chapter  3
42 Pages

Comradeship

Khrushchev’s visit to Yugoslavia Khrushchev’s flirting with the hard-liners at the end of 1954, which helped him eliminate Malenkov as a leadership contender, caused a fleeting impasse in the Yugoslav-Soviet normalization process. However, this tactical alliance was of a truly temporary nature. Within weeks of Malenkov’s removal, the Soviet leadership initiated a continuation of the normalization of relations with Yugoslavia. On 23 February 1955, the Presidium of the CPSU sent a Resolution, in the form of a letter to ‘fraternal parties’ informing them of its decision to continue the dialogue with Belgrade.1 The letter, however, underlined that ‘the proclivity of the Yugoslav leaders to sit between two stools, their proclaimed adherence to the so-called independent position between two “lagers” can only be explained . . . by the distancing of the LCY leaders from Marxism-Leninism.’ The Resolution concluded that ‘in our relations with the Yugoslav leaders we must exercise necessary caution and vigilance’.2 This was an ideological caveat to the satellites and Communists worldwide to engage with the Yugoslavs only at a pace and in the form approved by Moscow. To justify the resumption of contacts with Tito, the document stressed that ‘in the future, we need to continue to work patiently and steadily on breaking Yugoslavia away from the imperialist camp or at least to weaken Yugoslavia’s ties with that camp’.3 The letter, however, did not specify forms of future contacts with the Yugoslavs. This suggested continued disagreements within the Soviet Presidium on the course of future action. The Resolution reiterated that the goal of normalization was to weaken Belgrade’s ties with the West. It did not, however, put forward the more ambitious goal of returning Yugoslavia to the ‘socialist camp’. As available evidence suggests, this Resolution was drafted under Molotov’s supervision, which can explain its ambiguity and absence of any notion that a meeting between the Yugoslav and the Soviet leaders was being considered.4 On 17 March 1955, however, the Soviet leadership sent a letter to Tito, the first since September 1954.5 Writing as if no time had elapsed since their last exchange, Khrushchev followed up on Tito’s comments of 16 November regarding the prospects of a meeting between the highest representatives of the two governments. He declared Soviet readiness for such a meeting to take place and invited Tito to propose the date and the venue.6 The uncharacteristic brevity of the letter and the fact that it addressed only one issue, the meeting at the highest level, suggested Moscow’s eagerness for it to happen, as soon as possible. It represented a stark departure from the non-committal character of the Presidium’s letter to ‘fraternal parties’ of 23 February, less than a month earlier. Furthermore, it was manifest to Khrushchev’s resolve and cunning and showed the manner in which he repeatedly outmanoeuvred Molotov. Determined to continue normalization with Yugoslavia and yet still in need of Molotov’s consent in the first weeks after Malenkov’s removal, Khrushchev agreed to the resolution of 23 February, regardless of its ambiguity. Weeks later, as his position vis-à-vis Molotov strengthened, Khrushchev felt sufficiently secure to push for the resumption of the dialogue with Tito. His letter to Tito of 17 March proposing a

meeting suggests that Khrushchev had solidified his position within the Presidium with breathtaking speed. The exchange of letters that ensued between Belgrade and Moscow after 17 March led, within just two months, to Khrushchev’s historic trip to Belgrade. On 16 April, Tito replied to Khrushchev’s March proposal.7 In a very short letter, Tito suggested that the Yugoslav-Soviet meeting took place between 10 and 17 May, ‘on the Danube, on the ship, or, if you are in accordance, in Belgrade’. Tito underlined that the meeting should be public and to have the character of a meeting of heads of governments. He also proposed that a declaration or ‘something similar’ be issued at the end of these talks. Tito also informed the Soviets that, as the President of the Republic, he would head the Yugoslav delegation and expected the same level of representation from the Soviet side.8 The Yugoslav letter of 16 April revealed that Tito’s agreement to meet Soviet leaders in the immediate future was conditional. First, he had ruled out Moscow as the venue. Tito did not want the meeting to look as if he was begging Moscow for forgiveness or to suggest that he was returning to the fold. He was not about to forego the ideological victory he had in his grasp. Second, Tito’s insistence on the state character of the meeting confirmed his determination not to engage in party normalization. Third, the ‘open and public’ character of the talks that he also set as a condition was to ensure that the meeting did not arouse suspicions on the other side and jeopardize Yugoslavia’s excellent relations with the West. Within three weeks, in a letter dated 6 May, Khrushchev confirmed to Tito that the Soviet delegation would be ‘authorized to discuss any question’, meaning that it would be of the highest level.9 Khrushchev also confirmed that he would personally lead the Soviets. Responding to Tito’s condition regarding the state character of the visit, Nikolai Bulganin, the new President of the Council of Ministers, was to act as the nominal head of the Soviet delegation. Khrushchev, however, used the opportunity to remind Tito that the interests of the ‘international proletarian movement’ demanded that the ‘two parties urgently achieve mutual understanding’.10 He accepted, however, Belgrade as the venue for the meeting and suggested 23 May as the beginning of the visit, without specifying its end date. Khrushchev further accepted Tito’s proposal that the meeting be ‘open and public’ and that a declaration be issued at the end of talks.11 Khrushchev’s reply, in particular his agreement to come to Belgrade, which was only one of Tito’s proposals, confirms that by this time Molotov was already unable to obstruct Khrushchev’s actions regarding Yugoslavia.12 Khrushchev’s letter of 6 May also demonstrated the Soviet leadership’s unrelenting desire to continue exerting pressure on the Yugoslavs to accept the renewal of party relations. Khrushchev’s historic trip to Yugoslavia was arranged with bewildering haste. The official press release, issued simultaneously in Moscow and Belgrade on 14 May, named members of both delegations but only stated that the meeting would take place in Belgrade at the end of May.13 The duration of the visit and the agenda of the meeting were finalized by Mićunović and the Soviet Ambassador Volkov on 20 May – less than a week before Khrushchev’s scheduled

