On the Battlefields of the Cold War
A Soviet Ambassador's Confession
On the Battlefields of the Cold War
A Soviet Ambassador's Confession
“While this is a work primarily for specialists and will not engender any grand revisions of our thinking about major aspects of the Cold War, such histories are useful because they show us how Soviet foreign policy was understood by those who carried it out and who, as Israelyan shows, became progressively disenchanted with the nonsense they had to espouse. Moreover, the author effectively conveys some of the atmosphere of the period and the issues that he worked on. Thus scholars who track Soviet foreign policy from 1960 to 1990 will derive considerable benefit from this memoir.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
For more than forty years Victor Israelyan served in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rising through the ranks to become one of the Soviet Union's leading diplomats specializing in disarmament negotiations. He was forced to retire in 1987, a casualty of a system that was about to collapse under the weight of its contradictions. On the Battlefields of the Cold War offers unique insight into the volatile inner workings of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, where the battle lines of the Cold War were often first drawn.
Israelyan has no patience for those of his compatriots who argue that Soviet foreign policy was ultimately just, save for a few "aberrations" such as the invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan. These acts were intrinsic to the system, and without them the mighty Soviet Union would not have existed as long as it did. The very foundation of Soviet foreign policy, therefore, was untenable, and the entire structure it supported was destined to implode.
Israelyan brings to this memoir a wealth of experience, having worked with all the postwar Soviet foreign ministers—from Molotov and Vyshinsky to Gromyko and Shevardnadze—and established diplomatic ties to the West, particularly to the United States. As part of the middle tier of the diplomatic hierarchy, he was privy both to meetings of the Collegium of the Foreign Ministry as well as to the many informal, private discussions among rank-and-file diplomats. Israelyan explains how he and his colleagues, as faithful defenders of Soviet ideology, viewed the United States, the Soviet Union's main adversary and partner. He tells of distinct factions within the Soviet foreign policy apparatus—factions that Soviet leaders sought to hide, fearing that any internal divisions might be interpreted by outsiders as discord. This aging Cold Warrior—one who accepts that he belonged to the party that lost the war—relates a deeply human story whose legacy continues today.
“While this is a work primarily for specialists and will not engender any grand revisions of our thinking about major aspects of the Cold War, such histories are useful because they show us how Soviet foreign policy was understood by those who carried it out and who, as Israelyan shows, became progressively disenchanted with the nonsense they had to espouse. Moreover, the author effectively conveys some of the atmosphere of the period and the issues that he worked on. Thus scholars who track Soviet foreign policy from 1960 to 1990 will derive considerable benefit from this memoir.”
“Both for those who experience it only as history and those who have enduring memories of life during that time, On the Battlefields of the Cold War is a fascinating resource in helping better understand this defining era in international relations.”
“Israelyan’s prose is brisk and lucid.”
Victor Israelyan has had a rich and distinguished career spanning five decades as a physician, diplomat, scholar, and professor. He has written more than ten books, including Inside the Kremlin During the Yom Kippur War (Penn State, 1995).
1. Training for the Cold War
2. The First Collisions of the Cold War
3. Stalin Is Dead. What Next?
4. Sowing the Seeds of Hatred in Hungary
5. The Khrushchev Style of Diplomacy
6. Thaws and Frosts
7. On the Diplomatic Sidelines
8. The Battlefield, UN
9. The Soviet Union’s 105th Veto
10. The Cold War on the Middle East Front
11. China—A New Front in the Cold War
12. Time to Go Home
13. The Soviet Diplomatic Headquarters at Smolenskaya Square
14. An Uneasy Truce in the Cold War
15. The Apotheosis of the Cold War
16. Marking Time
17. The Beginning of the End of the Cold War
18. Feigned Friendship
19. Farewell to the Cold War
As God would have it, I lived in a country that was in the midst of a tragic social-economic experiment. The goal was to build a new society, a society with neither poor nor rich, oppressed nor oppressors, where justice prevailed over inequality. The country that declared such noble goals achieved great accomplishments. By putting the lives of 27 million of its sons and daughters on the altar of victory, it helped to rid the world of the menace of fascism. It was the first country to successfully explore space. So powerful did this country become that by the latter half of the twentieth century it was recognized as one of only two superpowers determining the face of the modern world. At the same time, monstrous crimes were committed in this very same country; monstrous crimes against its own citizens, including mass murders and terrible infringements of human rights and freedoms. This is what gave rise to the label "evil empire"—a label that reverberated with shame throughout my country. I personally felt this shame, knowing that I shared the responsibility for the crimes and violations.
Nonetheless, I was a believer in the experiment, and to the best of my ability I served the system that had been created to support that experiment. Over the course of my forty years of service in the Foreign Ministry I gained a reputation among my colleagues and partners in negotiations as a knowledgeable diplomat. My service was appreciated highly; I was awarded nearly twenty governmental orders and medals, a state prize, ranks, and other decorations. Hundreds of times I sat in conference halls, negotiating at tables beneath a plaque bearing the name of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and I always felt proud and honored to be representing the interests of such a great country. In the end, however, the Soviet experiment collapsed under the weight of its contradictions. And the irony for me was that I was a casualty of these contradictions, forced to resign in shame after having always tried to fulfill my duties.
I resolutely oppose those of my countrymen, including my fellow diplomats, who shift responsibility for the Soviet evil exclusively to the leaders. No doubt the leaders must bear a lion’s share of the responsibility, since they were, so to speak, directing the show, but the others—party functionaries, bureaucrats, diplomats, military officers, scientists, artists, and more—participated in this show. Surely some played greater roles than others, and many did so out of fear, but it is important that each Soviet citizen realize and admit his or her share of the responsibility.
Memoirs are worthless if their authors attempt to present themselves as angels. I hope, therefore, that I do not belong to the unfortunately large group of former Soviet functionaries (party and governmental "apparatchiks," bureaucrats, diplomats, and others), who have written memoirs in which they try to convince their readers that during their sometimes stellar careers they always saw the errors and blunders of the Soviet leadership. Some of them belonged to the very leadership they now criticize, and yet we are supposed to believe that they apparently stood firm against these errors, but alas in vain. This seeming opposition did not prevent these men from climbing the ladder of service, for some were elected as delegates to the Supreme Soviet, some became members of the Party’s Central Committee, and some even became CPSU secretaries, being assigned to prestigious and important posts all along the way. In actuality, any noticeable opposition would not have been tolerated and would have resulted in strict punishment in the totalitarian Soviet state. Some authors, for example, former CPSU functionaries, claim to have sympathized with the "Prague Spring" and yet they advanced in the apparatus precisely because they had participated in its suppression. After the disintegration of the USSR, Politburo members who once headed the KGB in Soviet republics claimed to be champions of human rights and fighters for democratic freedoms. We shall leave it on their conscience.
It is important that we have firsthand accounts from those who held the highest leadership positions in the Soviet Union. Less recognized, but equally interesting and important, are the ordinary civil servants who labored in the trenches—the middle tier of the Soviet State apparatus. I myself belonged to this tier; and therefore, it is what I have concentrated on in writing my memoirs.
