144. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1
2320. Subject: Conversation with Gosbank Chairman Alkhimov on U.S./Soviet Relations and Poland.
1. Confidential—Entire text.
2. Summary: During a conversation I had with Gosbank Chairman Alkhimov on February 24, he argued in favor of more U.S./Soviet contact including a summit. He felt that contact between our two countries was essential if only to limit the possibility of mistakes. On Poland, Alkhimov denied that the U.S.S.R. had anything to do with the imposition of martial law which had prevented a civil war and bloodshed. He remarked that the Soviets were telling the Poles that they could not help them endlessly. I told him how Poland, on top of other developments, had dashed the expectations the U.S. had once had in the detente process. Where the West had once shared the Polish burden with the U.S.S.R., now it was the U.S.S.R.’s alone. End summary.
3. On February 23, I called on Gosbank Chairman Alkhimov accompanied by DCM Zimmermann and EconCouns Semler. He was cordial and friendly, obviously pleased at my courtesy call. Deputy Chairman Pekshev and Voronin from the Foreign Department were also there. The main subjects we covered were U.S./Soviet relations and Poland.
4. U.S./Soviet Relations: Alkhimov made a plea for high-level meetings, including a summit, as well as more contacts between us. He argued that two great powers should not let themselves be drawn into conflict by the desires of small countries, the number of which increases each year. If our leaders sat down together, “perhaps they would find that these problems in Africa and Latin America” were not all that important. When I asked rhetorically how an Afghan Government could be found which would satisfy the Afghan people, Alkhimov hinted obliquely that a summit might be useful to that end. On our economic relations, he conceded that we could place sanctions on the U.S.S.R. which would have the effect of making the U.S.S.R. work harder, but would also entail loss of contact between our countries. Without contact, the possibility of big mistakes becomes greater. Alkhimov was pleased at the results of the Haig/Gromyko meeting on which I briefed him in general terms. He had kind words for President Reagan [Page 489] who “he was told” was a good man anxious to do his best for America. In this connection, he noted the belief among Soviets that the President is surrounded by advisers who tell him that the Soviet Union is arming against the United States. Alkhimov added that the thesis was wrong, and the Soviets are probably wrong as well in their characterization of the President’s advisers.
5. Poland: I mentioned how the expectations that we had had in the early period of U.S./Soviet detente, when Mr. Alkhimov had played a prominent role on the Soviet side, had been disappointed, citing Poland. I added that we would not finance the repression in Poland; where the West had once shared the Polish burden with the U.S.S.R., it was now the U.S.S.R.’s alone. In reply, Alkhimov recalled how he and Gosplan Chairman Baybakov had been sent to Warsaw in January 1975 to tell the Poles that their economic policies were leading to disaster, especially the high rate of investment growth. The Poles would not listen. Martial law had prevented a civil war and bloodshed. The Soviets had had nothing to do with the imposition of martial law. Alkhimov conceded that there had been incidents in Gdansk, Poznan and elsewhere, but thought the situation was improving. He argued that if the West cut off credits to Poland, it would suffer more than the East where discipline was being tightened in any case. Alkhimov said that the U.S.S.R. was aiding Poland in the form of energy and raw materials at half the world price, as well as transferable ruble and hard currency credits, but that they were telling the Poles they could not go on endlessly supporting a nation of 35 million people. Looking back at the past 18 months, Alkhimov sounded like many other Soviet citizens when he said that the Poles had stopped working during that period. “They want to live like Americans”, he remarked, “but work even less than Russians”.
6. Hungary: I raised Hungary as an example of a Socialist economy which seemed to work. Alkhimov agreed but added that economic management was easier in a small country. He thought the Hungarians had struck a good balance between state planning and individual incentives. He asserted that the Soviet Union did not have any monopoly on how best to reconcile common and individual benefits in planned economies “which take much more sophistication than the natural economies of the West”. The U.S.S.R. would welcome any ideas which would improve on the Socialist system although the U.S.S.R. could not accept Yugoslavia’s willingness to tolerate unemployment. (Note: The fine performance of the Hungarian State Bank was highlighted in a Budapest editorial article in “Pravda” on February 22—septel). Asked about that article, Alkhimov said that Gosbank follows the same poli[Page 490]cies. (We read into “Pravda’s” decision to print a eulogy of imaginative Hungarian financial practices something of a backhand criticism at Gosbank and the Soviet Banking System.)
- Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D820104–0727. Confidential. Sent for information to Warsaw, Belgrade, Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest, Leningrad, Prague, Sofia, and the U.S. Mission to NATO.↩