There is something almost inherently deceptive about successful EastWest summitry. For Americans, with their penchant for instant understanding, seem already to have digested the Moscow summit, figured it into the calculus of the presidential campaign, and begun to yield once again to the comfortable assumptions of convergence.
It is only natural that after hearing intimate vignettes about the easy banter in the Kremlin between President Nixon and Secretary Brezhnev or absorbing the warmly advertised agreements to curb the arms race, to link up in space, and to collaborate in attacking cancer, heart disease, and threats to the environment, some Americans should be tempted to presume that the two superpowers are really becoming more and more alike. Their nuclear standoff, their huge economies, their modern technology and organization impel them along convergent tracks—so the reasoning goes.
And this would not be the first warm breeze between Washington and Moscow to bring balmy expectations of liberation—a real opening up of American-Soviet contacts, a significantly improved image of America in Russia, a relaxation of Soviet ideological controls; in short, a more fundamentally normal relationship between us. Such expectations rose for periods in the 1950s and 1960s after less momentous occasions.
Yet however impressive the agreement reached and significant the new relationship struck by Nixon and Brezhnev, the summit failed to yield the kind of tangible impact on Soviet life that justifies regarding it as a milestone for real convergence.
There has been no quickening of contacts with Americans, not even a noticeable improvement in the conduct of business among middle officialdom, no hint of anything akin to what President Nixon has in mind when he talks about a free exchange of ideas. Evidently, it will take more than a summit to end the jamming of Voice of America. Nor has there been any sign of political liberalization at home; indeed, just the opposite, a tightening up has been under way.
Soviet attitudes toward the United States, long a schizophrenic mixture of admiration, envy, resentment, and outright enmity, seem surprisingly unaffected. The young still hunger after jeans and rock music, and they worship American technology. Older intellectuals admire more serious art and literature, though some, with a well-bred preference for older centers iike Paris, ridicule American culture and taste as trashy. Others, often politically orthodox, shudder at reports of American crime, drug addiction, unemployment, shady business practices, or racial problems, and see nothing to counterbalance such ills. Typically, what to Americans seems a reasonable request for long overdue Soviet repayment of post-World War II civilian lend-lease is resented in Moscow. “America is a Shylock demanding a pound of flesh for cans of tyshenka [Spam],”one Soviet insider complained.
Ordinary Russians are glad, of course, that Nixon came, and relieved—especially after his visit to Peking, which unnerved them—that the White House and the Kremlin are proclaiming peaceful coexistence. Many offer the comment that they saw the President on Soviet TV. Yet despite the ballyhoo abroad over the first visit of an American chief of state to the Soviet capital, its impact seems to have been remarkably shallow. The favorable impression created by Mr. Nixon’s TV address, for example, was only skin-deep. Intellectuals, not to mention the man in the street, have only the vaguest comprehension of what actually took place in Moscow in late May. For the Soviet leadership has so far mastered the technique of preventing warmth at the summit from melting glacial coolness below. Under the pressures of nuclear stalemate and rivalry with China, the Kremlin has devised a method for combining political accommodation with insulating its own body politic from alien ideological viruses.
For Russians, the prologue to the Moscow talks was vastly different than for Americans. No Soviet citizen outside a narrow slice of the political elite had been given any reason to expect important accords to be signed on limiting the arms race. The acronymic stepchildren of the nuclear balance of terror—SALT, ICBM, MIRV, and ABM—never had a chance to become household words here because they have rarely ever been mentioned in public. Soviet publications deigned to report the SALT talks only a few times over the past two and a half years, and then only in the bland and unrevealing arrival-and-departure statements of chief negotiators. Aside from displays of rocketry in the May Day parades, weaponry for most Russians still exists largely at the World War II level of tanks, planes, artillery, and cruisers.
So much in the dark is everyone but those at the pinnacle of power that one thoroughly trusted and thoroughly politicized Soviet journalist lost a bottle of cognac to a foreign friend by betting there would be—and could be—no major arms agreement until the Vietnam War was settled. And this was before the Haiphong crisis.