In the summer of 1991 I was invited by the Fulbright Foundation to teach a course on Soviet foreign policy at Pennsylvania State University. I accepted this invitation with pleasure; but when I left Moscow for the United States in the days of the August 1991 coup, I could not imagine that I was leaving a country that soon would cease to exist. So sudden was the Soviet collapse that I had to alter the course I was teaching at the time. Continuing to hold forth on the foreign policy of a nonexistent state somehow seemed inappropriate. In the years that followed I was invited many times to lecture and to participate in conferences. Invariably, the one subject I was always asked to speak about was the Soviet collapse. Why had it happened? Even today I find it impossible to fully explain the fall of the Soviet state. I do not even attempt such an explanation here. Rather my aspiration is to bring to life, as best I can, one part of the Soviet experience to which I devoted all my life. I cannot claim to be objective but I have tried to be as evenhanded as possible in the hope that future observers will have one more piece of the puzzle as they seek to understand the tragedy that was the Soviet experiment.
T R A I N I N G F O R T H E C O L D WAR
Save Humanity from the Epidemic of War
I did not set out to become a diplomat. Since childhood I had been fascinated
by the medical profession. My father was a successful pediatrician in
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, the city where I was born in 1919 and spent
my early years. He loved his work and tried to instill that feeling in me, and
my decision to enter one of the best medical schools of the country, the
First Moscow Medical Institute, was therefore only natural, I suppose. A
successful and enthusiastic student, I intended to devote myself to research
in the area of bacteriology. It was my dream to find ways to protect humanity
from diseases that took millions of lives. My idols were the German
Robert Koch, the Frenchman Louis Pasteur, and the Russian Ilya Mechnikov,
the great bacteriologists. I studied their research with great interest.
I completed the five-year course in June of 1941. The finals on obstetrics
and gynecology were scheduled for June 25. However, the preexamination
fever was suddenly interrupted. On Sunday, June 22, Stalin’s deputy Vyacheslav
Molotov announced that Germany had attacked the Soviet Union. Although
it was a sunny weekend, the streets of Moscow were strangely silent as anxiety
and alarm swept through the city. Further preparations for the finals were
out of the question. The students were asked to complete their studies as soon
as possible and prepare for the beginning of war. Upon receiving my medical
diploma at the end of June I left for the recruiting office in Tbilisi to which
I had been assigned. It was the first week of the war. Despite Molotov’s assurances
that the enemy would be immediately driven from Soviet territory, the
Germans advanced deep into the country. Though the route of my four-day
trip from Moscow to Tbilisi went nowhere near the front line, signs of war
were already apparent. The train did not run according to schedule and was
delayed at stations, jammed with passengers, who had suddenly been forced
to leave their homes. Consternation reigned as we wondered why the Germans
had attacked us.
In Tbilisi I rushed to the recruiting office where I enlisted in July of 1941
as a private in a newly formed infantry regiment. Not having had any military
training, I frequently found myself in tight spots and did everything
wrong, drawing severe reprimands and punishment from my superiors and
sneers from my fellow soldiers. To my great relief, the regiment’s commanding
officer came to my rescue. After learning about my education, he
arranged for me to be transferred to the Sukhumi Border Guards, stationed
on the coast of the Black Sea in Abkhazia and Northern Caucasus region,
where my medical training could be put to good use.
In 1942, when the Germans had overwhelmed Soviet troops in the Crimea
and started to push toward Stalingrad, the units of the Sukhumi Border
Guards engaged in combat in the Northern Caucasus. The battles were
bloody, and an endless stream of sick (a malaria epidemic was raging in the
area of the fighting, and I came down with it myself) and wounded passed
through my hands. My doctoring was limited to rendering first aid. The
mountainous location with no roads made it impossible to set up even basic
field hospitals. We had to work in tents and to ship our wounded to the rear
on horses and donkeys. Many did not make it to hospitals—they perished
along the way. For the first time I began to feel dissatisfaction with the medical
profession. I was depressed by how little help we could truly offer to
the wounded. This feeling grew in me with time.
In 1943 I was assigned to accompany a trainload of paroled criminals
recruited from Caucasian prisons for the Red Army. It was almost three
thousand miles from Tbilisi to Kaluga, a city located to the Northwest of
Moscow. There the recruits were to be assigned to disciplinary units and
sent to the front. At times our route took us through the sites of recent battles.
We saw destroyed buildings, blown-up bridges, burning tanks and cannons,
and unburied corpses everywhere.
The train cars or teplushki we traveled in were meant for cattle not people.
We had to sleep on the floor covered with a thin layer of straw. There
was no heat, and food supplies were sporadic. Food shortages were solved
by robbery. The recruits plundered everything they could—warehouses,
stores, farms—leaving a trail of fear and hatred behind us. The unsanitary
conditions of the trip, freezing temperatures, and lack of food caused numerous
diseases and poisoning, and once again it was impossible to provide effective
medical help. Occasionally, we had to take our sick to local hospitals. I
saw so many of these hospitals during our trip! They were all the same—
run-down, dirty, poorly ventilated, and crowded. What could a doctor do
under these conditions? Could he cure humanity of the greatest madness of
all—mass destruction of people with the help of weapons? These were the
questions tormenting me during the long and sleepless nights on the train.
A Change of Heart
With these doubts and thoughts I arrived in Kaluga in December 1943. The
first thing I did was take a bath. I hadn’t bathed or changed my clothes for
almost two months. I couldn’t wait to strip everything off—boots, underwear,
everything—and burn it all in the furnace. A few days later, while passing
through Moscow, I found myself visiting the home of my father’s
acquaintance, Vladimir Dekanozov, deputy minister of foreign affairs. I knew
he was a powerful man and could help me at this difficult time.
I want to say a few words about Dekanozov because he played a considerable
role in my life. I first met Dekanozov in Tbilisi in the 1930s. My father
treated the children of many influential and powerful people, Dekanozov’s
son and daughter among them. My father sometimes made house calls and
sometimes the children were brought to our house for treatment. Because
of this our families became friends. A native of Georgia, who worked in
Tbilisi for many years, Dekanozov was close to Lavrenty Beria, the leader
of the Georgian communists and one of the most sinister figures in Soviet
history. When Beria was later transferred to Moscow and appointed peoples’
commissar of internal affairs, he took a group of devoted and loyal followers
with him. Dekanozov was among them. In 1939, after working for a
few years in the KGB, Dekanozov was appointed deputy peoples’ commissar
of foreign affairs and, in 1940, Soviet ambassador in Germany. He participated
in important negotiations between Molotov and Hitler in November
1940. On the night of June 22, 1941, when the German foreign minister,
Joachim von Ribbentrop, issued Hitler’s declaration of war on the Soviet
Union, he handed it to Dekanozov.
When Dekanozov returned to Moscow and was appointed deputy minister,
his authority in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) was indisputable.
