[Paragraphs and sections not relating to the Liaison Missions have been removed for brevity]

119. Telegram From the Mission in Berlin to the Department of State/1/

Berlin, June 21, 1965, 1630Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Germany, Berlin, vol. 3. Secret; Immediate. Also sent to the White House for Bundy. Repeated to Bonn, Paris for the Embassy and USRO, London, USNMR, USCINCEUR, USELMLO, USAREUR, USAFE, and Moscow.

1769. Subj: Current Sov/GDR moves on Berlin: motivation and prospects. Evidence of increased Soviet/GDR pressures on the West in Berlin has mounted in recent weeks. The current East German helicopter activity presents the most immediate problems, but there have been other indications: (1) The Bundestag harassments in April. (2) The action against the USMLM house in Potsdam./2/ (3) The arrests during the Eastern and Whitsun pass periods. (4) The tougher East German propaganda line on future pass negotiations. (5) The June 15 shooting./3/ (6) Indications of possible difficulties with civilian rail and barge traffic.

/2/Reference is to a June 1 demonstration of about 800 persons against U.S. policies in Vietnam. The demonstration degenerated into violence. The Mission reported on the incident in telegram 1674 from Berlin, June 2. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 23-8 GER)

/3/East German police shot two East Berliners seeking to cross the Wall into the West. One was killed.

These developments raise a number of broader questions--in addition to the practical problem of how best to counter this or that Eastern move. Are the current pressures the prelude to a new Berlin crisis of major proportions? If so, what is the likely form and scope of the new crisis? If not, what are the probable limits of the pressures? What is the Sov/GDR motivation?

Berlin Senat views:

Berlin Senat circles have for some time been advancing a two-fold explanation of what they see basically as a new hard phase of GDR--as distinct from Soviet--policy. First, it is said that hard-line elements within the SED have been winning out over more moderate elements who are prepared to seek accommodation with the West. Second, the GDR is said to have acquired a certain independence of the USSR since the fall of Khrushchev, including a certain freedom to mount pressures on the West on its own initiative.

Strength and limitations of Senat views:

Senat representatives have contacts of various kinds with the East German authorities--at the Korber level, through unofficial intermediaries such as the East Berlin lawyer Vogel, and through newsmen and other informal channels. They presumably obtain certain insights into the internal workings of the East German regime. Two reservations seem in order, however. First, the East Germans--and the Soviets--have an interest in trying to draw the Senat further into contacts and negotiation. On this view, it would make good sense for the East to give the Senat the impression that there are people on the Eastern side who are prepared to do business reasonably, that these people are involved in an internal struggle with hard-liners, and that the West should take this factor into consideration and in turn be prepared to be reasonable in order to make things easier for the moderates on the other side. This is an old approach. Second, Brandt has an equally obvious interest in trying to make the point in the West about the hard-soft struggle on the Eastern side. His policy of small steps and the larger vistas it holds out make much better political sense against a background of factional dispute within the SED than on the assumption that the East German leadership is united. Moreover, in the West German election context Brandt presumably fears that an actual sharpening of the Berlin situation would work in favor of the party in power. He has already shown sensitivity on this score./4/

/4/Brandt's concerns were reported in telegram 1698 from Berlin, June 9. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 28 GER B)

Soviet-GDR relationship:

In the question of the relationship between the Ulbricht regime and Moscow, the Mission has previously expressed its belief that Ulbricht doubtless feels more comfortable now than he did before Khrushchev's removal. The new Soviet leadership turned away sharply from Khrushchev's somewhat experimental approach to the Federal Republic. Soviet efforts to muffle the Sino-Soviet dispute in the wake of Khrushchev's removal must also have been a relief to Ulbricht, and he has used the opportunity to improve his own relations with Peiping. In purely personal terms, Ulbricht--now an elder statesman of the Communist world--probably feels on more equal terms with the Brezhnev-Kosygin team than he did with Khrushchev. He must also realize his value to the post-Khrushchev leadership, confronted as it is with difficult internal and external problems it has--one with demonstrated ability to keep things together in East Germany in times of stress. Ulbricht's foreign policy successes, notably his visit to the UAR and Tito's recent visit to the GDR, and the modest recovery of the East German economy, have no doubt also given the East German leader added confidence which would be reflected in his relations with Moscow and in his public posture towards the West.