Here again, the picture given ordinary Soviets was vastly different from the one Americans had. In Washington, the sense of confrontation over the mining of Haiphong harbor was palpable. The world press blossomed quickly with comparisons to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and speculation about Soviet minesweepers sailing to lift the mine blockade. Democratic politicians belabored Nixon for risky brinkmanship, and the White House seemed to encourage the interpretation that it wanted to force a showdown with Moscow.
Given that view of the world, intelligent Soviets would undoubtedly have found it hard to understand how their government could endure such a challenge and go through the visit at the price of disagreement with allies in Hanoi. But because the Kremlin chose to slide around Nixon’s challenge rather than meet it head on, Russians were spared any sense of alarm. For twenty days before, during, and after the summit, the Soviet press did not mention the mining. Moreover, it entirely ignored the return from Moscow—during the summit talks—of a plane carrying two dead and twenty-three wounded Soviet seamen back from North Vietnam, casualties of American air raids against port areas.
The result, not surprisingly, was that ordinary Russians took the press denunciations of American air raids on the North as routine and knew too little of the new situation to share the real frustration of the Soviet elite— just as the public now seems to know too little to share the leadership’s sense of triumph after the summit.
In funny little ways the great gulf between the attitudes of the leaders and the led emerge. On the night of President Nixon’s arrival, a ranking Soviet journalist was asked by an American to explain why Leonid Brezhnev, the party leader, had not come to the airport to greet the American Chief Executive.
“What do you think?” he sputtered in genuine anger. “Vietnam! People here are furious about what Nixon is doing there. We have received hundreds of letters attacking him and not one in his favor.” Suddenly, determined to prove his point, he stopped a startled pedestrian.
“Excuse me, we are correspondents taking opinions,” he explained in Russian to a young man in shirtsleeves whom he had nearly pinned against a building. ‘Tell us what you think of President Nixon’s coming here.”
Puzzled and obviously pained by the forceful intrusion, the young fellow hesitated. Then, prodded for an answer by the Soviet correspondent, he responded meekly: “I am glad Nixon is here.”
“What do you think of America?” the Soviet newsman demanded.
Again a pause. Finally, with uncertainty, he said, “I like it very much,” and sensing a chance to escape, he fled down the sidewalk while the Soviet correspondent wheeled on the American. “Your luck,” he said. ‘That’s one in a hundred.”
The visit itself, of course, was a closed affair—no comparison with Nikita S. Khrushchev’s lusty exposure to the American people in 1959, which was the summit visit Mr. Nixon was returning. No incident on this visit even remotely matched Khrushchev’s rambling press conference in the cornfields at Coon Rapids, Iowa; his debate with American labor leaders; his famous boast to wealthy executives that Communism would one day bury capitalism.
The American President was elaborately shielded from the Russian people. He emerged from his Kremlin talks and official receptions to lay wreaths at gravesides, carefully sealed off by so many rings of security men that American reporters were sometimes unable to get near him, let alone ordinary Russians.
The gap between American and Soviet political styles was never better illustrated than on the day of his arrival. American newspapers printed an advance map of the route that Mr. Nixon’s motorcade would follow, but no route was shown in the Soviet press. Even the timing was undisclosed except to those discerning enough to read the real meaning of an item labeled “international program” in the daily TV diary.
Thousands profited from that little tip, but even so, numberless others miscalculated. One crowd of about two thousand were still standing, eight rows deep, at Manezh Square not far from the Kremlin fully half an hour after the President had been delivered inside the fortress by a motorcade that had used another approach to the Kremlin.
“Why are you waiting?” a visitor asked.
“To see,” replied a slender student with a briefcase.
“Why not wait at the other end of the Kremlin where he was supposed to go?”
“Because this is better—a better view.” the young man insisted, unknowing because Authority had not deigned to inform him.
“But Nixon has already gone into the Kremlin—at the other end,” the visitor explained. “It’s all over.”
“Oh,” said the young man, still frozen to his spot.
