240. Mock Memorandum From Soviet Foreign Policy Assistant Chernyayev to Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev1


  • U.S. Policy and Our Dilemma

You asked me to convene a small group to discuss prospects for dealing with the United States for the remainder of the Reagan term, with particular reference to our options in managing your commitment to meet with Reagan in the United States this year. I can assure you that we conducted our work with the utmost discretion. By meeting here at the Central Committee we stayed out of the way of Chebrikov’s KGB snoops, and we never met before 6:00 because we know that by then all of Dobrynin’s crew would be long gone. (As you know, they clear out right after 5:00 so they can get soused at Igor’s before going home. I know you’ve been thinking of cracking down on this, but I would suggest you wait a while because it’s useful to have them out [Page 984] of the way at times.) And, by the way, we also didn’t forget the building guards. We picked the three most luscious secretaries in the Central Committee and had them come up and sit in the outer office. That way they could not only keep watch on the door, but when we all waltzed out around midnight, the guards naturally assumed that we had hung around for fun and games and thus will not go around gossiping about folks working late on some secret project. (Bear this in mind if some snitch tells you we were playing around.)

Anyway, we hammered out a consensus on most issues. I’ll summarize them, and note the areas where there was some disagreement.

Background: The Situation

For six years now, the correlation of forces has been shifting against us. The Brezhnev crowd was guilty of the most egregious error of judgment in the 1970’s. They let our economy stagnate and fall even farther behind our enemies in a technological sense. At the same time, they threw down the gauntlet and started pushing our weight around. That would have been fine if the United States had continued to decline and if we had had a fully developed socialist base at home. But neither of these conditions were fulfilled, and Brezhnev’s failure to understand this was truly a case of an “infantile disease of leftism,” to use Lenin’s trenchant phrase. The old boys just never understood Lenin’s teaching to calculate the correlation forces accurately before acting. Their policy was clearly premature. We should not have taken on the U.S. until we were certain we had a firm base of strength at home. As it is, we just galvanized the Americans to revive their strength—and this happened just when we started paying the price of Brezhnev’s cronyism and “do nothing and it may go away” policies.

As you have said many times to us in private, you really inherited a mess! We’ve been in now for over a year, and have found out just how bad it is. That would be true even if Ronald Reagan did not exist, but he does, and that makes matters even worse. For a while our pollyannas thought he would overreach himself and stumble. And those foolish enough to pay attention to the idiots in the left-wing press in the West clung to the thought that he couldn’t get his programs through. (Lenin said we should exploit useful idiots, not listen to them!) But what do we see: the lucky so-and-so wins every one of the important ones regardless of what we do to encourage opposition to him, and he’s riding a wave of popularity that Franklin Roosevelt would envy. Anybody who predicts that we can outflank him in Congress has a half liter of vodka in his belly.

One more factor I need not mention, but since you charged us with looking clinically at all factors, I will for the sake of completeness. That is, our problems in getting control of the nomenklatura here. The old [Page 985] guys are putting up a lot more fight that we expected. The Party Congress came before you got your ducks in a row, and we still have to put up with empty heads like Kunayev and blockheads like Shcherbitsky (maybe you can use Chernobyl to take care of that one!), not to speak of stonehead Gromyko and his constant grousing. We simply cannot forget that a lot of long knives are out and if you change things too fast they might be used. The very fact that this is the crowd that led us into this mess means that they will fight anything that reflects on their stewardship, and will not shy away from accusing you of treason to the cause if you seem to be retreating from the morass they stumbled into.

The Dilemma

This means we have a real dilemma. If we have any chance to get things on the right track at home, we’ve got to get the Americans off our backs. But they are just not buying soft soap any more. This time, we’re going to have to pay. If we had gotten our people in all the key positions, we could pull it off by explaining very quietly that we have to take a step back so we can take two or three forward in 15 or 20 years. But your opponents here won’t buy that. After all, if they admit they were wrong, they will be signing their own political death certificates.

Arbatov keeps advising you to just wait out Reagan. Come January, 1989, he won’t be there to kick us around any more. Of course, that’s what Arbatov always advises: just wait them out. That’s what he said in 1976 (you were still in Stavropol then, but I was in the CC apparat and remember it well): don’t make a deal with Ford, he said, the next guy may be easier. And what did we get? Carter. Couldn’t get a treaty out of the Senate even if it was to ratify a gift of Kamchatka. So old Georgy says, “Don’t worry, I see Nixon II just over the 1980 horizon.” And what do we get? Ronald Reagan. Frankly, this waiting game is for the birds. If his successor is easier for us to deal with, he won’t be able to deliver. And anyway, it will take him a couple of years to organize his Administration, so we are not talking about two and a half years, we are talking five at least.

