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Biden's Secret Diplomacy By: Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Here before us is a Soviet archival document,* a top secret report by a communist apparatchik who had received a delegation of US Senators led by Joseph Biden in 1979. After describing routine arms control discussions, it quotes Biden as telling the Soviets off-record that he did not really care about the persecution of Russian dissidents. He and other Senators might raise human rights issues with their Soviet counterparts, but only to be seen by the public as defenders of human rights, not to have those problems really solved. They would happily take no for an answer.

Vadim V. Zagladin, the then deputy head of the International Department of the CPSU Central Committee (the organization formerly known as the Comintern), wrote in the report:

The delegation did not officially raise the issue of human rights during the negotiations. Biden said they did not want 'to spoil the atmosphere with problems which are bound to cause distrust in our relations.' However, during the breaks between the sessions the senators passed to us several letters concerning these or those 'refuseniks'.

Refuseniks were one of the best known groups of oppressed citizens in the USSR at that time: thousands of Jews who were refused exit permissions to emigrate to Israel on various trumped-up pretexts.

Unofficially, Biden and [Senator Richard] Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for 'human rights'. They must prove to their voters that they are 'effective in fulfilling their wishes'. In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.

In the same conversation, Biden asked us to ensure that senators' appeals on those issues are not left unanswered - even if we just reply that the letter is received but we cannot do anything.

Like most secret documents of the Cold War years, this report still remains classified in Russia's official archives. However, a copy is available in the Gorbachev Foundation Archive in Moscow, where it was deposited by Mr. Zagladin - who himself works for the Gorbachev Foundation since the collapse of the USSR. Under pressure from the Kremlin, the archive had to limit the access to some of its documentary collections. However, Zagladin's documents (Inventory 3/1) - including the one quoted above - were still available to researchers a few years ago, and that is how we obtained copies.

Of course, when people's reputations are at stake, a natural question is: how far can we believe a document written by a communist? Other things being equal, if it is Zagladin's word against a word of a U.S. Senator, one would surely believe the latter. Hopefully, Sen. Biden and Sen. Lugar will fairly soon provide the public with their own accounts of that episode, and then we will be able to compare.

Yet, we should not forget that these top secret documents were never intended to see the light of the day. They were written not for us, but for a very narrow circle of Zagladin's communist bosses. Indeed, it was his job to deceive simple mortals; but deceiving the Politburo would be both pointless and dangerous. After reading and analyzing hundreds of suchlike reports by Zagladin, one cannot but conclude that he always portrayed his foreign collocutors as tougher, not softer, than they really were. That was natural, because that was safer for Zagladin himself. It was his job to cultivate foreign contacts, which made him to a degree responsible for their behavior. If he reported that someone was pro-Soviet and then the man turned out to be anti-Soviet, Zagladin would be held responsible. That is why he always preferred to err on the other side.

In any case, diplomacy is not so much about what you mean as how you are understood. If you go to Moscow sincerely determined to fight like a lion for human rights, and then leave the enemy with an impression that you don't care – this is a monumental failure. It hardly matters what Senators Biden and Lugar actually thought about Soviet human rights abuses in the first place. If they really cared for human rights and meant to pressure the Soviets – so much the worse. Be that as it may, they were understood as the document reads. The message which the enemy received from them was this: we don't care for those whom you keep torturing and rotting in prisons, but we would appreciate if you help us improve our public image.

There was more to it than simply the betrayal of dissidents; for this involved the question of the Senators' own independence. Indeed, they should have known that every Soviet official who dealt with high-ranking foreigners would see them not as partners, but as potential targets for recruitment, potential collaborators or fellow-travelers. On such occasions, the Soviets always searched for a way to corrupt you. The worst thing you could do was to show the enemy that you depend on him in any way. For any Western politician, telling the Soviets that his public image depends on their good will was the first step to becoming an agent of influence, de facto if not de jure.

Today, it is a fact rather than a possibility that the next U.S. administration will have to lead the free world in the Second Cold War. Respectively, the staunchest critics of Russia's authoritarianism from recent years - Senators McCain and Biden - are now at the center stage of the electoral campaign. Yet, fighting and winning this new Cold War will require more than just rhetoric. In order to work out correct strategies and tactics, it is more important than ever to analyze the lessons and mistakes of the first Cold War. 

To read Part II, "The West's Betrayal of Russian Dissidents," click here.

* [Top secret document is printed below]

9-20 April 1979 [?]

