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Senior Soviet official is rare dove in globe's antinuclear dovecote

By Gary ThatcherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 28, 1984


The world is closer to nuclear catastrophe today than it used to be. But I think more people are aware of the effects of nuclear war. And maybe that will restrain the politicians and the military.''

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The words are spoken by an unassuming man in a white laboratory coat. Admittedly, in and of themselves, these ideas are hardly world-shaking.

But they are significant - and for a number of reasons.

One is that they are spoken in Moscow, where championing peace is fine - as long as it is coupled with chastising the West. But the statement contains no geographical qualifiers.

Another is that it implies that politicians and the military need to be restrained - a notion that is not widely voiced in a country where both institutions are officially depicted as virtually omniscient and well-nigh infallible.

But, most significant of all, they are spoken by a pillar of the Soviet and Communist Party establishment - a man who has, in turn, assumed a prominent role in the worldwide nuclear freeze movement.

Dr. Yevgeny Chazov is a man with a lot of titles. Among them: member of the powerful Central Committee of the Communist Party, three-time winner of the Lenin Prize, Hero of Socialist Labor, and chief of the ultramodern USSR Cardiology Research Center, one of the leading heart-research centers in the world.

He is also co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a Boston-based organization with affiliates in 37 countries. The United States affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility, is among the more visible of American antinuclear organizations.

Because of his position in the organization and his extensive contacts in the West, Dr. Chazov is one of Moscow's most prominent, articulate, and influential spokesmen in the nuclear-freeze movement. He has traveled widely and has met with some prominent US politicians (such as Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy).

Admittedly, the involvement of a Soviet official in antinuclear campaigning is not, in itself, unusual. A bevy of Soviet ''peace experts'' routinely crisscross the globe, espousing the Kremlin's vision of a safer world. More often than not, that view involves a lopsided nuclear balance that ignores much of the Soviet Union's arsenal. Often, their efforts are so transparently propagandistic and ham-handed that they backfire.

But Chazov is somewhat different. For one thing, he is one of the highest-ranking Soviet officials to be involved in antinuclear efforts. For another, he is primarily a physician rather than a propagandist, and thus carries more credibility in the West. (He was former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's personal physician, and is believed to have been on the team of physicians that cared for the late Yuri Andropov.) Third, he refrains from the invective that characterizes so many of Moscow's comments about Washington.

Chazov does not, of course, stray from the official Kremlin line when discussing nuclear issues. But his arguments are more sophisticated, his rhetoric far less heated than that of many other Soviet officials. There is none of the threatening ''we'll match you and go one better'' language employed by some Soviet officials when talking about the West's nuclear capabilities. And Chazov generally does not try to pretend that the Soviet nuclear arsenal is somehow ''peaceful'' while the West's is ''dangerous.''

A bespectacled man of average height, he has reddish hair that is swept back as if he had just walked into a headwind. He moves and talks the same way, striding quickly and rarely pausing between words.

In an interview over a massive conference table in his wood-paneled office, he said: ''We go against the theory of mutual nuclear threat. We don't think that heaps of nuclear arms will protect the world.''

His involvement in the antinuclear effort was, he says, an outgrowth of early contacts with cardiologists from the West, especially the US. All of them were struck, he says, by the irony of doing medical research aimed at preserving human life while their governments were building more weapons capable of destroying it.