Nobody wanted to be on the bad side of Beria’s man. There were rumors
that even Molotov’s other deputy, the ferocious Andrei Vyshinsky, fawned
on Dekanozov. He was the only Soviet ambassador that Stalin invited to
Lenin’s Tomb to review the May Day military parade on Red Square—clear
evidence of Dekanozov’s standing with Stalin, who liked the ambassador’s
sharp mind. After the war, however, he fell from grace. Most probably
because Stalin never forgave Dekanozov for disagreeing with him at the time
of Hitler’s attack. He was dismissed from the MFA and was without job for
a long time. In 1953 Beria was executed along with his closest supporters.
Dekanozov’s family, his wife and his grown children, were exiled to a remote
town in Soviet Asia, where they were humiliated and robbed.
When I visited Dekanozov in the winter of 1943, I started by telling him
of my disappointment with the medical profession and then told him some
stories from my military life. One of the stories made Dekanozov laugh, and
this unexpectedly affected my own future. The story went as follows:
In late November 1943 our train was parked in a siding for several days
at a godforsaken station north of Stalingrad. It was there that one night our
train was surrounded by KGB troops. We were ordered out of the train, and
told to leave all personal belongings behind. When the train commander
asked for an explanation, the KGB officer barked at him to shut up and carry
out the order. Then we, about a hundred sleepy, half-dressed people, were
organized into columns and escorted deep into the steppe. We walked for
a long time into the cold darkness, as the wind howled around us. I know
I was not only one who thought we were going to be executed.
When we were far from the station, we were ordered to stop and to stand
with our backs to the station. "Here ends a short and meaningless life," I
thought to myself. With a sinking heart I waited for the end. Seconds went
by, then minutes, but the shots did not ring out. In bewilderment and fear
we looked back only to see the silhouettes of our escorts leaving toward the
station. We stood in the cold and darkness for another few hours, chilled to
the bone but afraid to move lest we be shot dead. We remained standing
there until the break of day. We returned to the station as quickly as we
could and discovered, to our relief, our train was still there. We quickly got
on board and took our places. We were even more relived when the switchman
was given the green light and we continued our journey.
"That is how I nearly lost my life for the sins of others," I concluded my
story. "Funny man you are," Dekanozov said breaking into laughter, "it was
Comrade Stalin in his special train on his way to the Tehran Conference.
The KGB received orders to clear the whole route ahead of him. That’s all.
You can consider yourself a part of the conference now." He smiled and
added, "You’ll be a diplomat some day."
The idea of abandoning medicine and becoming a diplomat continued
to nag me after that conversation. I was certain that diplomacy was the best
way to prevent wars and forge peaceful relations between countries. My early
disappointment as a doctor undoubtedly played a considerable role in my
thinking, and I’m certain that the prestige and cosmopolitanism I associated
with a diplomatic career factored into my decision. But what could I
do to make it happen? At the time there were no open educational institutions,
preparing experts in the field of international relations and diplomacy.
The Department of International Relations of Moscow State University wasn’t
created until 1944. Practically no one was aware of the existence of closed
courses preparing students for a diplomatic career. These courses were later
to become the Higher School of Diplomacy, and yet later—the Diplomatic
Academy.* Besides I was not a member of the Communist Party and was
not involved in political activities or public affairs. Above all was the war,
which made any change of profession practically impossible.
Dekanozov turned out to be most helpful in introducing me into the
diplomatic field. I asked my father to write him a letter, and the deputy minister
responded promptly. In June 1944 my office received a cable from him,
requesting my immediate presence in Moscow to take the entrance examinations
for the Diplomatic Academy. I was delighted. I was very proud to
receive Dekanozov’s cable, but afraid of the examinations. Unfortunately, I
knew little about history and law. I immediately wound up my unfinished
business and left for Moscow.
Over the years my connection to Dekanozov had both good and bad
effects on my diplomatic career. I was told later by friends in personnel that
the first document in my personal file was my father’s letter to Dekanozov
followed by Dekanozov’s cable, which was responsible for my acceptance in
the Diplomatic Academy. Later, when Dekanozov was executed in connection
with Beria’s trial, anyone connected with Dekanozov became potentially
suspect. Therefore, my personal file was a source of concern to those
around me. Every bureaucrat, regardless of rank, was frightened by
Dekanozov’s letter. At times I was passed over for promotion and sidetracked
when new assignments were offered. Although I didn’t realize it at the time,
few wanted to support a person, who entered diplomacy on the recommendation
of an "enemy of the people." Only in the late 1960s, after I had
been lucky enough to meet Brezhnev, did my connection with Dekanozov
cease to play a significant role in my diplomatic career.
By and large, though, my feelings for Dekanozov have been those of gratitude.
Without passing judgment on his political activity, I can only attest to
the fact that he was a brilliant and extraordinary person, despite his tragic fate.
A Student at the Diplomatic Academy
The entrance examinations for the Diplomatic Academy turned out to be a
mere formality, though we prepared for them with all seriousness. Only those
with backing were accepted. Fortunately, I had the necessary support. Nearly
150 students enrolled in 1944 in the school from all Soviet republics. The
school itself consisted of two divisions—Western and Oriental. Each faculty
was composed of different language groups, some fifteen to twenty altogether.
Because I was from the Caucasus, it was suggested that I should
enter the Arabic section within the Oriental unit. I did not want to do this
so I was placed in the Hungarian group, which consisted of four first-year
students. We were to become experts on Hungary.
I started my studies in the fall of 1944. The major subjects were the history
of diplomacy, foreign policy of the Soviet Union, international law, and
world economics; however, priority was given to foreign languages. Besides
Hungarian I studied English and worked on improving my German, which
I had known from childhood. My German language teacher was Sofia
Liebknecht, widow of the founder of the German Communist Party, Karl
Liebknecht, who had come to live in the Soviet Union.
We were also taught diplomatic protocol, etiquette, and even ballroom
dancing. After the harsh life at the front in conditions of hardship and deprivation
caused by the war, these skills seemed unreal and useless to us. The
truth of the matter is that they added a certain luster to our training, and
we (as a rule, being single young men) showed off these accomplishments
to our girlfriends. Our teachers drew on their own diplomatic practice and
experience in explaining the importance of these subjects.
The teaching of social studies was, of course, based on the standard orthodoxy,
the unwavering principles of Marxism-Leninism and the works and
speeches of Stalin. Every interview and speech, not to mention Stalin’s articles
and brochures, were the subject of extensive discussion among students
and professors, all comments being unfailingly laudatory. Although at times
done artistically and with imagination, this empty praise contributed virtually
nothing to the educational process.
The Diplomatic Academy was a closed elite educational institution. It was
impossible to find information about it in any directory. We were discouraged
from mentioning our affiliation with it. We all received rather high stipends
and additional food vouchers; the students from other cities were lodged in
good hostels or hotels. All school activities and the life of the student body
took place under the vigilant supervision of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the MFA, and of course,
the KGB. Therefore, we avoided discussions of controversial political issues,
and we were always cautious in expressing our opinions about the Soviet
government and the actions of the Communist Party.
