Politics & Policy

A Phenomenon Called Senator Kennedy

An American and Moscow.

I am greeting you as a representative of all the Kennedys. There is a phenomenon called Kennedy. I suppose, this is understood in the world and in America, thanks to your brother John, first of all. If we recall his time, it provided impetus for the subsequent development of international relations. Even in the tough confrontation of Cuban missile crisis, we have seen him as a harbinger of today’s cooperation. If we speak of Robert Kennedy, we might recall Vietnam and draw some lessons out of it. In general, if we recall the brothers Kennedy, they had always been able to gather most talented people around themselves, to create a ‘‘team’’. And I think this is a lesson for many.

Thus Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev welcomed visiting U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy in March 1990 (according to the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation).

#ad#During the Cold War, the behavior of Western politicians in their contacts with the Soviets varied quite widely, from hostile polemics to shameless collaboration. What was Senator Kennedy’s place in this wide spectrum?

Of course, Kennedy was not the only U.S. senator to visit the USSR. A few exceptions aside, however, they usually came as a group. As far as we can see in the documents, Kennedy always came alone.

Then, no other senator contacted the Soviets as often as Kennedy did. Nor were his relations with Moscow at all restricted to official visits. His chief of staff, Larry Horowitz, would journey there on Kennedy’s instructions several times a year. No other U.S. senator had a similar envoy.

All these facts are probably well-known to those who follow such matters. Serious questions about Kennedy’s role in the Cold War have been asked more than once before. From time to time, some bits of his mysterious story are revealed — only to demonstrate that much more of it still remains in darkness.

Now it happens again, with professor Paul Kengor quoting from a top-secret KGB report about their contacts with Kennedy, in his new book The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. The document, first released in the Sunday Times by Tim Sebastian in 1992, reveals how Kennedy secretly offered the KGB to work together to undermine President Reagan. This proposal was conveyed to the Soviets by former senator John Tunney in 1983.

That was not the only time when Tunney got involved in Kennedy’s games with Moscow. Another top-secret KGB report, published in 1992 in Russian Izvestia newspaper, says that in 1978 Kennedy “requested the assistance of the KGB to establish a relationship” between a firm owned by Tunney and the Soviets. The KGB report recommended the CPSU Central Committee to agree, because Tunney’s firm was already connected to one David Karr, a KGB agent in France (See, for example: Ted Kennedy was a ‘Collaborationist,’ by Herbert Romerstein. Human Events, December 8, 2003).

More secrets about Kennedy’s collaboration with Moscow became known after the famous defector Vasiliy Mitrokhin smuggled his invaluable archive of secret KGB documents to the West. In 2002, he publicized some of them in The KGB in Afghanistan working paper, published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In 1980 Kennedy attacked President Carter over the latter’s tough opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As Mitrokhin reveals, the senator had evidently coordinated that with Moscow several weeks before — through Tunney and Egon Bahr, West Germany’s top Social Democrat who often had secret contacts with the KGB.

Then in 1983, according to the notorious KGB document quoted by Sebastian and now by Kengor, Tunney conveyed another secret message from Kennedy to the Soviet leader, communicating to Andropov the senator’s willingness, “in the interest of world peace,” to take some joint measures against “the militaristic policies of Ronald Reagan.” When the KGB received this information, they classified it at the highest possible level — not only as “top secret,” but also as “of special importance” and a “special file.” It was immediately reported to Andropov, but left him unimpressed. So the intrusive senator was rebuffed for a while.

However, Andropov died soon, followed shortly thereafter by his senile successor Chernenko. In less than two years, Gorbachev got to power. He soon reversed the previous decision on Kennedy, and agreed to see him in February 1986.

The above alone would be enough for the new general secretary to know significantly more about the senator than his family name. But the story did not end there. Below we are quoting more top-secret documents from Soviet archives (about which you can read more on in John O’Sullivan’s new book, The Pope, the President and the Prime Minister), which tell about Ted Kennedy’s further contacts with the Kremlin.

