the President decides to go to France in the autumn).

The Elysee wanted us to know that Giscard had used the President’s suggestions in his presentation to Brezhnev at the second meeting (which he made tougher than he would have otherwise, in response to Brezhnev’s monopolizing the first meeting).

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 78, USSR: 6/77. Secret; Outside the System. Sent for information.
  2. June 22.
  3. François de Laboulaye, French Ambassador to the United States and Jacques Andreani, Director for Europe, French Foreign Ministry.
  4. Louis de Guiringaud, French Foreign Minister.
  5. Georges René Louis Marchais, head of the French Communist Party.