The ethnic structure of the student body was rather diverse. My class
(1944–46) consisted of representatives from all Soviet republics. There were
no Jews though. When one of the students was found to have concealed his
Jewish origins, he was immediately expelled from the DA on some trumpedup
pretext. Anti-Semitism in the USSR was supposedly forbidden by law.
Nonetheless, it existed. There were several Jews among the professors, and
they were kept for one simple reason—the absence of equally qualified
replacements. But during numerous anti-Semitic campaigns conducted on
various specious pretexts (the struggle against cosmopolitanism, worship of
the foreign, and so on), they suffered their share of persecution. Among
other things, they were subjected to "resolute condemnation" at humiliating
gatherings, were forced to confess to all manner of deadly sins, and
underwent administrative harassment and demotions.
The educational process at the Diplomatic Academy gave students the
opportunity to become acquainted with the leaders of foreign communist
parties who at various times had been compelled to emigrate to the Soviet
Union. Along with my classmates from the Hungarian section I was able to
meet with Matyas Rakosi, one of the leaders of the Hungarian Communist
Party. Conversations with Rakosi left a troubling impression on my classmates
and me. His appearance was most unattractive: he was short, round,
and restless, his eyes were constantly watering, and could not win our
confidence or trust. Most important, he could not tell us anything new
about Hungary, its political situation, or its prospects for development. His
judgments were derived from standard Soviet propaganda stereotypes. "The
Bloody Regime of Horthy," "Hitler’s Satellites," "Exploiters of the
Hungarian people"—these were the clichés he used to characterize the ruling
elite of Hungary. In his opinion only the Soviet Union together with
Hungarian communists could rescue the state from complete collapse. Rakosi
could not really teach us anything without drawing criticism from the apparatchiks
who were supervising his instruction. On the other hand, he himself
knew very little about Hungarian literature, culture, and art. He could
not give an intelligible answer to many questions and thus left us with the
impression that Rakosi didn’t know the real situation in Hungary.
The fact is that the young Rakosi, was one of the leaders of the Hungarian
Soviet Republic, which existed for 133 days in 1919, and was captured by the
Horthyites before he could escape after it was overthrown and was sentenced
to death. Later the sentence was commuted to life in prison. The leader of
Soviet Hungary, Bela Kun, was less fortunate. He managed to escape the
Horthyites and settle in the USSR where he held an important post in the
Comintern, but in the late 1930s he was executed in a Soviet prison. The
Horthyites turned out to be more magnanimous in their treatment of Rakosi.
In 1940 they agreed to exchange Rakosi for the banners of the Hungarian
revolution of 1848–49, which were kept in the Soviet Union. Thus Rakosi
appeared in the USSR. As he himself once admitted, his greatest dream was
to resemble Comrade Stalin in everything and to be his best student.
The two years of study at the Diplomatic Academy flew by quickly,
although they were filled with hard work. Every student had already received
higher education (a prerequisite for entry), but international relations and
diplomacy were totally unknown and new areas to all of us. The majority of
the students did not speak any foreign language, and many of them, especially
those from Soviet Asia and the Baltic republics, could hardly speak any
Russian. In the years at the Diplomatic Academy not only did we acquire
actual knowledge, but even more important, our mentality and overall understanding
of international relations and the problems of Soviet foreign policy
underwent a change.
However, unfortunately neither my classmates nor I had a clear, complete
picture of the craft of diplomacy. We were taught to fight for the high
purposes of communist foreign policy and to oppose the imperialist states,
and so forth. We weren’t trained to negotiate with representatives of other
countries, to collect information, conduct correspondence, and draft reports
to our capital. Many years later I realized that we had not been taught the
ABCs of diplomacy. I still remember my embarrassment after my graduation
from the Diplomatic Academy when I could not answer a question
about the specifics of diplomatic work.
I have no recollection of any specific Soviet definition of diplomacy offered
by our professors at the Diplomatic Academy. One appeared later in the
Soviet diplomatic dictionary, and in the works of Valerian Zorin, Anatoly
Kovalev, and other authors. Essentially, they stated that the core of diplomacy
and world politics was the class struggle. They taught that the diverse
activities of Soviet diplomats should first of all be built around the class interests
of the victorious Soviet proletariat and its advance guard—the CPSU.
Therefore, the methods, style, and the goals of Soviet diplomats should be
dictated by these interests. "Comrade Stalin’s faithful follower" Vyacheslav
Molotov and later the no less "faithful" Andrei Vyshinsky were recommended
to us as model exponents of the art of diplomacy.
I do not know whether the names of the leading Soviet "cold warriors"
who represented the Soviet Union in the first postwar years and became
important players in world diplomacy will find their places in the Diplomatic
Hall of Fame alongside those of Metternich, Talleyrand, Bismarck,
Gorchakov, Jefferson, and others, but I hope that the following sketches
will provide a better understanding of the Soviet-style diplomat. As a junior
diplomat and a lecturer I had only a few encounters with Molotov and
Vyshinsky, so my sketches are based on a mixture of personal recollection
and the stories I have heard from others.
Molotov the "Nyet Negotiator"
There is no doubt in my mind that Molotov was the most significant of the
Soviet cold warriors. His appointment to the post of people’s commissar for
foreign affairs in the spring of 1939 not only marked a change in the leadership
of the Soviet foreign service, it signified a serious turn in Soviet foreign
policy. This was a sure sign of Stalin’s growing influence over the state’s
international activities, which resulted in a complete reshuffling of the Soviet
Stalin could not have found a better figure for implementing his foreign
policy changes than Molotov. He was very critical of his predecessor,
Litvinov, and his policy of cooperation with France and Britain, which was
designed to create a system of collective security in Europe against Hitler’s
aggression. The failure of Litvinov’s efforts in the late 1930s gave Molotov
cause to rejoice, for he considered Litvinov "rotten" and a threat to the
goals of the Kremlin leadership. Stalin, for his part, knew that Litvinov, a
Jew, was the wrong man for implementing a policy of rapprochement with
Hitler; and therefore, he chose Molotov, with whom he was close. During
a meeting with Litvinov in the summer of 1946 one of our fellow Diplomatic
Academy graduates asked the former people’s commissar for foreign affairs
why he had resigned his post in the spring of 1939. Litvinov answered bitterly:
"Do you really think that I was the right person to sign a treaty with
Hitler?" It was clear to me that he had always opposed and despised the rapprochement
with Nazi Germany. At that time we were much amazed at his
courage in voicing such an opinion even though it contradicted the official
Soviet policy pursued under the "wise guidance of the great leader."
"When Litvinov was discharged and I became the head of the foreign
service," Molotov recalled, "Stalin told me ‘Get the Jews out of the
Narkomat [foreign ministry].’" Following Stalin’s instructions, Molotov,
with considerable relish and diligence, had many Jews dismissed and arrested,
even though he himself was married to Polina Zhemchuzhina, who was
Jewish and had occupied a ministerial post in the 1930s.
