Not many weeks ago Soviet news media were still portraying President Reagan as a warmongering ignoramus, a nuclear bomb dangling from every pocket, whose policies were reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s. The fact that the Kremlin has now agreed to allow the American President to address the Russian people directly on Soviet television demonstrates how much the tone, though not the substance, of U.S.-Soviet relations has changed for the better.
Under the agreement announced last week, Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev will exchange videotaped greetings for broadcast in both countries on New Year’s Day. White House officials say that the President’s message, three to five minutes long, will be “optimistic.” They are “reasonably sure” that his words will not be edited.
Since the November summit meeting in Geneva between the two leaders, the Soviet propaganda apparatus has continued to make sharp attacks on the U.S. position on arms control. But the assessments of overall U.S.-Soviet relations have, for the most part, been cautiously upbeat. Gorbachev, at a year-end diplomatic reception in the Kremlin, told Western ambassadors that points of “potential convergence” had emerged even in arms talks.
The Soviet leader, who has great confidence in his public-relations abilities, no doubt welcomes the chance to speak directly to the American people. But Soviet officials have easy access to U.S. news media anyway. The more interesting question is why the Kremlin thinks that it will be the net gainer from projecting Reagan’s genial countenance into millions of Soviet homes.
All sorts of explanations can be made. But it seems quite possible that the Soviet leadership is determined, perhaps for reasons rooted in Soviet economic problems, to pursue better relations with America--and feels the necessity to prepare Communist Party bureaucrats for this course by allowing televiewers to see that the U.S. President doesn’t have bombs in his pockets after all.