Beating swords into ploughshares

Unfortunately, in the archive there is no transcript of the first meeting between Gorbachev and Kennedy. But there are reports by Vadim Zagladin, then No. 2 in the International Department of the Soviet Communist party, who also met Kennedy during this visit.

The International Department of the CPSU is less famous than the KGB or the GRU, but it was no less dangerous as a Soviet secret-service organization operating abroad. Its task was to manage the network of the Communist parties, Soviet agents of influence, and pro-Soviet organizations around the world. It used to be extremely famous under the name of Comintern and was supposedly closed down under Stalin’s wartime agreement with the Allies. In fact, it was simply reorganized and renamed the CPSU International Department.

Here is what Zagladin, deputy chief of this department at the time, wrote in his report:

During the talks, which took place […] on the 5th of February [1986], E.Kennedy emphasized the following ideas.

1. The recent meeting [between Gorbachev and President Reagan in Geneva] has changed the climate in the world in many respects. This may be felt strongly in the USA. The change is for the better, the birth of hopes for a better future. However, this process also has a negative side. President Reagan actively uses the new climate. And the problem is not only that his popularity is growing after Geneva.

In fact, Geneva allowed Reagan to slow down the process of movement to any positive results in negotiations with the USSR. He says that the situation has already changed, that he has instituted a dialogue with the Russians, while in fact he does nothing or manages things in the old direction, i. e. that of increasing military preparations.

From the Democrats’ point of view, all of this is very bad. This does not mean they are against Geneva or the spirit of Geneva – they are for it. But they think it is important not to allow Reagan to abuse a good thing for bad purposes.


In his opinion, it is important to keep increasing pressure on the administration from different sides, both from abroad and at home. He would like, during his conversation with Com[rade] Gorbachev to suggest some specific ideas on this issue. 

It is unfortunate that we don’t have the full transcript of those talks between Kennedy and Gorbachev. Later documents indicate, however, that at the meeting the senator suggested that the timing for the next Soviet-American summit should be set as soon as possible. This, Kennedy claimed, would enable more pressure to be put on the administration. If Reagan declined to discuss any serious issues at the summit, this fact could be used against him as well “to the benefit of the supporters of peace and of the establishment of more realistic relations between our countries.” Those are the words Gorbachev used to relay Kennedy’s ideas to Guss Hall, general secretary of the U.S. Communist party.

After talking to Gorbachev on February 6, Kennedy came back to Zagladin who reported:

In the evening of the 6th of February (over a supper) I had a conversation with E. Kennedy.

1) The Senator is under strong impression from his talk with C[omrade] M.S. Gorbachev. ‘‘I liked him very much’’, Kennedy said. ‘‘He is a firm, though flexible, leader, who knows what he wants’’.


2) At the same time, in E. Kennedy’s opinion, ‘‘my Soviet friends have not yet thoroughly understood the psychology of the Americans and the essence of Reagan’s tactics’’.

Geneva was a great victor for the Soviet Union in the eyes of the whole world, but not in the eyes of the Americans. The average American sees the situation as follows: ‘‘Reagan has managed to establish contact with the Russians, gaining much from them, but giving nothing. He is a great leader!’’.


The Senator’s speculations seemed to suggest that Geneva was a real success for Reagan and a doubtful one for us. So, I asked him a direct question: well, do you think it was a mistake to go to Geneva? The Senator replied without hesitation: ‘‘No, it was not, but you should keep pressing, be firmer.’’


Kennedy’s impression is that we are awaiting the USA’s reaction calmly because we suppose that time is working for us. In his opinion, however, this is not quite right. So far Reagan is winning. He seems to be ‘‘thinking over’’ our ideas, but he keeps pursuing his own policy — building up the arms race. He will then respond later, taking some item from the full context of the Soviet offers, but in such a way that it will be difficult to agree with him. For example, arms control without disarmament, etc.

Meanwhile, Reagan’s popularity is growing.