While the President was closeted in the Kremlin and Soviet newsmen and officials were charming the American press over caviar and vodka, the telephones of such well-known dissident Soviet liberals as physicists Andrei Sakharov and Valery Chalidze and historian Roy Medvedev were disconnected for the duration of the visit. Jewish activists were either called up for military duty or simply arrested and kept in detention until after his departure to insure that there would be no untoward demonstrations.
On the day President Nixon left Moscow, after his widely viewed television address to the Russian people and several televised signing ceremonies in the Kremlin, shoppers were literally locked in stores or research institutes along Leninsky Prospekt while his motorcade made its way to the airport. The Soviet explanation was that security required this. But more than one American official suspected that the leadership did not want ordinary Soviets paying too warm a tribute to an American chief of state.
The Kremlin has handled the postsummit period with even greater delicacy, given the dilemma posed by the results. To defend its accommodation with an American President condemned in Hanoi and privately by some Soviet hardliners, the Kremlin has unleashed a great fanfare in the press hailing the triumphs of the summit. But, in fact, little has been disclosed, because if the arms agreements alone were fully spelled out, they would have broad implications for the structure of Soviet society and the whole process of maintaining political conformity through a sense of siege.
As it is, the mood of détente with America has awakened vague hopes among ordinary Russians that trade with the United States will grow, that more Americans will visit here, that perhaps more Russians will be allowed to go West, and that curbing the arms race will pay dividends for Soviet consumers. But there has been no parallel to the American congressional debate on the arms pacts, carrying the process of public education further. The uninitiated have been left to glean the meaning from the bare texts of the agreements printed in Pravda. And even Soviet intellectuals do not consider it strange that they should take these new pacts on faith, leaving it to the military to be sure that they are carried out.
“People don’t understand those documents,”said one well-read, welltraveled linguist. “They simply understand that agreements were signed, and they hope this will mean less will be spent on arms and more for a better life for the people. They are happy that peace seems more secure. But they feel the details are for the armed forces to worry about.”
For the few with the wit and patience to study the fine print, it has come as a shock to learn that behind the screen of continuing ideological struggle with America, the Soviet leadership has consented not to interfere with American spy satellites, not to erect effective missile defenses, and even to agree with Washington where to locate those it does construct.
The protocol giving the precise numbers of submarine-based missiles permitted for each side has been withheld from the Soviet public. So has the flood of information available in America on the size of respective arsenals.
One liberal intellectual, who learned about all this from foreign sources, declared that this information would have explosive impact here. If it became known that the Kremlin and the White House were sharing that kind of information, he said, it would be increasingly difficult to make Soviet chemists, biologists, geologists, and other scientists and intellectuals submit to elaborate censorship controls on their own more modest academic findings. If the Kremlin shares such vital information with its main ideological enemy, he reasoned, what pretext is there for secrecy at home?
His reaction and that of others to the news that the Soviet Union was being allowed more missiles than the United States exposed another awkward problem for the Kremlin. “We must be getting the extra missiles for China,” he said.
The financial implications of the arms agreements have also been withheld from the public here. The Soviet press has been careful not to encourage public expectations of a better deal for consumers, even though that may have been one of the Kremlin’s motivations in the first place. The press has ignored Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird’s statements that the pact will save the United States $5 billion in defense expenditures over the next five years. Instead, it has reported regularly his demands for new strategic spending.
In its effort to command support among the faithful for the summit, the Kremlin has attached a string of generalized superlatives to the results. One expert on Soviet-American relations, Georgy Arbatov, told a national television audience that the results were of paramount importance, comparable to American recognition of the Soviet regime in 1933 or American-Soviet wartime partnership.
But no similar sense of camaraderie has followed. Moscow may be in the market for American grain, but it bars the American Embassy’s agricultural attaché from a trip through farm areas open to other foreign travelers. The American Navy takes Soviet naval officers in Washington on a two-week tour of American naval installations, but American officers here are lucky to get a day in a Soviet military academy in landlocked Moscow.
Even where people want better relations, old habits and reflexes persist. A Foreign Ministry official told one American journalist after the summit that the word was out to be nicer to Americans, but within minutes he was complaining to the same reporter about his dispatches. The arms agreement may have committed both sides to open skies, but when an American newsman tried to take photographs of a new Soviet gasoline station, the manager stopped him and reported the incident to the police.
