Some of the questions raised about the "inside story" brought out of Moscow by a Soviet emigre who says he was "involved in advising top-level Soviet leaders" deserve to be examined. Is he a "plant," intended by the Kremlin to influence Western thinking about the Soviet Union? Does his assessment of Kremlin views and motives ring true? Is his account of events, as distinct from his judgments, factually correct? Was he really as close to the top as he says?
Boris Rabbot, whose article was published recently in The Washington Post and reproduced in other papers throughout the world, left the Soviet Union last year and now lives in the United States. To take the last question first, his assertion that he was advising "top-level Soviet leaders" ought not to be read as referring to the 14-member Politburo, which comprises the top level of the Soviet leadership. The highest Soviet official with whom he was directly associated was Alexey Rumyantsev, once the editor of leading party jouranls, an economist and sociologist of comparatively liberal views who has grown increasingly distant from the inner circle in recent years.
But Rumyantsev remained a member of the Central Committee, which, although it is not the very top of the Soviet leadership structure, may be said to embrace the second level, below the Politburo. The members of the Central Committee, and others of like standing, make up a political elite of some 500 people, with access to a good deal of the information about policymaking that is denied to the Soviet population at large. Rumyantsev, who is now 72, has to serve on a number of committees and to contribute something of his more liberal views to their deliberations drawing on the work of younger people, such as sociologist Boris Rabbot, who is now 46.
This gave Rabbot access to the staff of the Central Committee itself and to some of the information available at that level. But the accuracy of some of the most dramatic information in his account, which describes the Kremlin struggle between hawks and doves, is questioned by government analysts in Washington and other Western capitals. Rabbot says that the passing of the Jackson Amendment, which denied to the Soviet Union the credit and trade facilities expected by the Kremlin, combined with a deterioration in Brezhnev's health to weaken his position to the point of his offering his resignation at the end of 1974.
Alexander Shelepin, the hard-line Politburo member who was after Brezhnev's job, was arguing, according to Rabbot, that since Brezhnev's policy of detente had failed, the Soviet Union should initiate a new policy by sending "volunteers" to Portugal, as it had sent "volunteers" to fight in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Brezhnev countered with a compromise proposal - the use of Cuban troops in Angola - and he won. Shelepin was dismissed on April 16 and Brezhenev remained on top.
Analysts who claim to have access to detailed information on the chronology of the Portugal-Moscow-Angola triangle say that Rabbot's account just does not square with the facts, since some of the key moves occurred after Shelepin's dismissal, not before. From this some analysts proceed to argue that Rabbot's conclusion is equally suspect. Rabbot says that "political diehards in Washington who supported the Jackson Amendment were unconsciously hleping their conservative counterparts in Moscow," that the adventure in Angola was the Kremlin's answer to the Jackson amendment and that, more recently, President Carter's policies must have seemed to Moscow like a continuation of the spirit of the jackson amendment.
Rabbot has thus given offense in those quarters in Washington that hold that unremitting pressure is the most effective policy in relations with Moscow. They believe that Rabbot's analysis points toward the need for concessions to the Kremlin and that it is therefore in the Kremlin's interest. Rabbot says that "the revival of conservatism has already given us the Angolan adventure and delayed the signing of SALT II. If the American government does not soften Carter's hard line on human rights, the Soviet government may adopt an even more conservative position." While Rabbot's critics on the far right of the Washington foreign-policy spectrum concede that there is no evidence that he is a plant, they maintain that a plant might well have been expected to argue as he does.
Others find Rabbots account more congenial, because it confirms their own conclusions. His argument proceeds largely from an analysis that shows that the Kremlin's policy-making process may be seen as a result of struggle between hawks and doves in the Soviet leadership. This is an analysis who validity I have tried to document in this column for many years, in the face of considerable skeptcism from other analysts; it is not an argument that will be readily accepted from Rabbot just on his say-so.
I certainly do not think he is a plant, and his assessment of the Kremlin views and motives rings true to me. Many parts of this account of what was happening in Moscow coincide with speculative analyses presented in this column at various times. But if he wishes his analysis to be widely accepted, the book he is now writing will have to provide facts, as distinct from the generalizations in which his article abounds. And the facts themselves will have to stand up to analytical scrutiny.