arrival.14 The organizational aspects of the visit were specified and agreed on at the very last moment. This was not due to disagreements between the two sides. On the contrary, both sides were extremely flexible and eager. It was simply because the time span between the agreement to hold the meeting and the scheduled date was extremely short. The Soviet haste was, among other things, a result of the consolidation of Khrushchev’s leadership position. After months of tactical delays imposed by his confrontation with Malenkov, Khrushchev felt free to pursue the improvement of relations with Yugoslavia. He genuinely and deeply believed it to be one of the priorities of the Soviet foreign policy.15 Moscow was also eager for the meeting in Belgrade to precede talks on strategic cooperation between Yugoslavia and the three Western powers, scheduled for the end of June in Belgrade. An additional incentive for the Soviet urgency could have been the Geneva ‘Big Four’ summit, scheduled for 18 July. Khrushchev believed that the Yugoslav-Soviet break up and the confrontation that followed had inflicted irreparable damage to the Soviet prestige in the world.16 With the conflict with Belgrade resolved and the Austrian Treaty scheduled to be signed on 15 May, the Soviet delegation believed it would arrive in Geneva with a vastly improved image. Reconciliation with Yugoslavia was also to enhance personal prestige of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the new Soviet leader, for whom the Geneva meeting represented a debut on the world stage. From their side, the Yugoslavs were happy to have Khrushchev’s visit sooner rather than later. Weary of a repeat of the impasse, such as the one at the end of 1954, the Yugoslav leadership was eager not to miss an opportunity for a real improvement of relations with the Soviets. The Yugoslavs hoped that a meeting with top Soviet leaders would ensure the continuity of the Yugoslav-Soviet normalization.17 At the same time, however, the Yugoslav leadership was determined not to allow the Soviets to use the visit to arouse Western suspicions of Yugoslavia’s return to the ‘socialist camp’. On 13 May, one day before the official announcement, K. Popović conveyed Ambassadors of the US, Britain, France, Greece, and Turkey to inform them of Khrushchev’s forthcoming visit. At the same time he appealed to them to discourage comments in their media that the YugoslavSoviet summit signalled Yugoslavia’s return into Moscow’s orbit.18 Belgrade’s concerns regarding the interpretation of Khrushchev’s visit increased dramatically when on 14 May, on the same day when the visit was officially announced, representatives of the Soviet Union and its East European allies formally signed in Warsaw the ‘Agreement on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Aid’, creating a new military alliance in Europe. Tito acted swiftly to reassert Yugoslavia’s opposition to Blocs and to reaffirm its independent position on the eve of Khrushchev’s arrival. A day after the formation of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation, at a rally in Pula, Tito publicly criticized the creation of another military alliance in Europe, declaring that,

[Yugoslavia] would not join a Bloc of any kind . . . different policies should be pursued, not the policies of Blocs or the policies of ideological division

of the world. . . . In preparing for this meeting [with Khrushchev] we have made it clear [to the Soviets] . . . that we want to talk on the basis of equality, that we want to talk as an independent country, that we wish to remain independent in future, as we are today, that we do not wish anyone to interfere in our own affairs. . . . We will confer [during Khrushchev’s visit] in front of the whole world . . . we have no intention of secretly manoeuvring or plotting against anyone.19