Molotov was minister of foreign affairs twice: from 1939 to 1949, and
from 1953 to 1956. His influence on the new generation of Soviet diplomats
was due not only to his long tenure as minister but also to his close relationship
with Stalin. He was second in command in the Soviet Union for
many years. Sometimes he had "friendly" disagreements with Stalin on secondary
issues. Stalin tolerated these challenges for a while but eventually
they led to his downfall. Nonetheless, despite Stalin’s wrath, and the arrest
of his wife on the "great leader’s" orders, Molotov remained as faithful to
Stalin as a dog.
In the history of diplomacy, Molotov first emerges in connection with
the Soviet-German Pact of August 23, 1939, and the secret protocols that
accompanied it (the pact is usually referred to as the Molotov-Ribbentrop
Pact). The Soviet minister was always proud of the deal he made with Hitler
on the eve of the war. At a meeting Molotov had with the faculty of the
Diplomatic Academy in the mid-1950s I asked him a question that was also
on the minds of other professors and students: Were any secret protocols
signed in connection with the nonaggression pact? Molotov’s response
showed his irritation with the question: "These are not matters with which
you and your students should concern yourselves." At that time I was not
so much surprised by the answer as by the fact that he had not denied the
existence of such protocols. Soviet propaganda persistently denied it until
the end of the 1980s, and he sometimes confirmed this propaganda.
During negotiations, Molotov typically ignored the person he was talking
to and, moreover, did not consider what had been said. When his counterpart
represented a small state, Molotov would use threats and blackmail.
The stubbornness with which he repeated his position often caused his partner
to lose his temper. The classic example occurred during the talks between
Molotov and Hitler in November 1940 in Berlin. Dekanozov, who participated
in the talks, recalled that Molotov was quite satisfied with the talks
even though Hitler and Ribbentrop emphasized one view while Molotov
clung to the other, thus achieving nothing. Molotov stuck so stubbornly to
his demands that the Führer lost his temper. When Dekanozov related this
to Stalin and expressed surprise that a man with such a fine mind as Molotov
could conduct negotiations in this way, Stalin responded: "Of course,
Molotov has a fine mind, but it’s a stupid mind."
After World War II the Soviet Union claimed the former Italian colony
of Libya as a protectorate because Stalin wanted to create a Soviet military
base near Tripoli. Of course, there was no legal basis for such a claim, but
Molotov, during several conferences of foreign ministers of the Big Powers,
tried to impose the Soviet position upon his colleagues. Ernest Bevin, the
British foreign secretary, had a breakdown and had to be attended to immediately
by a doctor in the conference room. Churchill, who negotiated with
Molotov several times, wrote in his memoirs that he had never seen a human
being who more perfectly represented the modern conception of a robot
than did Molotov. He was notorious for the way he conducted negotiations
with poise, single-mindedness of purpose, and fantastic stubbornness.
Molotov’s negotiating style had another remarkable feature. He never
excused his partner’s diplomatic blunders or slips but instead used them to
his own advantage. At the London session of the Council of Ministers of
Foreign Affairs in September 1945, the president of the conference, Bevin
allowed himself to make an insulting remark about Soviet foreign policy,
saying that its methods reminded him of the fascists.’ Molotov immediately
sprang from his seat and started for the door. Afraid of an international scandal,
Bevin, who had only recently taken the post of foreign secretary, went
up to Molotov and apologized for the "bad comparison." Nevertheless, the
atmosphere remained tense thereafter, undoubtedly contributing to the ultimate
failure of the conference. Afterwards, several observers blamed Bevin
for his poor chairmanship. Molotov was pleased with himself.
I happened to witness another episode at a later session of the Council
of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, the United States, France, and
Britain. The session took place in Moscow in March 1947. George Bidault
of France was to make a statement as part of a general discussion of the
German problem. However, he put aside the text of his statement and spoke
"off the cuff." It became clear later that he was confused and had come to
the meeting under the influence of alcohol; this was not the first time this
had happened. Molotov, who was presiding over the meeting, immediately
took advantage of the situation and interpreted everything Bidault said as
agreement with the Soviet position. Bidault’s deputy, after asking his minister
to yield the floor, then clearly voiced France’s position, which differed
considerably from that of the Soviet Union. Disappointed by the failure of
his "diplomatic maneuver," Molotov abandoned his formerly friendly attitude
toward the French minister. John Dulles, who participated in the
Moscow Conference, recalled that at the farewell dinner given by Stalin at
the Kremlin, Molotov, who acted as toastmaster at his host’s request, toasted
Bevin, Secretary of State Marshall, and various other persons, and then
made a belated toast to Bidault, couched in language that was deliberately
Molotov’s goal as foreign minister was to expand the confines of "our
Motherland," the Soviet Union. In a lecture given at the Diplomatic
Academy he emphasized that the concept of "Motherland" should not be
regarded from the viewpoint of Soviet national interests but from a classoriented
perspective. "The greatest pride of the Russian nation," he said,
"is that it not only leads the USSR but world progress as well." He believed
that Russian communists could not be separated from the world revolution,
they must fight for the world revolution. He claimed that the only way to
achieve this was to wage an uncompromising struggle against "imperialism,"
that is, capitalist countries that were dedicated to harming the "Motherland
of Socialism" and deceiving the Soviet Union. Therefore, Molotov appealed
to students and diplomats to be always on guard and alert to prevent "trickery"
against the Soviets.
Molotov lived to be ninety-six, and to the very end of his long life he
remained incorrigible, dogmatic, and stubbornly orthodox, viewing life
through the prism of simplified, sometimes even primitive, conclusions
formed during the October Revolution of 1917 and never relinquished. He
opposed Khrushchev’s very modest steps toward democracy. Even in his old
age his conscience was untroubled despite his participation in the terror and
crimes of the 1930s. He never expressed any regret over his actions.
Molotov considered himself a politician rather than a diplomat. As a foreign
minister he created a centralized type of diplomacy. "Stalin and I held
everything in our fist," Molotov once confessed. "We controlled diplomacy
by directing everything from the center, from Moscow. We never ran risks,
knowing that we had reliable people who understood their roles." Molotov
could afford to be proud because he had recruited most of these "reliable
people" himself. After his appointment in 1939, many young people came
to work in the foreign service: Communist Party nomenklatura, political scientists,
journalists. Few spoke foreign languages or had been abroad. Their
image of the USSR’s neighbors as well as that of the rest of the "capitalist
encirclement" was based on propaganda in the Soviet press about the "class
struggle of the bourgeoisie," about "the increasingly acute economic crisis
in the capitalist countries," and so on. This generation, which could rightly
be called Stalin’s generation, was at the same time very diligent, obedient,
persistent, and fanatically devoted to the "general line of the Communist
Party and the Soviet government."
Representatives of this generation who were selected by Molotov later
became important figures the world Cold War diplomacy: Andrei Gromyko,
Fedor Gusev, Yakov Malik, Georgy Pushkin, Valerian Zorin, Vladimir
Semenov, Kiril Novikov, Aleksandr Lavrishchev, and others. I have known
and worked with many of them. Gromyko was minister of foreign affairs for
most of my diplomatic career; Malik was my boss in New York; and I succeeded
Novikov as head of a department in the MFA.
