Behind the Headlines After Brezhnev
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Behind the Headlines After Brezhnev

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West European experts believe the new Soviet leadership will continue the late Leonid Brezhnev’s cautious policy in the Middle East but will crack down harder on dissidents at home, especially Jews seeking the right to emigrate.

Yuri Andropov, the former head of the KGB who succeeded Brezhnev as First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and Konstantin Chernenko, the Politburo member who nominated him for that office, are both known to lack confidence in the ability of the Arab countries to unite and act together. It is their conviction that the main external danger to the Soviet Union lies in the West.

Consequently, the experts say, the new leadership will continue Brezhnev’s policy in the Middle East of carefully avoiding any major confrontation either with Israel or the U.S. The Soviet Union will continue to supply Syria and other Soviet client states in the area with arms. But the flow will not be increased nor will it be upgraded qualitatively.

According to one French intelligence source, "It now seems even more unlikely than before that Syria will obtain the top grade combat planes and missiles which it had been demanding in Moscow."


Even before Brezhnev’s death last Wednesday at the age of 75, Syrian and Egyptian diplomats and army officers complained of "tepid support" of the Arab cause in the Kremlin. Andropov and Chernenko were often named in that connection. In general, the successors to Brezhnev are elderly men and loathe to undertake "an adventurous course." They are expected to try to calm the bellicose instincts of their Syrian and Libyan clients.

The experts believe that for the time being, Moscow will try to achieve a status quo in the Middle East to preserve its interests and influence in the region without expanding them. Some Western diplomats believe that Brezhnev’s death has given the U.S. and Israel a chance to attempt to find a global solution to the Middle East conflict without Russian interference. But given the unpredictability of Soviet politics, the "period of grace" may not last longer than a year.


The prompt succession of Andropov in fact surprised many Kremlin-watchers who had expected a prolonged war of succession between Brezhnev’s heirs for the top leadership post. Some predicted that a nominal successor would be appointed until the power struggle was resolved. But Andropov appears to be a strong man. At 68, he is known to be backed by the military establishment, the secret service and the police.

From 1967-82 he headed the Soviet Security Committee which is responsible for the KGB and the police. Recently, he bested Chemenko, 71, for the No. 2 spot in the Soviet establishment, the post of Central Committee Secretary left vacant by the death of Mithail Suslov earlier this year.

Andropov is known to have been among those Politburo members who frequently complained of the relatively "moderate" course Brezhnev tried to steer on human rights. He believed those "lenient policies allowed the dissident movement to flourish. Experts believe that given a free hand, he will ruthlessly suppress any internal challenge to the Soviet system.

His top priority is said to be a quiet, stable social and political climate within the USSR. Accordingly, dissidents are expected to suffer even more than in the past, particularly if they are perceived to be connected to any foreign interests, such as Zionism.

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