The senator followed up this analysis, according to Zagladin, with practical recommendations and useful information:

3) You, Kennedy continued, have a notion about the power of the military-industrial complex [in the US]. And, indeed, it has its weight and strength. First, however, it is not as powerful in politics as you imagine. Second, it is not monolithic. For example, the military have their own opinions. Many of them are in favor of the ABM Treaty, START, the freeze of nuclear weapons, a decrease in their level […]. In general, Kennedy said, you have no channel to influence the military. This is bad because it would be easier for you to talk to them.

Only a part of the influential political leadership in America is currently governing the country: Namely, according to Kennedy, the ‘‘conservative-egoistic’’ part which aims to harness the whole population of the country to the wave of ‘‘right-wing national egoism” which is very dangerous.

Those who think realistically, numerous as they are, have been pushed aside by Reagan. And there are no forces able to ally ‘‘conservative egoism’’ with realism as Nixon did.

Indeed, the current governing elite is closely connected to the military-industrial circles—but only to a part of them. There is another part of the elite, which is more able to think realistically, to imagine, for example, some peaceful conversion. It is possible to do business with them, too.

4) In Kennedy’s opinion, it is impossible now to implement the whole of [Gorbachev’s] plan at one stroke. We should choose two or three points which could be achieved and constantly put pressure on Reagan in order to restrict his freedom of maneuver. These points might be the following:

– confirmation of the ABM Treaty;

– restriction of the nuclear tests limit and a cut in their number;

– missiles in Europe (though, Kennedy said, Reagan will demand the elimination of missiles from Asia).

There is some known progress at all these points and it is possible to receive significant support in the Congress.

But it is necessary to put pressure on Reagan all the time, to show he has no time to think


Kennedy’s aide L[arry] Horowitz told me with anger that Reagan had said to the Senator: ‘‘I will meet the Russians this summer, but not in August, when my mares are going to be in labor. This is more important for me than any talks with the Russians.”

7) Summarizing, Kennedy said: ‘‘the present complacency of the Americans, their almost Christmas mood, must be broken. You should put more pressure, and firmer pressure, on Reagan […] And, of course, I shall think over what can be done on my side, on the Senate’s side. At the Congress session I will report on my meeting with Gorbachev. I will speak in the country as many times as necessary. Gorbachev is right, we should not miss this opportunity.”

Military intelligence

The same document describes an interesting discussion on terrorism between Kennedy and Zagladin. It is a shame that the ideas of such a prominent man as Kennedy on such a burning problem as terrorism have remained classified for so long.

3. At the same time, E.Kennedy underlined, there are some issues which slow down the improvement of Soviet-American relations, though these issues are not of such global importance as the problem of disarmament.

The first among this issues, according to E. Kennedy, is the problem of terrorism. ‘‘I wouldn’t like to get involved in an argument on how we should regard the national-liberation movements. But I would like to note’’, the Senator said, ‘‘that there are different kinds of terrorism. I, personally, would consider the Chilean regime, the authorities’ actions in South Africa or contras’ activity in Nicaragua as terrorism. Of course, there is left-wing terrorism as well, but I don’t think we should reduce everything to that.

I noticed that the terrorism which the Senator calls left-wing is a manifestation of the sentiment of people who had been driven to despair. Although we are against their terrorist methods, we understand this distinction. The Senator replied: ‘‘Sure, we should take into account the fact that terrorism may be different. Nevertheless, our common interest is to eliminate the basis for any kind of terrorism. And, perhaps, USSR and USA might find mutual understanding on that at least partially.

Who is the Larry Horowitz who was so angry with Reagan’s concern for his mares? He is actually a key figure in the story of Kennedy’s relations with the Soviets. As the senator’s chief of staff, Horowitz served as his special envoy to Moscow very often. As the files make plain, he was clearly regarded by the Soviets as someone who had the senator’s full confidence and who was therefore a reliable means of transmission to the senator. Zagladin’s reports on his meetings with Horowitz are quite numerous, and contain some warm remarks such as “I’ve seen Larry Horowitz, in accordance with our old tradition” or even “the conversation was of confidential nature.”

Indeed, the information which Horowitz passed to Zagaladin, always in reference to Kennedy’s instructions, often seemed to be quite sensitive.

