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Soviet Union: Rumors of a New Kremlin Chill

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The Warsaw Pact meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, last week was to have been the first gathering of the seven-member organization’s top leaders since January 1983. It was considered particularly significant since it followed the resumption of U.S.-Soviet arms talks. Then came the brief announcement from TASS: the conference had been postponed. To many Kremlin watchers, there was only one possible explanation, as voiced by a senior British diplomat: “A deterioration in Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko’s health.”

Chernenko is thought to be suffering from chronic emphysema; traveling during the cold snap that has gripped Europe might have worsened his condition at a time when disagreements among pact members require vigorous diplomacy. The treaty that established the alliance is up for renewal, and Hungary and Rumania are known to oppose Moscow’s desire to extend the agreement in perpetuity. Said a State Department Kremlinologist: “You don’t conquer recalcitrant allies from a wheelchair.”

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