Molotov’s activity in the political and diplomatic arena was viewed in different
and sometimes conflicting ways. Litvinov’s claim that Molotov understood
nothing at all about foreign policy and diplomacy was based on his
observation of Molotov’s stand during several international negotiations.
"Had Molotov been in Stalin’s place," noted Litvinov, "this breakup [of the
anti-Hitlerite coalition] would have occurred a long time ago." On the other
hand, Dulles called Molotov the best diplomat of the twentieth century, and
Churchill ranked him with the great diplomats of the nineteenth century.
"In the conduct of foreign affairs, Mazarini, Talleyrand, Metternich, would
welcome him [Molotov] to their company," wrote Churchill, "if there be
another world to which Bolsheviks allow themselves to go."
The Prosecutor’s Diplomacy of Vyshinsky
The reader who turns to page 540 of the ninth volume of the 1952 edition
of the Large Soviet Encyclopedia (Bol’shaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya) will
find himself transfixed by the piercing, hypnotic stare, through a pair of
horn-rimmed spectacles, of a man of intellectual appearance wearing the
uniform of an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Soviet
Union. The photograph is accompanied by a brief biography containing this
passage: "He relentlessly exposes the predatory policy of the reactionary ruling
circles of the USA and Britain, and in the name of the USSR and all of
the progressive humanity demands the banning of the criminal propaganda
of war conducted with impunity in the countries of the imperialist aggressors
against the USSR and the countries of the people’s democracy." The
subject of this passage is Andrei Vyshinsky, the man whose name is inseparable
from the blood-stained pages of the history of the Soviet Union in the
1930s. The above passage, however, relates not to his career in the sphere
of "jurisprudence" but in an altogether different field, in the international
arena. For about fifteen years Vyshinsky served the USSR in the area of foreign
policy and affairs, first as a deputy minister, and from 1949 to 1953 as
minister of foreign affairs. Vyshinsky served as minister between two stints
by Molotov, who replaced Vyshinsky after Stalin’s death. Vyshinsky was also
a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, and as a political scientist he
envisaged the speedy collapse of the capitalist world.
Vyshinsky was an odious figure primarily because of his record as the chief
public prosecutor at practically all the big political trials, the trials that shattered
the lives of thousands upon thousands of human beings. "Whenever
I looked into those pale eyes [Vyshinsky’s]," Charles Bohlen, U.S. ambassador
in the Soviet Union, wrote in his memoirs, "I saw the horrible spectacle
of the prosecutor browbeating the defendants of the Bukharin trial
[one of the most notorious trials during Stalin’s purges of the 1930s]."
Indelibly imprinted on the memory of George Kennan, who also worked
for many years in Moscow, for a time as U.S. ambassador, were the political
trials of the 1930s when, in the Hall of Columns of the House of Unions,
he heard Vyshinsky "sounding the cry of suspicious, secretive Russia against
the fancied hostility of the outside world." U.S. secretary of state Dean
Acheson, Vyshinsky’s opposite number, with whom he had talks on more
than one occasion, also had anything but a high opinion of him. "As a public
prosecutor during Stalin’s bloody purges of the Party, officialdom, and
army in the 1930s," Acheson wrote, "he had hounded former friends and
colleagues to breakdown and death."
Vyshinsky was at the zenith of his diplomatic career in the late 1940s. Few
of us newcomers to the diplomatic service had occasion to work directly
with him. But we had listened to his speeches, attended meetings he chaired,
and of course, talked about him a great deal. His speeches, his sarcastic
remarks and comments, and the dressings-down he administered regularly
to subordinates guilty or not guilty of misdemeanors were the subject of
lively discussion. He was feared by nearly everyone. To get on his bad side,
especially when he was in an ill humor, was nothing short of disaster.
I remember one instance when I briefly felt Vyshinsky’s wrath. It was the
day I received a call from his assistant, Ivan Lobanov, who told me to report
immediately to the chief’s office with some documents. I was delighted at
this honor and rushed to Vyshinsky’s office with a pile of documents. Lobanov
was not at the reception desk, so I told the secretary that Vyshinsky expected
me and entered the boss’s office. He was sitting at his desk, which was covered
with papers, absorbed in his reading. "Andrei Yanuaryevich, Israelyan
reporting as ordered!" I announced eagerly. Clearly annoyed, Vyshinsky set
his reading aside and gave me a menacing look. Putting a finger to his temple,
he barked: "Are you out of your mind? You are interrupting my work.
Get out!" Dismayed by his reaction I retreated hastily and returned to my
office, only to be met with laughter from my colleagues. It became clear that
it wasn’t Lobanov who had called me, but one of our friends, who had the
extraordinary ability to mimic other people’s voices. I was the victim of his
latest joke, which could have cost me dearly. He explained that he had
expected Lobanov to prevent me from entering the office and hadn’t anticipated
that he would be away from his desk at the time. Naturally, I was terrified
that the prank would have dire consequences for me, but fortunately
Vyshinsky was so busy at the time that he forgot all about it.
Vyshinsky’s "relentless exposures" of external enemies, his public speeches
crammed with historical allusions and analogies (often highly dubious); his
juggling of aphorisms, proverbs, and Latin phrases; and finally, the crushing
labels he attached to his political opponents evoked the approval and even
the delight of some admirers of his talent. To be fair, it must be admitted
that he did possess this "gift" as well. It made him popular not only among
"fighters against imperialism" but among some intelligent people too.
Vyshinsky’s role in foreign affairs commanded particular attention in the
years when he headed the MFA. I do not think one should overrate his
importance in developing foreign policy concepts and in determining the
key positions of the Soviet Union, partly because, unlike some of his predecessors
and successors in the post of foreign minister, he was never a member
of the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CPSU’s Central Committee.
He was not one of Stalin’s inner circle. However, in terms of putting these
policies into effect, in other words, the diplomatic style, Vyshinsky’s hand
was immediately discernible. His style and passion for "exposures" only exacerbated
the conflicting and confrontational elements in world diplomacy
that fueled the Cold War.
Vyshinsky liked "public" diplomacy and was particularly partial to addressing
international conferences. At the fourth UN General Assembly in 1949
he delivered twenty-nine speeches, at the fifth—twenty-six, and at the sixth—
twenty-two. The speeches, as a rule, were lengthy, some of them lasting
from two to two and a half hours, and sometimes more. In fact, to this day
no foreign minister throughout the entire history of the United Nations has
delivered as many speeches as Vyshinsky.
What is more remarkable is the nature of these orations. Vyshinsky’s
speeches were marked by an unusual mix of solemn, sonorous Latin, a cascade
of Russian proverbs, and primitive, vulgar invective, which very often
provoked ripostes from his opponents. The polemics he indulged in were
deliberately confrontational, as he branded, pilloried, humiliated, and
ridiculed other delegates. He was less concerned with finding mutually
acceptable compromises than with disarming his opponent so that he could
gain the negotiating advantage.
