Danger in Moscow

Yuri Andropov
Yuri Andropov; drawing by David Levine

Of Time magazine’s two “men of the year,” Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov, one consented to an interview. Reagan said: “I think there is less of a risk and less of a danger [of war] today than there was a few years ago…. Because [then] there was more risk of someone gambling if it did not look as if we could retaliate in any extremely damaging way.”1 The first statement undervalues both the seriousness of the danger of deteriorating superpower relations in recent years and the potentially explosive consequences of tensions inside the Soviet Union. The second statement may well overestimate the importance of America’s military capacity, should the Soviet Union decide to gamble.

Having recently returned from my third trip to the Soviet Union in thirteen months, I should like here to convey the mood in Moscow and the formidable threat presented by the combination of American bellicosity and Soviet anger and vulnerability. I want also to suggest ways of improving the poisonous atmosphere that exacerbates the far from normal hostility of the two powers, which persists notwithstanding the recent gestures of the Reagan administration. I speak as an advocate of a strong defense; of increased military spending by the United States, Western Europe, and Japan to counter one-sided Soviet gains during the last decade; the deployment of INF weapons in Europe on political if not military grounds; the disciplined use of policies concerning trade, credit, and technology transfer to advance the goals of the Western alliance; and the containment of Soviet expansionism. I wish I could speak as an optimist who expects the dangers I encountered to be recognized and enlightened statesmanship to outweigh political advantage during the election year.


In Moscow, I found that the dominant mood among officials was one of anger; among people outside official circles, it was one of fear. The urban population has been deeply affected during the last two years by a war scare; and this has been fueled by incessant, agitated, and strident vilification of the United States. The higher officials of the Party and government leaders have been stirred to defiant hostility toward the United States; the combination of American insult and pressure since 1982 has been made more bitter by the recognition among Russian elites of their own political and economic vulnerability. An increasingly intolerant neo-Stalinism in domestic affairs coexists with urgent advocacy of economic reform. These different tendencies share one volatile ingredient—the desire to reassert Soviet greatness at home and abroad.

Residents of Moscow have been subjected to an assault of anti-American propaganda that recalls Stalin’s attacks of the early 1950s. Their published and unpublished letters to newspapers and their insistent questions at public lectures suggest the impact of a campaign against American policies and leaders that has been more primitive and offensive than any others I have observed during the last three decades. President Reagan, for example,…

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