191. Intelligence Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

[paper number not declassified]

[Omitted here are a title page, security information page, and cover page.]

The Soviet Leadership Balance and Afghanistan ([classification marking not declassified])

Key Judgments

The decision to intervene in Afghanistan has raised the question—as all major Soviet decisions have in the past—of the degree of consensus that existed among the leadership on this action. It has also prompted speculation that President Brezhnev—the Kremlin’s strongest advocate of detente—is no longer a leading force in Soviet policymaking. ([classification marking not declassified])

On balance we believe that Brezhnev remains the dominant force within the Politburo and was directly involved in and supportive of the decision to invade Afghanistan. Measuring the level of enthusiasm within the Soviet hierarchy for military action is more difficult. We suspect there were some reservations, but we believe these concerns did not extend to fear for the future of detente, a policy with which the leadership was increasingly disenchanted during the closing months of 1979. ([classification marking not declassified])

Public statements by Soviet leaders about Afghanistan before the invasion occurred revealed little more than a common concern with developments there. Party ideologist Suslov, who has often spoken out favorably about revolutionary processes in the Third World, implied that Afghanistan was a Communist state worth preserving. This could mean that he was in the vanguard of those favoring intervention. ([classification marking and codeword not declassified])

Premier Kosygin was removed from the political scene in mid-October by a heart attack and almost certainly did not play an active part in the Afghan decision. His counsel probably would have been on the side of caution, and his absence from office probably facilitated the choice for military action. ([classification marking, codeword, and handling restriction not declassified])

[Page 537]

Because the temper of the Politburo as a whole shifted away from detente, however, it seems unlikely that Kosygin’s presence would have altered the decision. Despite this shift, we have not detected a basic realignment of power within the Politburo. In November, an opportunity to replace Kosygin was allowed to pass; he is still being ranked second in the Soviet pecking order. Instead of retiring Kosygin, the Politburo brought in a 74-year-old Brezhnev loyalist, First Deputy Premier Tikhonov. We have no reason to believe that Tikhonov’s promotion, in itself, altered the balance within the Politburo on foreign policy issues. ([classification marking not declassified])

The USSR’s leaders must have taken their positions on the intervention with an eye on their relative standing in a post-Brezhnev political environment. To the extent that the intervention has undercut detente policies—with which most Soviet leaders had been signaling their increased discontent—so, too, has it weakened the succession prospects of Brezhnev’s protege Chernenko, one of detente’s most vocal advocates in the Kremlin. The contender who presumably profited the most is Brezhnev’s party deputy, Kirilenko, who in the past has voiced some reservations about detente. ([classification marking not declassified])

If the invasion is a success, those who might have argued against it probably will remain silent. But if the USSR is drawn into a long, costly military operation that damages Soviet interests on a global basis, the decision will be reexamined. There are already signs of second thoughts surfacing among second-level officials. The outcome of such a debate could have a significant impact on the makeup of the leadership, particularly in the post-Brezhnev era. ([classification marking not declassified])

A prolonged, costly conflict in Afghanistan might encourage younger elements in the Soviet establishment to press for a rejuvenation of the leadership. Unsatisfactory results in Afghanistan might also make KGB Chairman Andropov and Defense Minister Ustinov vulnerable and subject to removal at or before the next party congress in early 1981. Foreign Minister Gromyko might also be faulted for miscalculating the adverse worldwide reaction to the use of military force in Afghanistan. ([classification marking not declassified])

[Omitted here is the body of the report.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 81B00401R: Subject Files of the Presidential Briefing Coordinator for DCI (1977–81), Box 6, Afghan Crisis—Pubs Soviet Moves/Options. Top Secret; [codeword and handling restriction not declassified]. A statement on the title page reads: “The author of this paper is [text not declassified] USSR-Eastern Europe Division, Office of Political Analysis.”