Vyshinsky, impatient, rude, and quick-tempered by nature, was never a
real diplomat. François De Calliers once observed that "a man who by nature
is strange, inconstant, and ruled by his own humors and passions should not
enter the profession of diplomacy, but should go to the wars." Vyshinsky,
unfortunately, was ill-equipped for the diplomatic profession.
Vyshinsky had a rather unusual custom, which distinguished him from other
Soviet diplomats. Following standard procedure, he usually submitted to the
Kremlin drafts of his statements in advance for their clearance. However, he
always departed from the approved text and delivered a different version of
the statement. On the level of substance the two versions weren’t all that different,
but it was risky nonetheless to veer from the approved text. Therefore,
to be on the safe side, Vyshinsky always sent back to Moscow a version of his
speech that was already in the Kremlin, not the one he had actually made.
Later, when I started to work in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
I discovered these differences and reported it to my superior, but he advised
me to keep my mouth shut about my discovery.
A tendency to indulge in denunciatory diatribes bordering on downright
rudeness and to use "shocking language" was in Vyshinsky’s very nature. In
the choice of startling yet essentially meaningless epithets, his imagination
knew no bounds. True, such epithets as "mad dog," "stinking offal,"
"accursed scoundrel," "despicable cur," and the like which he liberally used
at political trials in the Soviet Union were not indulged in at international
forums. However, expressions like "rabbit warmonger," "crude falsifier," "a
gentleman run amok," "a mad man" or "semi-mad man," and "foul slanderer"
abounded in his speeches even there.
Malik, who worked for many years with Vyshinsky and admired him, told
me how, after one of Vyshinsky’s insulting tirades, one of the foreign diplomats
he had attacked challenged him to a duel. Vyshinsky, however, did not
accept the challenge, instead voicing his "contempt" for the person. The use
of offensive expressions by Vyshinsky evoked displeasure even in the Kremlin.
He was told to curb his zeal. The former prosecutor’s courtroom rhetoric was
accompanied by the issuing of "wrathful protests" and the "contemptuous
dismissal of brazen statements." At the same time Vyshinsky lied and misinformed
his partners. On the issue of repatriation of Soviet POWs and displaced
persons, violation of human rights and purges, the drive against "cosmopolitanism,"
and so forth, he had told outright lies without blushing.
The end result of Vyshinsky’s behavior was that he was not trusted. People
were reluctant to have with him the kind of unofficial, friendly contacts that
are so important in diplomacy. However, the impression Vyshinsky made on
Western politicians and diplomats was not entirely negative. President
Roosevelt was fascinated when he met Vyshinsky in Yalta. Others considered
him to be "courtly and aristocratic," to have "faultless manners," to
be "a fine dancer despite his age," and so on. Edgar Snow maintained that
Vyshinsky’s distinctive talent would have won him recognition under any
system, and he portrayed him as a handsome and clever, if somewhat egocentric,
man. But the main result of Vyshinsky’s "prosecutor diplomacy,"
alongside other manifestations of the confrontational policy, was that it
helped to create the "image of the enemy."
Hartley Shawcross, British delegate to the UN, once speaking of
Vyshinsky’s style, said that when the Soviet delegation offered the olive
branch it did so in such an aggressive manner that such actions seemed
designed to kill any desire to accept it. Another diplomat observed that the
meaning of Vyshinsky’s speeches could be summed up in a German saying:
"You better be my brother or I’ll crack your skull." During a visit to
Denmark in the late 1980s I had a talk with the well-known Danish champion
of European security, Hermod Lannung, who worked for many years
in the UN. I asked him whether he remembered Vyshinsky. Of course he
did. "Every speech Vyshinsky delivered was an exciting show," he said.
"Would you ever like to see his show repeated?" I asked. "God forbid,
absolutely not!" was the answer, and I believed him.
Molotov and Vyshinsky were held up as the perfect models for us young
diplomats to follow. Despite Molotov’s downfall and expulsion from the
Communist Party and Vyshinsky’s condemnation for his role in the purges
of the 1930s, both of them made a lasting impact on a generation of Soviet
Graduation from the Academy
The international situation had a tremendous impact on the teaching process.
And it was a very special time—the last year of the war. During the war the
Kremlin was clearly concentrating its energies on getting the absolute maximum
advantage from its cooperation with the United States and England.
Thus, at least for the short term, Stalin and the Soviet propaganda machine
chose to avoid such ideological matters as the role of the class struggle in
the international arena and the final global victory of communism. It was
in this light that we discussed with our teachers and among ourselves many
Soviet political actions early in the war, such as the dissolution of the
Comintern in 1943, the Moscow Conferences between the USSR, the United
States, and Great Britain in 1941 and 1943, and the meetings of the Big Three
in Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam.
Stalin’s 1944 speech to commemorate the October Revolution became a
subject of considerable discussion. We were told that Stalin’s statement about
close cooperation among the leading states of the anti-Hitler coalition as a
vital condition of the UN’s effectiveness was a historic declaration. It should
be interpreted as the determination of the Soviet leadership to continue
cooperation between the USSR, the United States, and Britain.
The results of the 1945 Yalta Conference were widely discussed in the
Soviet Union. Mass meetings were held in many Soviet cities—Moscow,
Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, among others—with most people expressing satis-
faction with the results of the conference. The students of the Diplomatic
Academy were sent to give lectures on the subject. I delivered a speech at
a Moscow factory. Referring to the declaration by Stalin, Roosevelt, and
Churchill, "Unity in Peace, and in War," which was adopted at the conference;
I emphasized the general agreement among the three leaders to maintain
and to expand the wartime cooperation in the ensuing period of peace.
We knew very little about the disagreements among the allies. Nothing was
ever mentioned about the heated arguments at the meetings of the Big Three
and in the correspondence between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. All that
was stressed was consent and the ability of the allies to agree. When I asked
one of those who had participated in the conference, Boris Podtserob (subsequently
deputy minister of foreign affairs), if there had been any disagreements
at the conference, he said, "There were, but they were overcome."
From my point of view the height of these good feelings toward our allies
was reached on the last day of the war in Europe. The news that Germany
had signed the Act of Unconditional Surrender was announced on Moscow
Radio on the night of May 9, 1945. As soon as I heard the news I called my
Diplomatic Academy classmate and suggested we go to the center of Moscow
to celebrate. Despite the late hour Gorky Street was full of people. A huge
crowd had gathered at the American embassy on Manezhnaya Square not
far from the Kremlin. The people were cheering for victory, peace, the Soviet
Union, and America. Several Americans appeared and were immediately
warmly welcomed by the crowd and carried shoulder high through the
streets. We happily joined the jubilant crowd. We met several students from
our academy among them. Never before (and unfortunately again never
since that memorable day) had Soviet-American friendship been so rousingly
celebrated as it was then right in front of the American embassy.
