So my Rolling Stone piece is up about the dangers of a one-on-one meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
There’s an interesting bit of history I couldn’t fit into the story. It involves another Russian leader telling another U.S. president at a summit in Helsinki that he would help re-elect him.
And the fact that we know about this conversation is one more reason why Putin doesn’t want any notetakers around when he meets with Trump alone on July 16th.
In 1975, President Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev met in Helsinki, Finaldwere among the dozens of heads of state who gathered to sign the Helsinki Accords.
During a break in the proceedings, Brezhnev spoke privately to President Ford outside the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Finland. Here’s what was said, according to the transcript found in the Ford Library.
Brezhnev: I wish to tell you confidentially and completely
frankly that we in the Soviet leadership are supporters of your election
as President to a new term as well. And we for our part will do
everything we can to make that happen.
Ford: I thank you for that. I expect to be elected and I think that
that meets the interests of the further development of Soviet-American
relations, and of the cause of strengthening detente.
Brezhnev: Yes, on this matter we agree with you that this is
precisely how it should be. Unfortunately, however, publicly you
call us, the Soviet Union, adversaries, and in your conversations with
us you say that we have common goals — transformation of detente
into an irreversible process.
Ford: I can assure you, in full frankness, that I am absolutely
prepared to dedicate all my efforts precisely to ensuring that
relations between our countries develop steadily, and that detente
As Brezhnev walked away, he was overheard asking his interpreter if his remarks to Ford might have been caught by the correspondents. The interpreter assured the Soviet leader that he deliberately lowered his voice so that only the American president could hear him.
So how do we know of this conversation? Brezhnev’s interpreter had typed up a transcript of the conversation. He handed it to the Soviet leader who tore it into pieces and left in his ashtray at the hall where the summit was being held.
Jan Lodal, a member of Ford’s National Security Council, had watched the Soviet leader put the torn up bits of paper in his ashtray. After Brezhnev left the hall he rushed over and emptied the contents of the ashtray into his pocket.
Here’s how he concluded his account of what happened:
Given the continuity over the years of Russia’s covert-action methods, it is of little surprise to see Russia doing in 2016 what Brezhnev offered to do in 1975. The difference is that this time the offer was accepted, while in 1975 the United States was led by a man of great experience and absolute integrity, who ignored the offer.
The taped-together transcript, posted below, can be found on the Ford Library’s website here.
Ford, of course, lost his election did to Jimmy Carter. But the lesson of 1975 likely wasn’t lost on Vladimir Putin, who joined the KGB the same year that Brezhnev made his secret offer.