The Soviets: Changing the Guard

After Brezhnev's 18-year rule, the U.S.S.R. gets an enigmatic new leader

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While many world leaders, including French Premier Pierre Mauroy and Indian Prime Minister Gandhi, announced that they planned to attend Brezhnev's funeral, Reagan rejected the arguments made by Secretary of State George Shultz, National Security Adviser Clark and CIA Director William Casey that the President's presence would be a gesture of conciliation toward the new Soviet leadership. Instead, Reagan decided to send a delegation headed by Shultz and Vice President George Bush, who interrupted a seven-nation visit to Africa. The decision drew immediate criticism. Reagan's failure to go to Moscow, said Massachusetts Democratic Senator Paul Tsongas, represents "a lost opportunity" to make a dramatic gesture.

Defending the decision, a Shultz aide said, "We don't think the succession itself requires a major reassessment of the U.S. position." At a press conference on the day Brezhnev's death was announced, Reagan said that he had no intention of modifying his stern stance toward the Soviets without any give on their part. "We shouldn't delude ourselves," he declared. "Peace is the product of strength, not of weakness, effacing reality and not believing in false hopes." The President went on, "For ten years, detente was based on words from them and not on any deeds to back those words up." Said he, "It takes two to tango," and the U.S. needs some sign "that they want to tango also."

Much the same sentiment was expressed by Andropov. Addressing the Central Committee, he said, "We know well that the imperialists cannot be talked into peace. It must be defended by relying on the invincible might of the Soviet armed forces." The speech echoed Brezhnev's last public words. Surveying a Soviet military parade three days before his death, he had promised to deal any aggressor "a crushing retaliatory strike."

Thus even before Brezhnev could be properly buried it was clear that the most important issue facing the new Soviet leadership was the dangerous deterioration in Soviet-American relations. The Kremlin has been concerned that the Reagan Administration may be bent not just on containing the U.S.S.R. but on defeating and destroying the Soviet system. Soviet officials say their leaders have been dismayed by four themes in Administration policy: repeated declarations by Reagan and his aides that Soviet Communism is destined to end up on the ash heap of history, combined with a presidential call for a crusade against Communism; the Administration's military buildup; official statements and leaked documents suggesting that the Administration is seriously preparing for the possibility of nuclear war; reports of stepped-up covert action by the CIA against Soviet clients around the world.

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