232. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Mission to NATO, and the Defense Intelligence Agency1

8456. Subject: Weinberger Invitation to Soviet Defense Minister.2 Ref: State 150126.3

1. Confidential entire text.

2. Summary. Chargé Combs and DATT RADM Kurth met with Soviet MOD, Marshal Sokolov, on 19 May. Before handing over the letter of invitation from Secretary Weinberger, Chargé expressed regret and sympathy over the Chernobyl catastrophe. Referring to the Incidents at Sea Agreement and other ongoing discussions involving military contacts between the two countries, the Chargé described Secretary Weinberger’s invitation as a means to widen helpful contacts. Sokolov said that he would take the invitation under advisement. However, he complained about Secretary Weinberger’s public characterization of the Soviet Union. He added his view that current difficulties in U.S.-Soviet relations were caused by U.S. actions such as the attack on Libya.4 Countering with the U.S. perception of Soviet actions such as those in Afghanistan, the Chargé argued that wider military contacts could lower the level of misunderstanding.

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3. Background.

—In response to the instructions in reference, Embassy made parallel approaches in pursuit of appointment with Soviet Minister of Defense, Marshal of the Soviet Union S.L. Sokolov. Embassy Protocol Officer requested the call through the MFA protocol section, and DATT made a personal call at the Foreign Relations Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, MOD(UVS). At 1130 on Saturday, 17 May, Soviet Navy Captain Kharchenko, U.S. Regional Affairs Officer at MOD (UVS), called DATT to announce that the appointment with Sokolov had been set for 1000 Monday morning, 19 May 1986. Kharchenko said he would call early Monday to confirm arrangements, which he did. Chargé and DATT were received at MOD (UVS) by Colonel Tikhomirov at 0950 and then escorted to the call by Captain Kharchenko and a Soviet Army interpreter, Major M.T. Globenko.

4. The Discussion.

—A. The Chargé opened the discussion and proceeded without use of the interpreter. Chargé said that he was carrying a letter of invitation from Secretary Weinberger for Marshal Sokolov. However, he wanted at the outset to express his regret and sympathy over the ordeal which had befallen the Soviet people at Chernobyl. He knew that the Soviet military had played a major role in containing the disaster. The role of the Soviet helicopter pilots in the first hours after the accident was noticeably heroic, and he wanted to express his respect for them.

—B. Sokolov simply answered with a “thank you.”

—C. The Chargé turned to Secretary Weinberger’s letter. He had the letter in English, he said, but would give the Marshal his own translation of its contents, which he did. After handing the letter to Sokolov, Chargé continued on to the talking points in the reference telegram. He added that the two sides would soon meet for the annual review of the Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), a most successful example of military contact between the two sides. On behalf of the Ambassador, Mr Combs invited Sokolov to the reception for the INCSEA delegations to be held at Spaso House on 11 June. The Chargé then referred to U.S. proposals for bilateral cooperation on search and rescue as well as radio navigation, involving the military of both sides, as additional examples of potentially fruitful cooperation. However, he said, the invitation from Secretary Weinberger could set an example from which even more helpful contacts could grow.

—D. Sokolov thanked the Chargé for delivery of the invitation. He went on to say that relationships must be proper for military contacts to prosper. The meeting last November at Geneva was promising, and the Soviet side wanted the dialogue to continue and to develop. However, the development of the dialogue got off track, mostly because [Page 959] of zigzags in American policy. Mr Weinberger speaks against the Soviet Union, describing it as threatening and as the enemy of all peaceful people, alleged Sokolov. If Mr Weinberger now wants to befriend the Soviet side with this invitation, then that is hard to understand. If he were interested in befriending Mr. Weinberger, continued Sokolov, he would lay a better base for it with his actions.

—E. The Marshal now warmed to the topic of U.S. action as he saw it. The United States, he claimed, acts as though it has the right to take any step it may choose. Rather, the two sides need to develop more cooperative steps and to lay properly the base for this step (the invitation), and for the future development of wider contacts.

—F. Chargé broke into the Marshal’s presentation to say that current circumstances were exactly the reason for seeking ways to improve mutual understanding. This invitation is a businesslike step to help that process and to diminish misunderstandings which only seem to one side to be zigzags, the Chargé argued. Secretary Weinberger is offering this invitation as a constructive step with this goal in mind, he suggested.

—G. The Marshal resumed his tack. The U.S. and Soviet Foreign Ministers were to meet but that meeting was adversely affected by U.S. actions, he alleged. American ships and aircraft performed an act of war (against Libya) in the name of counterterrorism. What is terrorism?, the Marshal asked rhetorically. Was not Grenada terrorism? Was not the American attack on Libya state terrorism?, he continued. With inadequate evidence, having failed to convince world opinion, the United States sacrificed the lives of innocent people in the name of counterterrorism. Because of that action, the meeting of our Foreign Ministers could not occur. The American side bombs whom they want, killing peaceful people. The U.S. cannot do that, he argued, and certainly some time must pass before we can get our relationship back on track.