For example, a report on their meeting on November 27, 1990, reads:

In L. Horowitz’s words, a final decision to solve the crisis in the [Persian] Gulf by military means has already been taken in the White House. The deadline is [next] spring.

That was at a time when President Bush (senior) was assuring Gorbachev and the whole world that he was still ready to seek a peaceful solution of the conflict. Indeed, that readiness was the key condition under which Gorbachev agreed to support the U.S. against Iraq.

Nor did the president’s plans for the post-war period remain secret during that friendly conversation:

After the effective military operation and resolution of the crisis, Bush would be ready to start solving the other problems of that region, including the Palestinian one, immediately. The matter, Bush believes, is a long overdue. The Palestinian problem must be solved in order to ‘‘appease’’ the Arab countries, to extinguish their ‘‘anti-American syndrome’’.

Confidential messages

On other occasions, Horowitz would tell Zagladin the contents of secret instructions from President Bush (41) to the U.S. embassy in Moscow. One such case refers to the year 1991 and concerns the problem of Ukrainian independence. This was the most vital question for the Soviets at that time. In fact, the very existence of the Soviet Union seemed to depend on whether Ukraine would separate. And here is what Zagladin says:

On the 1st October [1991] I saw Larry Horowitz, an aide to Senator E.Kennedy. The conversation was of confidential nature.


Then L. Horowitz informed me that, following the visit to the US by L[eonid] Kravchuk, [President of Ukraine,] G. Bush sent a personal message to [the US] Ambassador [in Moscow] Straus. Horowitz has seen this message. According to it, eventually Ukraine will completely separate from the [Soviet] Union.

 How did Horowitz, the chief of staff to a senior opposition figure, manage to see the president’s secret instruction to the ambassador? We can only speculate. Horowitz continued his confession to Zagladin by repeating the ambassador’s comments on the president’s message:

The ambassador doubts that, taking into account that the situation in Ukraine is not quite simple. In Straus’s opinion, L. Kravchuk’s current maneuvering is nothing but an electoral campaign.

Calming down the Baltics

Confidential correspondence between Washington and the U.S. embassy in Moscow was no safer under Straus’s predecessor, Jack Matlock. A similar leak, also through Horowitz, occurred in December 1989.

It again concerned separatism, but this time the problem was an even more sensitive one that involved the Baltic republics — Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The United States had never recognized the Soviet annexation of these countries in 1940, and their fight for independence had drawn great sympathy in American public opinion. That is what makes the following story look particularly strange:

Ambassador Matlock told L. Horowitz about a conversation he had with ‘‘one of the CPSU leaders’’ (without naming the name), who had said to Matlock: if the Baltic republics separate from the USSR, this would be the end of perestroika. The Ambassador passed this statement to Washington. The instruction he received in response read: in contacts with people from the Baltic republics (these contacts are quite numerous), he should warn them against ‘‘harsh’’ activities and against any notion of quitting the USSR immediately. All the more so because this is impossible economically. This question should not be discussed in practical terms at least ‘‘in the nearest 4 or 5 years’’.

Within two years of those instructions, the Baltic states won their independence and the whole Soviet Union collapsed. But the story is strange in several ways. An American senator’s aide tells a Soviet official about the contents of a confidential instruction to the U.S. embassy in Moscow. The instruction itself is on how to help the Soviets to keep control over three illegally occupied countries. And it all derives from a cheap disinformation trick by one of the Soviet bosses.

Let us suppose that Matlock and his supervisors in Washington were merely naive. That is also true of President Bush, who, according to Horowitz’s revelation, did “not consider separation of Baltic states from the USSR to be expedient. However, he is not going to recognize these republics as a part of the USSR either.”

Furthermore, Horowitz encouraged the Soviets to suppress opposition in the Baltic states with arguments that were at best disingenuous:

L. Horowitz said: many serious people in the US are puzzled: why force is not used in the USSR to enforce the law? For example, if any State of the USA acts in contradiction with federal laws, President would send National Guards there. And nobody considers that as an ‘‘anti-democratic’’ act.

