174. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • Chernenko: Initial Thoughts

I have not yet seen the Intelligence Community’s assessment of the Soviet move in naming Chernenko head of the Andropov Funeral Commission,2 but my initial thoughts are the following:

—Naming him head of the Funeral Commission makes Chernenko the favorite to be named Secretary General. If he does not receive the title over the weekend, however, this will be a clear indication that there is still controversy in the leadership.

—If Chernenko is named to the general secretaryship, it will signify a clear victory by Brezhnev’s cronies over Andropov’s coterie, and possibly a victory of the traditional Party apparat over the police types favored by Andropov.

—Naming Chernenko also means that the old men in the Politburo are not yet prepared to allow a generational change in the top leadership.

Chernenko’s stewardship, like Andropov’s, could turn out to be brief. He is 75,3 and even if he wins a couple of rounds, may still have Andropov’s protegés hemming him in in various ways. To the extent that he can consolidate his leadership, however, he may be able to ameliorate some of the neo-Stalinist tendencies introduced by Andropov. (There is considerable circumstantial evidence that he opposed many of the moves, probably in self-interest.)

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—Meeting the President briefly during the funeral could be a plus for Chernenko in the intra-Party struggle. (In a sense, the President would be granting to him an honor denied Andropov when he was alive.) Even if this should be true, however, it should not carry much weight in the President’s decision whether to go, since we have no real reason to believe that Chernenko would necessarily be easier to deal with than others in the leadership. And he may not be around for very long.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (02/04/84–02/11/84). Secret. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates McFarlane saw it, and he wrote in the margin: “Many thanks, Bud.”
  2. A February 11 memorandum, “Chernenko: Continuer of Brezhnev’s Legacy,” could be the IC report referred to by Matlock. Reagan’s initials appear on this memorandum, indicating he saw it. The memorandum noted that in recent months, Chernenko’s public appearances and activity increased, as he used Andropov’s declining health to “stage a political comeback.” The memorandum continued that Chernenko “emerged early as a staunch supporter of improved relations with the West, including the United States.” On the domestic front, he had “long advocated increased attention to the consumer goods sectors and to the social factor in domestic affairs. In recent pronouncements in the ideological sphere, however, he has taken a more conservative line.” (Ibid.)
  3. Chernenko was 72, not 75, when he became General Secretary.