You are a better judge than I as to whether we have five years to play with. But I doubt it. If we don’t get things moving before then, you may go down in our history as Khrushchev II. Managing a sovkhoz in the Urals is not the way I believe you want to pass your golden years, but the thought does concentrate the mind.

Actually, there is one strong argument in favor of dealing with Reagan, even if we could afford to wait for his successor. And that is: if we make a deal, he can deliver. The question our group addressed most intensively, therefore, is can we deal with Reagan, or is it futile to try?

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American Objectives

All in our group agree that the Americans understand our problems pretty well, and are out to exploit them to their advantage. They are feeling their oats and are pressing us everywhere. They finally seem to understand the importance of ideology and are fighting back just when most of the world is turned off on ours. They clearly want to gain military superiority if they can. They know that we can’t compete in trade or economic aid, and therefore are trying to deprive us of our superpower status by blocking our use of military force.

We also agree that Reagan has really stuck it to you this year. Support for counterrevolutionary forces in Afghanistan, Angola and Nicaragua is up. They hit Libya to our great embarrassment—not that we give a fig for Qaddafi, but it really made us look bad with our Arab friends. Makes it look like our weapons are no good—and if our weapons won’t work, what do they need us for? They also kicked a lot of our people out of the UN Mission, sent Naval ships through our territorial waters near Sevastopol, and refused to sign the concluding document at the Bern Conference, even though all their European friends wanted it. And now we have the insulting interim restraint decision.

What is puzzling about these actions is not that they were taken (we have to expect this sort of thing from the Americans), but the way they were taken. A lot of trumpeting and fanfare, as if they really wanted to rub it in. After all, if they want to give the bandits in Afghanistan stingers, that’s no more than what we would do if we were in their place, but why do they talk about it? They must realize that when they do this, it makes you look like you are knuckling under to them if you carry on with business as usual. Yuri, who spent several years bar hopping in Georgetown, says that sometimes these things happen by accident and that American officials are really pretty undisciplined, but the rest of us think that is absurd. Even two-kopek banana republics do better, and besides, there is a consistent pattern here. (By the way, you might ask Chebrikov to run an audit on what Yuri really did with all that hard currency the KGB gave him for recruitment when he was in Washington; you’ve got to wonder what sort of trash he was buying drinks for—that is, if he didn’t spend it all on himself!)

In short, all of us except Yuri agree that Reagan has put the squeeze on you, not only privately—which is understandable—but publicly—the reasons for which are harder to interpret. And this is the point on which we could not reach a consensus. Two broad theories emerged, which I will call A and B.

Theory A: Reagan has no intention of reaching any deals on important subjects. He wants you to come to the U.S. to give the appearance of negotiation to keep Congress and his Allies quiet, and to legitimize [Page 987] his aggressive policies toward us. His ultimate aim is to make it impossible for us to get the country moving again, and would not mind at all if Gromyko-style knuckleheads take over, since he calculates that this would doom us to stagnation or worse, and by the Year 2000 we couldn’t even maintain a first-rate military establishment.

Theory B: Reagan might be prepared to reach deals if the price is right. Americans are a riddle and it is dangerous to read logic as we see it into their actions. His messages to you sound like he wants to deal, and he certainly came across as an honest, straightforward man at Geneva. He has to think about history too, and probably does not want to be seen by posterity as one who forced an arms race on the world. His anti-communism need not be a barrier—Nixon was an anti-communist and we dealt with him—and could even help him get treaties ratified. (Besides, we’ve got to admit that those bungling predecessors of yours didn’t do much to make communism look good!)

A Strategy

Since we cannot be certain at this point which of the hypotheses about American intentions is correct, we must devise a strategy which takes both into account. Our recommendation is that it should have the following elements:

1. Although you need the meeting with Reagan, a firm commitment to a date is just about the only real lever we have left, so you should not rush to agree to a date. It is unlikely he will make substantive concessions for a date, but holding off until, say, September may concentrate American minds a bit. Actually, since the meeting cannot take place until November because of the American elections, nothing is lost by waiting until September to lock us in. We must not forget that he also needs the meeting with you, and is most unlikely to take the blame for scuttling it.

