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Soviets Tried to Turn 1968 Election Against Nixon, Envoy Says

September 15, 1995 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ So fearful was the Kremlin of a presidency by stridently anti-communist Richard Nixon that it tried to influence the 1968 election by offering money to Nixon’s Democratic rival, according to a former Soviet ambassador.

Anatoly Dobrynin, who served 24 years as Moscow’s man in Washington, says in his memoirs, ``In Confidence,″ that he ``did my utmost″ to talk his Moscow bosses out of trying to help Democrat Hubert Humphrey, but to no avail.

Humphrey declined the offer. It would have been illegal to accept foreign money and Humphrey’s candidacy would have been destroyed if word leaked out that Moscow was in his corner. Nothing was ever said about it again, Dobrynin writes.

His father was a plumber, his mother an usher in a Moscow theater and Dobrynin an aircraft engineer when dictator Josef Stalin decided he wanted technicians, not academics, as diplomats. Thus did Dobrynin launch a career that made him a Washington institution.

He served under five Kremlin leaders and six U.S. presidents _ Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan _ and became the confidant and friend of some of them.

He writes that Nixon and aide Henry Kissinger told him things they would not share with the secretary of state, William P. Rogers. Dobrynin now advises the Yeltsin government in Russia.

Ronald Reagan, he reports, when told that Dobrynin had been recalled by Moscow and promoted to the Communist Party Central Committee, was ``amazed.″ Asked Reagan: ``Is he really a communist?″

He was, calling himself ``a true believer in Marxism-Leninism.″ But he uses his book to grouse about one thing: his pay. He said he complained to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in the 1970s that the driver for the Romanian ambassador was paid more than the Soviet ambassador. And that, he said, got him a 25 percent raise.

In 1968, Dobrynin wrote, the Kremlin considered Nixon ``profoundly anti-Soviet″ and decided to take ``an extraordinary step″ by offering Humphrey ``any conceivable help in his election campaign _ including financial aid.″

Against his better judgment, Dobrynin made the offer obliquely during a breakfast at Humphrey’s home.

``He knew at once what was going on,″ Dobrynin wrote of Humphrey. ``He told me it was more than enough for him to have Moscow’s good wishes.″

Ironically, it was Nixon and Kissinger who launched detente with the Soviet Union and took America out of Vietnam. U.S.-Soviet relations chilled when a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, took over the White House in 1977. And it was under another Republican anti-communist, Reagan, that the Soviet empire collapsed and the Cold War ended.

But Dobrynin insists it was not the strain of matching Reagan’s huge arms buildup that led to the collapse of the Soviet empire.

``We did not bankrupt ourselves in the arms race as the Caspar Weinbergers (former defense secretary) would like to believe,″ he wrote. ``The troubles in our economy were the result of our own internal contradictions.″

In a spicier anecdote, Dobrynin told how a KGB guard, keeping watch outside the bedroom of a sleeping Brezhnev during a 1973 visit to Nixon’s ``Western White House″ at San Clemente, Calif., was confronted by a sleepwalking first lady Pat Nixon.

He wrote that the bodyguard saw the door to Nixon’s quarters open. ``His wife Pat appeared in a long nightgown, her hands stretched forward and her eyes fixed in the distance, apparently in some kind of trance,″ Dobrynin recalled.

``She reached our bodyguard and stopped, saying nothing. The guard attempted to turn Mrs. Nixon around, but she refused to move and stood stiffly. After some hesitation, the Soviet guard, an officer of the KGB, took Mrs. Nixon in his arms and carried her back to the room from which she had just emerged; it was her bedroom.

``He put her back in bed, and at just that moment the Secret Service arrived. They waved, smiled and said to our man, `OK, OK, thanks.′ They did not seem all that surprised.″

Dr. Jamie Whyte, associate director of the Sleep Disorder Center at New York’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, questioned Dobrynin’s version.

``It could be a case of sleepwalking but that would not be likely,″ Whyte said. ``Most adult sleepwalkers are considerably younger than Mrs. Nixon would have been. Sleepwalking with arms extended is more fiction than fact, but that’s not to say it could not occur.″