128. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (Burt) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Soviet Reactions to U.S. Protective Actions in Grenada

While Soviet reactions to today’s events on Grenada are still in an early stage and will doubtless be further shaped as the situation on the island becomes clearer, we would offer the following preliminary thoughts on the outlines of the Soviet Union’s likely response.2

A Sharply Critical Public Line: Not surprisingly, Moscow will see this as an opportunity to reinforce their current public diplomacy campaign [Page 438] attacking the U.S. policies as militaristic and an increasing threat to peace. This afternoon’s TASS commentary sets their general theme—“an act of direct, unprovoked aggression . . . taking advantage of a complicated situation that had taken shape within the country . . . and with the fig-leaf of involvement by pro-American puppet regimes.” We can expect a high volume of this over the coming days with the Soviets particularly trying to tarnish our image in Europe as the INF deployment debate reaches its peak and to divert attention from their own post-KAL image problems. Our Embassy in Moscow notes that we may also see “protest” demonstrations in the coming days.

. . . But More Realistic in Private?: Despite this public outcry, however, the Grenadan revolutionary movement does not represent either a Soviet vital interest or high investment (Perhaps characteristic of Soviet unhappiness and ambivalence about the local factional infighting, Arbatov is reported as saying in London that the Grenadans had not been blameless in letting the situation so develop as to enable to the U.S. to intervene). In his meeting with Chargé Zimmermann this morning, Bessmertnykh of the Soviet MOFA was critical of our actions, but used the phrase “in your backyard”—suggestive of a long-standing Soviet tendency to view such matters in “super-power spheres of influence” terms.3 The Embassy’s Acting DCM Isakov did not even feel the need to make a pro forma complaint with me this afternoon. While unwelcome, the U.S. protective actions in the Caribbean were perhaps not that unexpected in the Soviet realpolitik consciousness.

For that reason, we doubt at this time that the Soviets will take any major and dramatic counter-action beyond intensifying particular anti-U.S. propaganda themes. At the same time, however, there are potential problem areas which could influence their response.

—The fate of Soviet personnel on Grenada was a primary concern of both Bessmertnykh and Isakov. (We estimate there are perhaps 10 Soviet diplomats and 35 economic technicians on Grenada along with 15 Eastern European advisors). Initial reports suggest that our forces have over thirty Soviets “safe under protection” on Grenada. Repatriating these Soviets could become an issue in coming days.

—Should an incident develop in which it appeared that Soviet lives were lost or Soviet national dignity flouted by deliberate US actions, we could expect a much sharper Soviet reaction and perhaps even retaliation in specific cases. In this latter regard, we should be [Page 439] sensitive to the anomalous situation in which our Embassy in Kabul must operate.

—While the Grenadan revolutionary movement may not be a major loss to the Soviets, the loss of life and prestige by Cuba, its surrogate in the region, could become another matter. Apart from republishing Cuban communiques about “heroic Cuban fighters resisting US imperialism”, the Soviets have thus far avoided comment on the Cuban role in Grenada. In addition, both Bessmertnykh and Isakov avoided any mention of the Cubans (We would also note in this regard the apparent differences between Soviet and Cuban approaches to the past week’s political infighting on the island; the Cubans supported Bishop while the Soviets apparently assumed a more distant posture). When the Cubans ultimately tally their losses, however, wounded pride may yet prompt them to press for a sharper Soviet response.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Box 10, Executive Secretariat Sensitive Chronology (10/22/1983–10/31/1983); NLR–775–10–25–5–8. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Dunkerley and Tefft; cleared by Pascoe and Niles. A stamped notation reading “GPS” appears on the memorandum, indicating Shultz saw it. McKinley’s handwritten initials are in the upper-right corner, indicating he saw it on October 26. In the upper right-hand margin is a typed note to Burt from Shultz: “An excellent memo. Pls turn into a Sec-Pres, undated, to send over on Friday. G.” An undated, unsigned copy of a memorandum from Shultz to Reagan is ibid.
  2. On October 25, President Reagan made the following statement on Grenada: “On Sunday, October 23rd, the United States received an urgent, formal request from the five member nations of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to assist in a joint effort to restore order and democracy on the island of Grenada. We acceded to the request to become part of a multinational effort.” He continued: “Early this morning, forces from six Caribbean democracies and the United States began a landing or landings on the island of Grenada in the eastern Caribbean.” He explained that the “U.S. objectives are clear: to protect our own citizens, to facilitate the evacuation of those who want to leave, and to help in the restoration of democratic institutions in Grenada.” (Department of State Bulletin, December 1983, p. 67)
  3. Telegram 13462 from Moscow, October 25, reported: “Acting DCM Kamman presented text of a non-paper on Grenada (as transmitted reftel) to Aleksandr Bessmertnykh, Chief of MFA USA Department, at 1500 local time.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, N830010–0333)