The Soviet people had warm feelings toward their other ally, the United
Kingdom, as well, but the outpouring of goodwill was principally directed
at the United States. There were a number of reasons for this, but certainly
one of the key reasons was President Roosevelt, whose popularity
was based on the fact that he was the American president who recognized
the Soviet Union and established diplomatic relations between the two
countries in 1933. Churchill on the other hand was remembered as one
of the organizers and leaders of the military intervention of Britain and
other countries against Soviet Russia after the October Revolution.
Besides, every Soviet citizen had personally experienced American assistance
in the form of food, vehicles, and other goods, which left a lasting
impression on the Soviet people. And last, those who were involved in
politics to any degree knew that the United States was more favorable to
the USSR on certain key issues than was Britain.
Briefly, by the end of the war it was not only the Soviet public, but also
the MFA that saw the prospects for cooperation among countries of the
anti-Hitler coalition as incandescently bright. This impression arose from
conversations and meetings with ministry officials. Furthermore, students
were encouraged to study English and take extracurricular courses on
American and English literature and history, which began to be offered at
the Diplomatic Academy.
I took my graduation exams in June of 1946 and was awarded the highest
marks in international law and diplomatic history. The examination commission
consisted of ten or twelve leading Soviet professors. Maxim Litvinov,
who was then deputy minister of foreign affairs, chaired the commission.
However, his behavior during the exams showed that his involvement in
Soviet foreign policy decision-making was minimal and that time had passed
him by. Throughout the exams Litvinov was mostly passive, rarely asking
the students any questions or offering comments. Only once during my
English language oral test did he offer a comment. He spoke English with
a strong accent, though he had lived in England for many years and was
married to an Englishwoman.
With the Diplomatic Academy diploma we were awarded the lowest diplomatic
rank, that of an attaché. But perhaps we were most excited by the fact
that all graduates received the uniform of a Soviet diplomat. It was a usual
three-piece suit with gold-plated buttons. The everyday uniform was gray,
and the dress uniform black. The shoulder straps with their insignia were
particularly prized. The uniform included a coat, a raincoat, a hat, an ornate
cap bearing the diplomatic insignia—palm leaves, and a dagger to be worn
with the dress uniform. Immediately after it was issued, we dressed up and
paraded around Moscow drawing the attention and envy of children.
I am reminded of an amusing story involving my new uniform. I was on
vacation and put it on and went for a walk in the streets of a small Georgian
town, where German POWs were working. Passing by a group of prisoners,
I was stopped by one of them. He shouted "Heil Hitler!" and gave me
a Nazi salute. I was indignant and demanded an explanation from the guard
commander. After talking to the prisoner, the officer told me with embarrassment,
that the German had mistaken me for an SS officer and thought
that there had been a turn in Soviet-German relations.
It is true that the Soviet diplomatic uniform was similar in some respects
to the Nazi one, so the reasoning of the German POW was perhaps not surprising.
I do not think, however, that this similarity was why the Soviet Union
later discontinued the diplomatic uniform. Most likely the decision was based
on the fact that the military, prosecutors, railroad workers, and employees of
many other institutions also had service uniforms with shoulder straps. This
made the whole country, and Moscow in particular, look like a military camp.
The dress uniform without the dagger was eventually kept only for special
occasions—presentation of credentials, receptions to celebrate national holidays,
and so on. In the many years of my diplomatic service I, as well as the
majority of my colleagues, hardly ever wore the uniform.
The reception in honor of the graduation was held in a magnificent private
ministry residence, where important international negotiations and hospitality
events were held. About a hundred and fifty people graduated from
the Diplomatic Academy in 1946—the largest class in the school’s history.
Among the graduates there were four or five representatives from every one
of the sixteen republics (at the time, the USSR included the Karelo-Finnish
SSR). They were expected to return to their home republics and form the
nuclei of their local ministries of foreign affairs. These ministries were established
in March 1946 by a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of
the USSR. Many of us had joyful visions of becoming the trailblazers in the
foreign policy and diplomacy of the republics of the Soviet Union. Some
even dreamed of being appointed ambassadors of their republics to some
wondrous land beyond the ocean. "Dreams, dreams, where are your sweetness?"
a great poet said.
Any illusions about independent activity on the part of the union republics
were shattered immediately. At the time of my graduation from the Diplomatic
Academy, it was made clear to us that in the republics young diplomats
such as ourselves would have no say. I had the alternative to either stay
at the Diplomatic Academy postgraduate school to write my dissertation or
seek a position with the Hungarian Department of the Foreign Ministry.
Finally, after a discussion within the ministry, three of the graduates—Anatoly
Dobrynin, Vladimir Meshera, and I—were informed that we would stay with
the Diplomatic Academy as postdoctoral students and continue our careers
as lecturers. We could not hide our disappointment, since our dream was to
join the Foreign Service immediately. When we asked why we had been
selected, we were told that Comrade Molotov himself had made the choice.
This answer made it clear to us that we had to obey the minister’s decision.
Molotov was expected to make an appearance at our graduation party
that day. However, one of his assistants, Solomon Lozovsky, came in his
place. A participant in the October Revolution, Lozovsky supervised the
Soviet Information Bureau and maintained contacts with the press during
the war. He was an educated person and sharp-witted. From his speech at
the graduation party I particularly remember his comments regarding our
future. Lozovsky compared our large class to a wagon filled with passengers
that was setting off on a distant and arduous journey to the high goals of
communism. "During this difficult trip," he continued, "not all of you will
overcome the difficulties of the diplomatic job and will be thrown out of
the wagon. Only the strongest of you with the most steadfast principles will
successfully finish this trip and contribute to new victories for Soviet foreign
policy and diplomacy." This was Lozovsky’s prophecy. I am afraid, that he
was wrong. The "wagon" never reached the destination he spoke of.
Ironically, Lozovsky himself was the first to "fall out of the wagon." Soon
after the meeting with the students at the Diplomatic Academy he was
arrested, together with several prominent Jewish cultural and artistic figures,
on charges of anti-Soviet activity.
Upon graduation I was assigned to the Department of the History of
International Relations and Soviet Foreign Policy. On the strength of my
special subject, I chose "Hungarian Foreign Policy on the Eve of World War
II" as the title of my dissertation. This choice was determined in part by the
fact that some archives, including personal archives of the Hungarian head
of state Regent Horthy, were seized by Soviet troops and were delivered to
Moscow as trophies. The appeal of the thesis for me was that it might shed
some light on all the complexities of international relations in southeastern
and central Europe, a region notorious for the variety of its conflicts. I familiarized
myself with some of the archival materials. To my great surprise
Horthy had written his personal notes in gothic German.
In the spring of 1947 I defended my thesis and was awarded an advanced
degree in history—roughly equivalent to a master’s degree. Thus my diplomatic
education—a degree from the Diplomatic Academy and a postgraduate
degree—was completed. Three years at the Diplomatic Academy,
introductions to senior Soviet diplomats, daily contacts with alumni, working
at the Foreign Ministry, and finally, deteriorating relations with our former
allies—all of these factors made me begin to question my prospects in
a diplomatic career and postwar international developments. Once again I
was facing the question: What next?