Nevertheless, it is a large step from these considerations to the proposition that the East German regime has a new-found freedom to run harassments on Berlin which would affect the Allies directly, and thus bring broader questions of Soviet-Western relations into play. Such a development would be contrary to what we have assumed--and what long experience has shown--is a basic Soviet interest, namely to keep Berlin matters affecting relations with the Western Powers firmly in their own hands. It is difficult to imagine that this interest is now in process of changing. In a period of apparent overall caution in Soviet policy toward the West, it would seem that the need for control of the Berlin situation would be more than ever necessary for Moscow. It will be recalled in this connection that the Polish defector Tykocinski was categorical on the point of Soviet control of any moves in Berlin which might affect their relations with the West.

Positive factors in current Soviet-GDR attitude:

In short, we believe the Senat's views are not in themselves altogether satisfactory in explaining the current situation. It is also relevant to note that the pressures on the West from the Soviets and the East Germans have been accompanied by some factors which point in the other direction. (1) The Soviets have moved with reasonable speed to repair the damage to the USMLM house. (2) The East Germans finally released the two West Berliners arrested at Easter, even though the East German who duped them and escaped to West Berlin with their identity papers was not extradited. (3) The East Germans have designated an official to conduct future pass negotiations. (4) The Reichsbahn position on rail tariffs seems not to be as hard as it was once thought to be. (5) US official civilian entry to East Berlin has been resumed without difficulty. (6) Ambassador Seydoux seems to have found Abrasimov in a fairly relaxed and uncombative frame of mind last week. (7) The GDR is apparently continuing to [garble] to the FRG through private lawyer channels. (8) There are no indications that the East Germans intend to stop or curtail pensioner visits. (9) The Allied and German civilian access situation is normal. (10) The FRG and the GDR have made progress toward settlement of various IZT problems.


The Mission is inclined to see the following as the main factors in the Soviet-GDR position.

[deleted paragraphs]

B. East German pressures on the Soviets:

The East Germans may be pressing the Soviets to let them try to increase their presence in Berlin, and it is Soviet policy also to enlarge the GDR role--with the proviso, we believe, that the situation brought about by any initiatives be relatively safe and capable of being brought under complete Soviet control should need arise. We could imagine the East Germans arguing with the Soviets that the attack on the USMLM house and the GDR helicopter flights over East Berlin and around the West Berlin sector-zonal borders would be safe yet politically useful. They could point to our past record of caution in retaliating against the Soviet Liaison Mission and guess that we attach enough importance to the USMLM that we would be prepared to swallow the Potsdam incident. As for the helicopter flights, the East Germans probably argued that these could be carried out with little risk. Perhaps the Soviets gave conditional approval to the flights, reserving the right to enter the picture if the Western reaction were such in their view as to warrant their intervention.

C. Vietnam:

The Soviet predicament with the Vietnam situation may have inclined Moscow to accede more readily to East German pressures for initiatives on Berlin. On this view, which has been most explicitly stated in Berlin by Boelke, the editor of Tagesspiegel, the current pressures on Berlin represent a kind of substitute crisis laid on in part to counterbalance US policy in Vietnam.

Theoretically at least, the Soviets enjoy a very wide range of options on Berlin as a "substitute crisis." They could go all the way to resumption of the direct Khrushchev challenge to Allied access. They know pretty well what difficulties this would bring on in the West. On the other hand, they also know from the Khrushchev period that it is difficult for them to go beyond a certain point in challenging the West without bringing on the risk of direct confrontation with all the uncertainties this involves. In this reading, pressures on the West on Berlin at the present juncture must seem attractive to the Soviets, yet they must also be aware of the political limitations.

It is difficult from Berlin to judge the present Soviet mood. We have the impression from recent Soviet and GDR statements stressing the need to observe the status quo in Berlin that the current Eastern attitude is not a radically forward one. Admittedly, the statements called on the West to observe the status quo without committing the East, but it seems worth noting in this connection that Tito during his recent East Berlin visit/5/ seemed to be calling on both East and West to do nothing that would increase tensions in Germany.

/5/June 8-13.


In summary, I would conclude that we are in for a period of increased probing in Berlin subject to careful Soviet control, in which--as always--the Western reaction at any stage will be an important factor for the Soviets in weighing further moves; that the Soviets will continue to be flexible and keep [garble] maneuver towards the GDR and the West in following any course of action; and that the evidence so far does not point to a Soviet-GDR intention of bringing on a crisis of major dimensions. A failure--which would be publicly apparent--on our part to react with firmness to probes, such as the helicopter flights, against established Allied rights could seriously mislead the Eastern leadership as well as the West Berlin leadership and populace. The East is apparently prepared to accept a measure of risk--not so far a very large measure--in carrying out the helicopter flights. It is difficult to see how the West can influence Eastern views without itself accepting some measure of risk.


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