1. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

17743. Subject: (C) Initial Moscow Views on the U.S. Election. Ref: Moscow 177192 (NOTAL).

1. (C—Entire text)

2. Summary: After initial surprise over the Reagan landslide victory, Soviet officials are venting their frustrations over Soviet relations with the Carter administration and intensely watching personalities in the new administration for clues to future behavior. They are saying that a workable relationship can be developed but they emphasize the importance of negotiating at least a modified version of SALT II. They hope for early contact with members of the Reagan foreign policy team as part of the process in deciding how to deal with it. Our refusenik and dissident contacts are unhappy over the election’s outcome, fearing the new administration will lessen the U.S. commitment to human rights. End summary.

3. After an early TASS report explaining the President’s defeat at the polls in terms of the state of the U.S. economy and U.S. foreign policy, the Soviet press has settled on the line that the primary cause was the President’s foreign policy and the decline of detente. This has the convenience of allowing Soviet propagandists to recycle all of their criticisms already made about the Carter administration as well as validating those criticisms for the Soviet public. We have not seen any [Page 2] public assessment of future relations with the Reagan administration other than bland comments to the effect that a person often speaks differently as President than as a candidate and that a country’s foreign policy depends on “objective conditions” not personalities.

4. The public criticism of President Carter’s foreign policy are the iceberg tip of much stronger private expressions of displeasure. Soviets who some weeks ago said they hoped Carter would win now feel free—in classic Soviet style—to express in full their frustrations over the past four years. Comments that the administration’s foreign policy was “erratic,” that “Carter betrayed us,” etc., have been repeatedly made to us and other foreigners in Moscow by Soviet officials.

5. At the same time, Soviets who deal with U.S. matters are intensely studying and probing for the implications of the election. While most concentrate on possible personalities in the future executive branch—who will Reagan choose as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor3 and where will other foreign policy appointees fit in the republican ideological spectrum—others are beginning to ask quite sophisticated questions about the new Senate, committee changes in the House, and how the conservative American mood demonstrated by the election will affect relations with the Soviet Union, the U.S. posture abroad, and military expenditures.

6. For at least a partial answer, the Soviets will be looking intensely at the President-elect’s early appointments. The implications of those appointments as interpreted here may do much to set the initial Soviet approach to the new administration. The Soviets also hope to make contact soon with the new group. The importance of Governor Harriman’s trip to the Soviet Union four years ago as an emissary of then President-elect Carter has been pointed to.4 Some here are wondering if Mr. Reagan will use a similar device to establish early contact. In contrast to the generally optimistic “wait and see” approach, we have one report, from an American journalist, that Arbatov has said it may be necessary to give Mr. Reagan “some black eyes” to teach him realities.

7. The Soviets we or our friends have talked with have expressed most interest in the new administration’s approach to arms control. Some are already thinking outloud about modifications in SALT II that could meet Mr. Reagan’s oft-stated intention to renegotiate SALT II. They naturally emphasize that new talks would require concessions on both sides, but they repeat their standard formula that they are [Page 3] willing to meet the new administration half-way and respond to any initiatives. We have heard nothing thus far about possible implications for the Afghanistan issue and U.S. sanctions.

8. Two groups which seem unhappy with the outcome of the election are the refuseniks and dissidents. Those we have talked with retain a great deal of good feeling toward President Carter because of his strong stand on human rights. They are concerned that Mr. Reagan will not pursue with equal tenacity that policy which they feel has benefited them.

9. The interest of the man on the street in Moscow about the U.S. election continues to be intense. The ICA display in front of the Embassy on the President and Vice-President-elect continues to draw impressive crowds.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D800532–1105. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information to Leningrad, Beijing, Belgrade, Berlin, Bonn, Bucharest, Budapest, London, Munich, New Delhi, Paris, Prague, Sofia, Tokyo, Warsaw, and the U.S. Mission to NATO.
  2. In telegram 17719 from Moscow, November 6, the Embassy reported on Soviet media reaction to the U.S. Presidential election as reported by TASS, Pravda, Sovetskaya Rossiya, Moskovskaya Pravda, and on Soviet radio and television. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D800531–0499)
  3. On December 11, Reagan nominated Caspar Weinberger to be Secretary of Defense; on December 16, he nominated Alexander Haig to be Secretary of State; and, on December 23, he appointed Richard Allen as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
  4. Reference is to Averell Harriman’s September 1976 trip to Moscow on behalf of Carter to meet Brezhnev.