The German gambit

At that time, the central international problem was the reunification of Germany. During the Malta summit on December 2-3, 1989, Gorbachev had tried to persuade Bush to join the effort to contain and slow down the process. A week after the meeting, Senator Kennedy sent Horowitz to Moscow with fresh information:

By request of Senator E.Kennedy, I saw his closest aide Larry Horowitz, Zagladin reported on December 11. During the talks, L.Horowitz told me about the significant response, caused in the USA by the Malta summit. At the same time, he told me that the backstage struggle over the further development of relations with the USSR has escalated after Malta. The Senator has sent a letter to C[omrade] M.S. Gorbachev. It contains some ideas for the future for us to consider. Supplementing this letter (which is passed to the addressee via the appropriate channels), L.Horowitz told me about the following.


According to the Senator (as quoted by L.Horowitz), the German problem is the European problem to which G. Bush pays special attention. He does not at all wish to allow the reunification of Germany. However, he cannot express this position openly, and on the other hand, he does not know exactly what to do about that. In L.Horowitz’s words, after coming back [from Malta] the President discussed, with his advisors, the possibility of using the four-side mechanism. However, he came to no conclusion.

The “four-side mechanism” referred to the collective rights that the U.S., the USSR, Britain, and France had acquired after World War II over the government of Germany. Mostly, these rights were restricted to their formal control over Berlin. In late 1989 and 1990, however, diplomats and politicians saw it as a device that might be used to delay or frustrate re-unification. It was probably important to know whether Bush’s thoughts on that subject coincided with Gorbachev’s in any respect.

Anyway, in the President’s opinion, the preservation of the two military alliances and the establishment of more close contacts between them is necessary under current conditions. Equally necessary is an acceleration of European integration, despite M[argaret] Thatcher’s resistance. Both of these tools would be able, in his opinion, to ‘‘check’’ the Germans. Probably (in E.Kennedy’s opinion), as the events (which, in Bush’s opinion, may become uncontrollable) develop, the President may approach us and request consultations.

President Bush’s policy as described here was very close to Gorbachev’s own position: namely, to lock Germany in a “common European home.” But the president had never expressed these ideas either publicly or during the Malta summit. He was more open with his inner circle, and then some well-wishers passed the information to Moscow.

Despite this help, the Soviets kept losing the German game. In a few months it became evident that it was pointless to resist German unification. More than that, a united Germany would inevitably remain a member of NATO. That worried the Soviets. In these discouraging circumstances, they set themselves a new goal: to trade reform of NATO for their agreement on unification, so that NATO would become a friendly organization rather than one hostile to them. That was the main objective of Gorbachev’s visit to the U.S. from May 31 to June 2, 1990. In view of the upcoming summit, Zagladin began to gather useful intelligence.

Bearer of Good News

On the 24th of May I saw L. Horowitz, the closest aide to Senator E. Kennedy. Following the Senator’s instruction, Horowitz informed me on the following.


3. I asked what ideas are discussed in circles close to the Senate on the German question. L. Horowitz said that the following opinion was formed not only in E. Kennedy’s inner circle, but also among the members of the National Security Council: The USSR will not agree to a united Germany’s membership of NATO, unless NATO itself changes. The first steps towards revising its strategic doctrine are already blueprinted. Probably it would be important if M.S. Gorbachev with absolute clarity indicates the ‘‘necessary parameters of change’’ during his visit to the US. Using this situation, L.Horowitz added, you can achieve much now.  

Indeed, most of the insider information which Horowitz seems to have brought was good news for the Soviets. No matter whether it concerned Lithuania or Ukraine, Germany or Latin America.

As far as the regional conflicts are concerned, the Senator asked [Horowitz] to tell us: Bush is now completely sure of the Soviets’ sincerity and fairness. He believes that our allies – Cuba and Nicaragua – are ‘‘letting us down’’.


Then L.Horowitz, referring to his talks in Washington and his conversation with Ambassador Matlock, said the following. Though nobody says this aloud, in Washington they consider the events in Central America ‘‘in concurrence’’ with Afghanistan. A solution of one of these problems would, he said, cause a solution of the other one.