2. There is no way to find out which of the hypotheses about American intentions is correct without testing them. The Americans have made much of our failure to get particulars to the negotiating table. (They expect us to understand delays in their interagency process but never understand the problems we have here.) Anyway, things are beginning to jell a bit, and we should start putting some things down on the table. Our strategy should be to put in just enough in the way of concessions to see whether the Americans will answer with some of their own. Above all, we must not make the 1983 mistake and walk away from any negotiating tables.

3. We should keep up our public campaign on “peace” issues. This has been selling pretty well, particularly to naive publics in Europe, though we shouldn’t expect it to persuade anybody intelligent enough to run a government. Even with the Chernobyl setback, we have to [Page 988] keep plugging, and maybe eventually we can even get some advantage out of the fear of everything nuclear that the Chernobyl incident unleashed. Our peace propaganda will continue to be necessary as a hedge, in case Theory A is correct, and as an instrument of pressure if Theory B turns out to be correct. However, we must beware of raising expectations too high here, or else you will seem a failure even if you make some progress.

4. We have already made some progress in setting out an ideological framework which will give you more wiggle room. In developing the theme of “interdependence” we have a framework which will explain making some real concessions if they seem necessary, without really committing us to anything specific. Nevertheless, this will give you much more flexibility to deal than the old Gromyko formulas would have.

5. On nuclear testing, the marshals are already howling that you have stopped testing too long. (Who could have predicted that Chernobyl would require us to extend the moratorium a few more months?) However, when we resume in August, we should be able to get 20-odd shots off in a few weeks, and that will put us back on schedule. On this one, we clearly miscalculated, since we thought it would at least force Reagan to talk about a CTB. We should consider letting our experts talk about the issue as he has suggested, since we still want to find a way to stop the X-ray laser research. And maybe if things move a little in START, he will give you a fig leaf by agreeing to talk about a CTB at some point down the road. That wouldn’t be worth much, but you could at least claim that the whole moratorium caper had brought a useful result.

6. Whenever we manage to knock enough heads to get a negotiable position on START, it will probably be time to ease off some of Gromyko’s stupid positions on Star Wars. To be sure, they have been a useful propaganda ploy to cover our problems in getting our act together, but objectively speaking, it is not an immediate military problem, and Gromyko really put us in a box politically. The fact is that we need SDI as much as the Americans, and if we can play for time, the KGB should be able to steal the blueprints before Congress finishes debating whether to fund deployment or not. What we really must have is some face saving at this point. We’ve made so much of SDI, that you really are going to have to claim that you’ve gotten something from Reagan, or else there might be mutiny in the ranks here. Some of the fellows are toying with the idea of settling for a commitment not to break out of the ABM Treaty for a few years, and that might do the trick. Not that it really means anything, since the Americans will continue their research no matter what, but just might sell in a pinch, since most of our people really don’t understand the first thing about SDI—or any other military issue, for that matter.

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In sum, we are in a box. The Americans have us where they have wanted us for a long time, and seem to have learned quite a bit from the stupid mistakes dunderheads like Khrushchev and Brezhnev made. It was doubtless a mistake ever to think that they never would wake up and see what was going on. But the bottom line is that all this is coming to a head on your watch, and you don’t have an easy out. You can’t live without Reagan, and we can’t be sure you can live with him. But we really don’t see any alternative to giving it a try. One thing is sure: any way you cut it, the price we’re going to have to pay for a little breathing space is steep. Your biggest problem may turn out to be how to keep the long knives out of your back in the process.

P.S.: That analysis you requested of specific issues will follow in a couple of days.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron June 1986 (4/6). Top Secret; Eyes Only for the General Secretary. The date and classification marking are in Russian. Reagan initialed at the top right-hand corner of the memorandum. Matlock wrote this fictitious memorandum to provide his assessment of possible thinking within the Soviet leadership. In a June 16 handwritten covering note to Reagan, Poindexter explained: “Mr. President, This is a translation of a fictitious memo by Jack Matlock that represents his best analysis as to what is going on in the minds of the Kremlin leaders. This style paper makes very interesting reading. I agree with Jack’s analysis. John.” Reagan responded: “Tell Jack—thanks. Can I have a copy of this for my own pleasure? RR.”