248. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Casey to President Reagan1

I thought you would be interested in this roundup of recent information and current judgments on Chernenko’s ability to function, his standing in Moscow, and its impact on decisionmaking there.

Respectfully yours,

William J. Casey2


Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency3


  • Chernenko

[10 paragraphs (33 lines) not declassified]


[less than 1 line not declassified] a perception among his colleagues that he will be only an interim leader, thereby weakening him politically. This is underscored by the bureaucracy’s persisting denigration of him. Since he became General Secretary, there have been several indications that much more than Brezhnev, or Andropov, Chernenko must share power with his senior Politburo colleagues:

—[less than 1 line not declassified] after Chernenko’s election that Ustinov and Gromyko had backed him with expectation they would share power with him while maintaining control of their defense and foreign policy bailiwicks.

—Two weeks after Chernenko’s election, Gromyko [1 line not declassified] cited his own statements, not Chernenko’s as expositions of Soviet line.

[Page 880]

—[less than 1 line not declassified] that our only hope of softening Moscow’s foreign policy would be somehow—perhaps via unofficial, high-level academics—to bypass Gromyko.

—[less than 1 line not declassified] that Gromyko has played larger role in their talks with Chernenko than he did under Brezhnev or Andropov.

—When reporting the Politburo’s approval of Chernenko’s talks with foreign leaders, Soviet media have included names of other Politburo members who participated in the talks—a departure from practice under Andropov.


We do not believe that this wider distribution of power has paralyzed the Politburo, but it may have reduced the flexibility and speed of decisionmaking:

—Shifting tone of Soviet reactions to our response on the space weapons talks offer may indicate increased difficulty in reacting to unexpected events. Moscow’s handling of issue may have reflected leadership disagreement over how much flexibility to display. Under a strong leader, such differences could be more quickly resolved.

—Differences in statements by Soviet leaders on nature of US “threat” and resources necessary to meet it suggest allocations decisions for the next five-year plan, which should already have been made, might have been delayed because of uncertain leadership situation over past year.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and the Soviet Union, USSR (07/03/84–07/07/84); NLR–748–25A–8–9–2. Secret. Reagan initialed the memorandum, indicating he saw it. Casey also sent a copy of this memorandum to Shultz; the copy is stamped with Shultz’s initials, indicating he saw it. (Reagan Library, George Shultz Files, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (07/25/1984–07/26/1984); NLR–775–12–15–11–0)
  2. Casey initialed “WJC” above his typed signature.
  3. Secret; Noforn; Nocontract; Orcon.