“I Speak Frankly Because You Are My Friend”: Leonid Ilich Brezhnev’s Personal Relationship with Richard M. Nixon

In: The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review
Donald J. Raleigh Department of History, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Drawing on historian Frank Costigliola’s accent on the importance of “emotional belief” in understanding how statesmen formulate foreign policy, I apply this cultural approach to diplomacy in considering Soviet leader Leonid Ilich Brezhnev’s personal relationship with President Richard M. Nixon. Appreciating both the merits and difficulties in employing this “soft” methodology to diplomacy, I draw on recently published documents, memoirs, and available archival material to examine the evolution of Brezhnev’s relationship with Nixon at three summit meetings held in Moscow in 1972, in Washington in 1973, and, again in Moscow in 1974, weeks before Nixon’s resignation. I argue that Brezhnev’s emotional belief convinced him of the need to go beyond the evidence to cultivate a personal relationship with Nixon based at first on suspicion, then on cautious courting, and eventually on trust so that Brezhnev could achieve his aims of promoting the cause of peace.

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