—H. The Soviet side’s misunderstanding of our necessary action is exactly the reason why the Soviet Defense Minister should discuss such issues directly with Secretary Weinberger, interjected the Chargé. The Marshal needed to know our view. The U.S. took the action in Libya clearly out of self defense against a blatant source of terrorism against U.S. citizens. Innocent Americans were being murdered and wounded. It was not an action directed against the Soviet Union. If the Minister did not understand that fact, there was all the more need to develop the process of high-level discussion, especially when views differed as widely as they appeared to.

—I. The Soviet side is for such meetings and such discussions, claimed Sokolov, but when the American side allows itself the right to take such steps, the Soviet Union must react as it did. The Soviet Union does not allow itself claim of the right to take such steps.

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—J. From the American point of view, said the Chargé, the Soviet side claimed the right to impose military action against Afghanistan, which action we think is indefensible.

—K. With mention of Afghanistan, Sokolov moved to close the discussion. The Soviet side would study the proposal in Mr Weinberger’s letter, he offered. Whatever it would decide to do, he assured the Chargé, he would inform him directly. Sokolov rose to close the meeting amicably and shook hands with the Chargé and DATT who exited. The call had lasted fifteen minutes.

5. Venue and Atmosphere.

—A. Chargé and DATT were led to the front entrance of the new MOD building, across the street from the older MOD headquarters. Major Globenko said the new building had been open for use for about one and one-half years. The Americans entered the building to be met in the foyer at the right of the door by a Soviet Army Captain, and on the left by a Soviet Army praporshchik wearing red tab, motorized rifle insignia. Both smartly saluted, and then the Captain led the party to a waiting elevator.

—B. The ground level foyer had pillars, walls and floor of various combinations of marble. The cloak room (garderobe) was on the left, attended by a well-dressed but typical Soviet babushka. The party climbed a wide, five-step marble stairway to a second foyer with elevators on the left and a staircase to the right. A young lady was operating the waiting elevator which took the party to the fifth and top floor.

—C. The party exited on the fifth floor to a similar foyer where they were met by General Lieutenant G.A. Borisov, Director of MOD (UVS). (This was DATT’s first meeting with Borisov whom he knew from his last tour in Moscow, 1975–77. Borisov’s deputy, RADM V.Z. Khuzhokov, is now much more in evidence in the day-to-day operations of MOD (UVS).) The party was led across a long hall to an immediate door opening into a large conference room. At the right extremity of the carpeted hall, which ran the width of the building, was a large bust of Lenin on a tall pedestal. The wall at the left end of the hall contained a marble mosaic of the Soviet military insignia. The conference room contained a large table with about fifteen chairs on each side. The room was rectangular, about 60 by 20 feet, with the long dimension perpendicular to the hallway. At each end of the conference room were large bronze castings of an elaborate military nature, while the long walls were panelled in wood.

—D. Borisov went out of the conference room to get Sokolov and then escorted the Marshal to his visitors. Sokolov looked well rested, fuller in the face than his popular picture, bald with some hair on the side, ruddy complexion, but tanned. He appeared reasonably trim, [Page 961] absent the common portliness of senior Soviet officers. He is about 66 inches tall. The groups took up seats on opposite sides of the long table.

—E. Sokolov remained controlled and reserved throughout the discussion, showing only a very limited amount of emotion in delivering the standard line on his allegations of state terrorism. He was lucid and focused, speaking extemporaneously and carefully articulating his thoughts. He did not say he could not accept the invitation and certainly did not close the door on the possibility.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860387–0267. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. On March 1, Shultz had written Poindexter about attendance of U.S. officials at Soviet Armed Forces Day events. See Document 199. In telegram Tosec 80182/134151 to Shultz in Bali, April 30, the Department transmitted the text of a memorandum from Ridgway regarding a Weinberger-Sokolov meeting. The text of the telegram also contained Tab 3 from the Ridgway memorandum, a March 3 letter from Shultz to Weinberger, noting that an idea for the meeting had emerged from discussions among Shultz, Weinberger, and Poindexter at a February 12 breakfast. In the March 3 letter, Shultz noted that he saw a “distinction between acceptance of invitations to highly visible events in honor of the Soviet military, and other contacts with Soviet defense officials that can increase our understanding of Soviet military doctrine, policies and practices—and give them a better understanding why we view them as the threat they are.” The Department also enclosed in telegram Tosec 80182/134151 the text of Weinberger’s response to Shultz: “At NSC request, I again have considered the possible merits of inviting Soviet Defense Minister Sokolov to visit the United States this year. I concur with the suggestion that extending such an invitation at this time would be beneficial.” Weinberger attached a letter to Sokolov and requested it be sent to Hartman for delivery. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860330–0666)
  3. In telegram 150126 to Moscow, May 13, the Department instructed the Embassy to deliver to Sokolov, “at the earliest appropriate time during the week of May 12,” the invitation from Weinberger. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860367–0808)
  4. See Document 216.