The memo by Vadim V. Zagladin, deputy head of the International Department of the CPSU Central Committee

ON THE BASIC CONTENTS OF TALKS WITH THE US SENATORS

During the official negotiations with the delegation of US senators led by J. Biden and the unofficial talks with the delegation's head and some members, our collocutors expressed a number of considerations of certain interest.

1. J. Biden, the head of the delegation, said that the mutual understanding that the SALT-2 treaty should be ratified is, basically, achieved in the Senate Commission for Foreign Affairs. However, four reservations should be formulated. The contents of those reservations have already been reported to us by our embassy in Washington.

While commenting on the contents of those reservations, Biden said they should not worry the Soviet Union because they do not concern the substance of the treaty. The only reservation which, in his opinion, may cause our 'displeasure' says that the SALT-2 should not prevent the US from providing the defence capabilities of their allies. In practice, the collocutor said, this is a way to confirm the US' preparedness to keep supplying European NATO members with modern US weapons, with the exception, naturally, of those types which are covered by the treaty itself.

The Senate Commission for Foreign Affairs is going to conclude the consideration of the treaty by the end of September. However, the Senate itself is starting to work on this problem later, possibly on the eve of the Christmas.

2. As for the problem of supplying Western Europe with new types of weapons, including the Pershing missiles etc.;, Biden said that no final decisions had been taken on this issue yet. Those decisions will be taken in December. And a lot there, he emphasised, will depend on the position of the Soviet Union.

During unofficial talks, Biden noted rather cynically that he personally and other members of the US Senate do not very much care about the Europeans' concerns. The main area of the US citizens' interest is the security of the US itself. Nevertheless, the feelings of our allies also 'concern us', he said. 'We cannot stop supporting our allies, because if we did that, we would have weakened America's own security'. Therefore, Biden continued, the Americans will probably have to solve the question of the supplies of the new types of armaments to Western Europe positively in principle. In any case, the majority in the Senate supports that, he said.

Then Biden meaningfully emphasised (and he was actively supported by Senator Prior here) that if the SALT-2 treaty is ratified before December, and if the Soviet Union makes some demonstrative steps in favour of further disarmament progress before the NATO meeting, the European countries probably may refrain from deploying new types of American weapons in Europe, or at least, postpone the decisions taken on this issue.

To our question on what exactly steps are meant here, Prior answered that, for example, the Soviet government might state it is not going to increase the number of SS-20 missiles any further.

3. Something that caught our attention was that this time, in both official and unofficial talks, the senators would raise more questions about the prospects, about the SALT-3, than the SALT-2. Unofficially, Biden said that 'the question of the future is more significant to the more serious senators - although not to all - than the question of the present treaty. The thing is (he explained) that many in the Senate consider the present treaty as a kind of an intermediate step, a booster for the further reduction of the arms race. Many in the US are very serious about this, believing it is possible to negotiate the reduction of the level of military confrontation with the Soviet Union. However, at the same time, many people are uncertain whether the USSR will agree to further serious steps of that kind.'

Most questions concerned two subjects. Firstly, whether the USSR would agree to a significant reduction of the number of nuclear missiles at the next stage (the senators were particularly interested in heavy missiles in this connection). Secondly, whether the USSR would agree to the explansion of control and the introduction of 'more effective methods' (for example, the 'black boxes', which were discussed during the negotiations on the prohibition of underground nuclear tests).

It emerged during that talks that, in spite of all huge work we are doing about this, many statements of Comrade L. I. Brezhnev were unknown to the majority of the senators - for example, his statement that the Soviet Union was not going to make the first nuclear strike against anyone. The relevant texts were given to them, along with some other documents of the CPSU and the Soviet government.

4. It should also be noted that, this time, the delegation did not officially raise the issue of human rights during the negotiations. Biden said the did not want 'to spoil the atmosphere with problems which are bound to cause distrust in our relations.' However, during the breaks between the sessions the senators passed to us several letters concerning these or those 'refuseniks'.

Unofficially, Biden and Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for 'human rights'. They must prove to their voters that they are 'effective in fulfilling their wishes'. In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.

In the same conversation, Biden asked us to ensure that senators' appeals on those issues are not left unanswered - even if we just reply that the letter is received but we cannot do anything. According to Biden, letters of this kind - if they are not addressed to the highest representatives of the Soviet state - sometimes remain unanswered.

To read Part II to this article, click here.


Vladimir Bukovsky is a former leading Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his fight for freedom. His works include To Build a Castle and Judgement in Moscow. Pavel Stroilov is a Russian exile in London and the editor and translator of Alexander Litvinenko’s book, Allegations.


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