Analysis : Everyone Lost Something in Tangled Daniloff Affair : But Fallout Could Favor U.S., Specialists Believe

Times Staff Writer

Everyone lost something in the Daniloff affair--the Kremlin, the Reagan Administration and Nicholas Daniloff himself, who flew to freedom Monday only after the trauma of arrest and interrogation by Soviet secret police.

On the Soviet side, the Kremlin badly miscalculated U.S. resolve, seriously damaged its own public image in the world and now finds itself with fewer spies at the United Nations than it had when the episode began, Soviet-American experts said Monday.

On the debit side for the United States, the Soviets have succeeded in winning freedom for an accused spy after arresting a U.S. journalist in Moscow. American correspondents there may be understandably inhibited--at least for a while--in their aggressive pursuit of information that Soviet authorities do not wish released.

Moreover, the reported terms of the settlement could have a negative impact on the morale of U.S. counterintelligence agents who have worked hard to carry out the Administration’s tougher policy against Soviet espionage conducted through its U.N. mission. Of 25 Soviets initially ordered expelled, for example, two who may now remain include the KGB station chief, identified only as Savchenko, and the GRU military intelligence chief, identified only as Skvortysov, an informed source said.


The Administration’s strategy now is to cash in on the publicity of Daniloff’s release while minimizing the anticipated U.S. expulsion of accused spy Gennady F. Zahkarov in an effort to bolster its insistence that the two cases are unrelated.

Even if the Administration’s tactics are widely seen as self-serving, some specialists agreed, the overall fallout from the affair could favor Washington more than Moscow.

“The balance is substantially on the American side at this point,” said Harry Gelman of Rand Corp., a former CIA analyst.

“It was a blessing in disguise for the United States,” said Dmitri Simes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The Soviets tested the Administration and lost. They suffered a major setback in their ‘charm’ offensive. And they’ve shown themselves to be very interested in a summit meeting, so no U.S. concessions are necessary to get them to come here,” he said.

U.S. sources said that, under the arrangement that freed Daniloff without a trial, the two sides agreed that Zakharov, the Soviet U.N. official arrested one week before Daniloff, will plead no contest to espionage charges and will be expelled.

Talks on Expulsions

In exchange, the sources said, a Soviet dissident will be released in about a week. The dissident, Yuri Orlov, was head of the Helsinki Monitoring Group of Jewish and democratic activists, and has served 10 years of a 12-year term for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.

Then, over the next two weeks, a variety of U.S.-Soviet agreements pointing toward the summit and new accords are expected to be announced while negotiations between the two sides continue on the fate of 11 of the 25 officials at the Soviet U.N. Mission whose expulsion the United States demanded on espionage grounds in retaliation for Daniloff’s detention. Of those 11, who have not yet left this country, a half dozen or more may be allowed to remain.


In the view of former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger as well as others, the United States did not cover itself with glory in this affair. Its initially equivocal and confused responses over the Labor Day holiday encouraged the Soviets to maintain a hard line on Daniloff’s arrest, Kissinger said, after which the prestige of the superpowers were engaged to a degree that made fast compromise difficult.

As for Daniloff himself, there is likely to be a further negative element in the outcome: The U.S. News & World Report correspondent may find the Soviet charge of spying hard to shed, no matter how obviously trumped up it seemed.

According to public opinion pollsters, as time went on during his detention in Moscow, the American public increasingly doubted President Reagan’s assurance that Daniloff was not a spy.

A Harris poll taken Sept. 6-7 found that 32% of those surveyed believed Daniloff was engaged in espionage activity. A Times Mirror Co. poll by Gallup Sept. 13-17 found that 66% said there was a small, moderate or good chance Daniloff had been engaged in spying.


Repugnant Soviet System

“In the longer term,” according to Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former senior national security official in the Richard M. Nixon Administration, “this case will enter the collective folk memory about how arbitrary and repugnant the Soviet system is.

“But it will become diffused by people’s desire for peace and fear of nuclear war, who in relief that it’s over, might even increase pressure on the Administration to do more to get a summit and new arms agreements,” he said.

All of the specialists interviewed indicated their belief that U.S.-Soviet preparations for the summit will now move ahead faster. Even during Daniloff’s incarceration, talks continued on the agenda for a meeting of Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev later this year, and for some new arms agreements to be reached then.


A distinctly minority view, however, was that President Reagan will be indebted to the Soviets for their acquiescence to a face-saving formula after he himself became a hostage of sorts in the Daniloff affair.

According to this view, Reagan could not go to a summit with Soviet leader Gorbachev while Daniloff remained in a Moscow prison without antagonizing his conservative constituency. At the same time, the President could not make all improvements in U.S.-Soviet relations hinge on Daniloff’s release without antagonizing the broader public that apparently wanted a new summit and new arms agreements irrespective of Daniloff’s situation.

A Face-Saving Way Out

In this view, Reagan needed Soviet cooperation in finding a face-saving way out, and the Soviets may expect U.S. concessions in arms control and other issues as payment.


A key U.S. concession at the just-concluded Stockholm conference on security in Europe--which allowed Soviet aircraft and crew, rather than neutral aircraft and crew, to fly Western inspectors over Soviet military maneuvers--could be cited as evidence supporting this line.

But the concessions already offered by the Soviets at Stockholm and in other arms control forums would justify the kind of concessions made or suggested by the Administration so far, several experts noted. So the argument that Reagan has become hostage to the Soviets in this case probably will not be persuasive.