Nor has Brezhnev’s entertainment of President Nixon at his country dacha produced parallel hospitality at lower levels. In the season of salesmanship that prevailed during the summit, more than one Soviet journalist invited American acquaintances to renew old social contacts that had withered under restrictions here. But after the summit season passed, engagements were broken and all but the selected few Soviets with special clearances or with a devil-may-care attitude became wary once again about seeing Americans. Even Soviet students have been called in recently by police and told not to mix with resident Americans here. And clearly there is nothing comparable in this country to the stream of Soviet officials and editors who travel widely across the United States lecturing to American universities and civic groups.
Domestically, the controls here seem a bit tighter this summer than before. Bulat Okudzhava, a writer and guitarist, has been purged from the Communist Party for refusing to disavow the publication abroad by Russian émigré organizations of some of his politically daring songs. Pyotr Yakir, a bearded father figure in the dissident movement and a particularly outspoken anti-Stalinist, has been arrested and charged with antiSoviet activities in what is taken to be a determined police campaign to snuff out liberal underground publications and to cripple the dissident movement generally. Other arrests and interrogations are being reported in Kiev, Leningrad, Novosibirsk, and Kharkov. A major political trial is evidently in preparation against nationalist-minded intellectuals in the Ukraine, including Vyacheslav Chornovil, Ivan Svitlichny, Yevgen Sverstiuk, and Ivan Dzyuba.
Such developments prompted Andrei Sakharov, the physicist whose statement on human rights in 1968 stirred excitement and hopes for Soviet liberalization, to lament what he called the increasing repression in the Soviet Union over the past fifteen months. The picture he presented was one of a split-level society: a privileged ruling stratum “tenaciously clinging to their public and secret privileges,” and all other people, deprived of the right to travel, access to information, and freedom from “totalitarian interference of the state in citizens’ lives through dismissals from jobs and training institutes, refusal of residence permits, and restrictions on professional promotion” for refusing to go along with officialdom.
Feeling no pain
None of this means, of course, that the tone and temperament of relations between the White House and the Kremlin have not undergone a fundamental transformation for the better and that the Soviet leadership will not continue to woo President Nixon.
In an increasingly complex world in which China, Japan, and Europe will play large and still uncertain roles, the Kremlin feels much more comfortable now that it has won the Nixon Administration’s formal acceptance of global parity with the Soviet Union and has rekindled Washington’s interest in superpower diplomacy.
For the sake of parity and bipolarity, Brezhnev was prepared to override objections within the Soviet Politburo as well as risk serious frictions with Hanoi. It is now apparent that he refused to be pressured by North Vietnam to try to crash through the American blockade of North Vietnamese ports, or by hardliners at home, like Pyotr Y. Shelest, the former Ukrainian Party boss now demoted to a deputy premiership, to postpone or cancel the summit talks with President Nixon.
“As a personality Nixon fascinates the Soviets, but he worries them,” explains one senior European diplomat. “They find him unpredictable. And with their five-year plans and all those other plans, they like to be able to look ahead and know where they are going. With Nixon, they can never be sure, and this makes them uneasy. Now, after the summit, they think they can be more sure of him.”
Soviet officials put it another way. They sense an American retrenchment in the world that is working to Moscow’s advantage. They see an accumulation of pressures on the United States posed by the Vietnam War, increasing economic competition from Western Europe and Japan, and domestic social and economic dislocations. All this, they feel, has made Washington more willing to accept Moscow on an equal footing.
On a personal level, Brezhnev has profited greatly from the simultaneous achievement of strategic equality with Washington and West German acceptance of the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. So deftly has he identified himself as the patron of the new climate of détente that some liberal intellectuals who were privately chastizing him four years ago because of the Czechoslovakia intervention now suggest that the only hope of any liberalization at home or for more open contacts with the West rests on Brezhnev’s accumulation of still further power.
“We need a strong dictator,” explained one liberal-minded writer with scant concern for notions of convergence between the Soviets and Americans, “to overcome the orthodoxy of the Party apparatus.”