Introducing friends

Washington was by now extraordinarily friendly towards Moscow. The time when Kennedy could help the Soviets only by directing them to cultivate some lonely “realistic” military men had long passed. Now almost the entire American establishment was seeking cooperation with the Kremlin. All that the Soviets had to do was select the most prominent figures among them for discussion and debate. To facilitate this, Horowitz transmitted some helpful suggestions from the senator:

Referring to Senator Kennedy, L. Horowitz said that current situation is uniquely favorable for the development of our contacts with the US Congress. The both chambers are, for the first time in 40 years, controlled by the Democrats. At the same time, public opinion is becoming more friendly towards the USSR.


Of course, first of all, we should activate contacts with Foley, the new speaker. His views are centrist and it is possible to do business with him.

However, though Foley is a priority due to his position, Horowitz does not think he is the most valuable man for us. The most interesting one is Richard Gephardt (St Louis, Missouri). He is 48-years-old, full of energy. He is going to play a major role as the leader of majority in the chamber. This is a perspective leader for the new decade. At worst, he will be the speaker, at best — candidate for presidency (though it is difficult to say now whether he will succeed in getting into the White House).

Gephardt is flexible and clever. He is a firm opponent of the SDI, a supporter of progress in the disarmament issues and in the development of relations with the USSR in general. He has never been in our country and wants to visit it very much. Horowitz knows about all of that from Gephardt himself.

Another man to whom we should pay some attention is William Grey, the chairman of the budgetary commission. In fact, he is number two in importance. We also don’t know him, and he does not know us. But he would like to know us and reads about perestroika a lot.

Probably, these L. Horowitz’s ideas deserve some attention.  

Introducing friends, Horowitz would not forget about the enemies, too.

I’ve asked Horowitz whether it is true that vice-president Quayle is the chief rightist, as the rumors say. Horowitz replied this is not true. Of course, Quayle is a rightist, but he is not ‘‘the brain’’. He is quite a weak politician. He was chosen by Bush to placate the Right, and the president plays with Quayle smartly, moving him forward in order to satisfy his ‘‘friends-enemies’’ in the party. But the true headquarters of the Right are other influential people.

A friend in need

Kennedy’s anxious concern about the rebellious Soviet outskirts did not distract him from the alarming situation in Moscow. The desperate attempt to impose martial law (in the so-called August Coup) failed in 1991, and the real power drifted away from the central Soviet structures to the democratic governments of Russia and other republics. These were the last weeks of Gorbachev’s rule, and even his closest associates had defected from him.

Kennedy wanted to be helpful to the end.

E. Kennedy has instructed L. Horowitz to meet E.A. Shevardnadze and […] to ask him not to criticize President [Gorbachev] again and to help to strengthen his positions.

Obviously, Kennedy was much more sympathetic towards Bush (senior) than he was towards Reagan. Horowitz even mentioned to Zagladin that the Democrats are, in many respects, allies of Bush, while the right-wing republicans are very displeased with him. However, Kennedy would report to Moscow (through Horowitz) about his friend Bush as faithfully as he did about his enemy Reagan.

On the 1st October [1991] I saw Larry Horowitz, an aide to Senator E.Kennedy. The conversation was of confidential nature.


Last week, just before his telephone conversation with the Soviet President, G. Bush said in his inner circle: Gorbachev is my friend. Personally, I trust him, I am ready to help him in any possible way. But I doubt this will bring any result.

Even Bush could see it. Nothing in this world would save the Soviet Union, not even such a knowledgeable informer as Senator Kennedy. But at least he tried to the last moment.

As these events recede into history, more and more puzzling facts emerge from the still closely guarded Soviet archives, which force us to reevaluate those events, as well as the parts played in them by different personalities. Perhaps one day we will see the whole picture. But for the moment we are left with quite a few riddles.

One of them is called Edward Kennedy.

 – Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent over a decade imprisoned by the Soviets, is the co-author (among other things) of the pamphlet, “EUSSR: The Soviet Roots of European Integration,” with Pavel Stroilov.

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