112. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Nance) to President Reagan1


  • Sakharov Hunger Strike

Andrei Sakharov, the leading Soviet human rights activist and Nobel Prize Laureate, began a hunger strike on Saturday, November 21, on behalf of his daughter-in-law, Elizaveta Alekseeva. Soviet authorities have repeatedly refused to grant her an exit visa to join her husband, Sakharov’s stepson, who presently is studying at Brandeis University. Sakharov believes that his daughter-in-law is being punished for his activities and has adopted the hunger strike as a last desperate measure to influence the Soviet Government.

Over that weekend a telegram was sent to you and other heads of state by 28 prominent scientists and scholars, twenty of them Nobel Prize Laureates, urging you and them to intercede on behalf of Sakharov (Tab B).2 Given the outstanding achievements of Sakharov in the field of human rights causes and his great friendship for the United States, it would be most appropriate for you to release, as soon as possible, a Presidential statement on Sakharov’s behalf. A suggested text is included at Tab A.3 Speechwriters have cleared the text. The State Department concurs in this recommendation.

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That you approve the Presidential statement at Tab A concerning Andrei Sakharov.4

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Matlock Files, Dissidents (6/23). No classification marking. Sent for action. A stamped notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “The President has seen 12/4/81.” Reagan wrote at the top of the memorandum: “Isn’t this action by the Soviets in direct violation of the Helsinki pact? RR.” In a December 9 memorandum to Reagan, Nance replied that “it certainly violates their intent. Basket II, Section I, Sub-paragraph B of the Helsinki Final Act states: ‛Participating states will deal in a positive and humanitarian spirit with the applications of persons who wish to be reunited with members of their family.’ The Soviet Government could argue that Miss Alekseeva, having married Mr. Semionov by proxy in the United States, is by Soviet law not really a member of his family: but the only reason that a marriage-by-proxy had to be organized last summer is that Miss Alekseeva had been unable for over three years to secure an exit visa which would have enabled her to go through a regular marriage ceremony.” (Ibid.)
  2. Not found attached.
  3. Attached but not printed is the text: “Academician Andrei Sakharov, a leading Soviet scientist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and his wife have been for over a week on a hunger strike. They are protesting the repeated refusal of the Soviet authorities to grant an exit visa to Mr. Sakharov’s daughter-in-law, Elizaveta Alekseeva, to join her husband, Mr. Aleksi Semionov, a student at an American university. The young couple has been separated for a long time. I am concerned for the health of Mr. and Mrs. Sakharov and strongly urge the Soviet government to allow Mrs. Alekseeva to join her husband.” The White House released the statement the same day. (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, p. 1142)
  4. Reagan checked and initialed his approval.