Daniloff Case Shows Shakiness of Regime

<i> Vladimir Shlapentokh is a professor of sociology at Michigan State University. Before emigrating in 1979, he conducted polls for Pravda, Isvestia, Literaturnaya Gazeta and other Soviet periodicals</i>

Few actions by the Soviet government have been analyzed with as much consensus as the arrest of American correspondent Nicholas Daniloff. Sovietologists, whatever their political views, appear unanimous in considering Moscow’s behavior ill-conceived, counterproductive and irrational.

But human actions often look irrational only because observers do not understand the real goals of the people whose behavior they watch. Thus, the arrest of the American correspondent seems to be irrational and unreasonable only because it is assumed that those who sent Daniloff to a Moscow prison really regard the release of Gennady Zakharov, the Soviet U.N. employee charged with spying, as their main goal. What Daniloff’s captors don’t realize, this argument goes, is that the provocation against the journalist will serve only to nullify the efforts of a new Soviet leader to sway international and, in particular, U.S. public opinion to his side in a diplomatic tug-of-war with the Administration.

Such an analysis completely ignores developments that are going on today inside Soviet society--developments that may hold a dramatic clue to what is behind the Daniloff affair.


Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika --the overhauling--is getting a mixed evalutation within the Soviet Union. But, without a doubt, Gorbachev’s efforts to implement reforms are being met with furious resistance, primarily from Communist Party apparatchiks .

The continual denigration of party officials in the mass media and the attacks against their privileges have outraged these apparatchiks. But so has the policy of “openness,” which to them systematically undermines Soviet ideology.

The KGB is furious with the “‘second thaw,” the orgy of criticism now flowing from the pens of intellectuals. Such “freedom” obliterates KGB efforts to suppress the people’s dissatisfaction with the quality of life and to diminish Western influence on the population, especially the youth.

In contrast to all previous Soviet regimes, party officials are now openly sabotaging Gorbachev’s directives, especially those related to the cadres. Party bosses quite often disregard the criticism leveled against their people and try to protect them regardless of their misdeeds. Pravda regularly publishes articles that unequivocally show how regional party secretaries, the backbone of the party apparatus, strongly and openly obstruct Gorbachev’s policies. Gorbachev himself, at the risk of revealing his weakness, has complained in all of his recent speeches about the opposition within the party to his perestroika.

A case in point took place in the Ukrainian city of Chernigov. Speaking at the June 17 meeting of the Central Committee, Gorbachev told of the persecution of a manager who had been framed by party officials in Chernigov because he was too active in the implementation of Gorbachev’s economic policy. Now, it could be expected that after the personal intervention of the general secretary the apparatchiks who were found responsible would be punished. However, as Pravda has reported, nothing like this happened. Instead, the regional party secretary blatantly ignored Gorbachev’s speech--and suggested that his subordinates do the same.

The Gorbachev regime is rather shaky. The authority of the leader is so low that he could not even appoint his own KGB chairman or oust from the Politburo two of Leonid I. Brezhnev’s lieutenants--Ukrainian party leader Vladimir V. Shcherbitsky and Kazakhstan party leader Dinmukhamed A. Kunaev--even though both are directly responsible for corruption in their republics and, as Pravda almost directly witnesses, continue their support for the old order.

Thus the Daniloff case has to be seen in direct connection with Gorbachev’s weakness. Was the decision to arrest the journalist imposed on Gorbachev directly, or did he ardently support it on the surface? In any case this act has delivered a hard blow to his foreign policy, humiliated him profoundly and lowered his prestige even more in the high echelons of power. Those who initiated it have sent signals to both apparatchiks and foreigners that Gorbachev is anything but a strong leader.


The liberation of a Soviet agent, regardless of its importance to professionals in the intelligence service, was only an extremely good pretext for Gorbachev’s enemies to demonstrate their strength.

But even the enemies of Gorbachev understand the need to improve Soviet-American relations. That is why they will probably not block a resolution of the Daniloff affair. After all, they have made their point.