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

14070. Geneva for USINF, USSTART. Subject: Soviet Foreign Policy After a Year of Andropov. Ref: Moscow 12501.2

1. (C—Entire text).

2. This is one of two cables assessing Andropov’s first year in office. A second examines his record on internal affairs.3

3. Summary: A year after Yuri Andropov’s succession to the leadership of the USSR, expectations that Soviet foreign policy would be more moderate, dynamic or competent under his tutelage remain unfulfilled. The substance of Moscow’s approach to the major issues today is not significantly different than during the last months of Brezhnev. But there have been differences of emphasis and style which, if Andropov remains in office, could have significant implications for his leadership, for the international situation in general, and for US-Soviet relations in particular.

4. Unlike Brezhnev, Andropov has limited his personal involvement in foreign policy almost exclusively to arms control. Even a purported “special interest” in Eastern Europe has failed to manifest itself in his first year. Andropov has proven to be a competent, sometimes original, spokesman on arms control issues, with a special flair for public relations. There is no evidence, however, that he has sought to put his own stamp on Soviet arms control policy thus far.

5. Andropov’s preoccupation with arms control has largely determined his approach to US-Soviet relations. He has shown no interest in improvements for their own sake and has resisted a dialogue on non-arms control issues. Instead he has sought to bring the US around [Page 454] to his arms control agenda by direct appeals to Western audiences and by encouraging perceptions in the West that the Kremlin has “written off” a Reagan administration unwilling to accept Soviet “legitimacy.” Such complaints may reflect high-level preferences here to wait out the administration. But they are best viewed as tactical devices and do not in our view represent Andropov’s last word. Once the INF drama is played out,4 the Soviets will have less reason than they have had over the last year to play hard to get, and sound reasons for moving toward engagement.

6. Andropov’s focus on arms control has left Gromyko, with the help of a few experienced lieutenants, the Soviets’ point man on regional issues. A major reorganization of the Soviet foreign policy apparatus, the subject of rumors last spring, has failed to materialize. The result has been drift and stagnation in Moscow’s approach to the major international issues, and a year of few successes abroad.

7. The regional balance sheet shows genuine gains for Moscow only in the Middle East, but even these are qualified and tenuous. The Caribbean and Latin America are a decidedly mixed picture, particularly after Grenada. Sino-Soviet relations have not developed at the rate Moscow appears initially to have expected. The past year has brought a series of political reverses in Western Europe, which will culminate in the INF deployment. Ties with Japan and Iran are at recent lows. Moscow’s approach to the developing world has been timid and resource-constrained. Worst of all, Andropov in the KAL affair has conspicuously muffed his first major foreign policy crisis.

8. Such a record cannot be expected to put Andropov in political trouble (his health, of course, is another matter). The policies he has followed have been consensus policies. A victory on INF would put everything right. A Soviet defeat on INF deployments, however, cannot help but be a personal one for Andropov, given his personal involvement in the issue. While Andropov will not stand or fall on the outcome of the INF battle, in its wake the leadership may feel a need to improve upon what may by then be perceived as a lackluster foreign policy record. This could result in a more pragmatic and innovative approach than we have seen during Andropov’s first year. Should Andropov’s health continue to worsen, however, the months ahead could produce more of the “caretaker” approach we have seen thus far. Part of the reason for the unimaginative and essentially unsuccessful foreign policy year—in addition to personal health weakness—is more than likely [Page 455] that Andropov spent most of his energy on structural party matters and domestic policy. End summary.

[Omitted here is the body of the telegram.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D830658–0555. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information to the Consulate in Leningrad, Beijing, Bonn, London, Paris, USNATO, USUN, Belgrade, Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest, Munich, Prague, Sofia, Warsaw, Tokyo, and the Mission in Geneva.
  2. See Document 122.
  3. In telegram 14266 from Moscow, November 15, the Embassy provided an analysis of Soviet domestic politics, attempts at economic reforms, and ideological considerations. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D830666–0872)
  4. INF deployments to Western Europe were scheduled to begin on November 23, assuming an agreement could not be reached beforehand.