The secrets of Andrei Gromyko – the brightest star of Soviet diplomacy


Gromyko and Kennedy

March 2, 2017 – Fort Russ News – Translated by Kristina Kharlova

Master class from Gromyko: How to talk to the West

As practice shows, firm position is the best guarantee of success in negotiations with our Western partners

February 15 marks 60 years since the appointment to the post of minister of foreign affairs of USSR of one of the greatest diplomats of the twentieth century – Andrei Gromyko. He occupied the post of foreign minister for 28 years – a record time in Russian history. And all these years he selflessly defended the interests of the state in the international arena. And not just defended, but fought for them in one of the most difficult and dangerous periods in world history – during the so-called cold war. And largely thanks to his firm position our country could compete with the US and its allies as equal. Unfortunately, those who replaced Gromyko were his complete opposite, and disastrous results from such a change have followed.

The diplomatic career of Andrei Gromyko began in the late 30’s, when, after a career in scientific field, he was recommended to the diplomatic work of then people’s commissar for foreign affairs Vyacheslav Molotov. According to one version, Joseph Stalin was looking through a list of candidates and reaching the name of Gromyko suddenly said: “Gromyko. A good name!”. Career in the people’s commissariat of foreign affairs was very rapid. In 1943, he became US Ambassador, and in 1946, the 37-year-old Gromyko was appointed the permanent representative of the USSR in the UN security council. The future head of the Soviet foreign policy took a direct part in the formation of the UN, becoming one of the founding fathers of this organization.

However, the real star hour of the diplomat arrived in February 1957. Then Nikita Khrushchev conceived to transfer the foreign minister Dmitri Shepilov to the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPSU. On this occasion, he asked him for a recommendation. “I have two deputies, – said Shepilov, – one is a bulldog: you tell him, and he will lunge with his jaws and won’t let go.” Second, according to the minister, “a talent and diplomacy virtuoso,” – (Khrushchev). Stalin thought about it and chose the first candidate – Andrei Gromyko.

As it turned out later, the choice of the head of the Soviet state proved to be the right one, as well as Shepilov’s assessment. Generally Gromyko took much in his style from Vyacheslav Molotov, who in fact can be called his teacher. However, the Soviet diplomatic school from the first years of its existence was built on the foundation of Russian Empire diplomacy, which has amassed such stars of foreign policy as Alexander Gorchakov, Sergei Witte, and many others. Gromyko, who was an ace of Russian history, developed diplomatic skills in the spirit of tsarist diplomats. However, Gromyko did not exude the softness of Gorchakov. 

Potsdam conference, July, 1945 

Gromyko – third from right

In work he was the “bulldog”, relentlessly pursuing the foreign policy of the great power behind him. Gromyko signed the 1963 Treaty banning nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. For USSR, which at that moment had incomparably smaller nuclear arsenal, the agreement was definitely more advantageous than for USA, which lost a number of opportunities for conducting nuclear exercises. An important milestone in the achievement of nuclear parity were the treaty of 1972 and the 1973 treaty on the prevention of nuclear war.

Another significant success of Soviet diplomacy of that time was the Moscow Treaty of 1970 between USSR and Germany. Gromyko insisted that NATO countries standing behind West Germany recognized existing at the end of the Second World war the de-facto Polish-German border along the Oder-Neisse line, thus refusing claims to the Eastern territories of Germany, which were part of the friendly Soviet Poland. The contract was important to consolidate the dominance of Moscow over Eastern Europe. In fact, this agreement finally divided the spheres of influence of Moscow and Washington in the Old world, to some extent reducing the level of geopolitical tensions on the continent.

Gromyko’s style  – is to grab opponent with a firm grip and methodically milk him for one small concession after another until the number of these concessions turn into quality, which determines the success of negotiation process. It should be noted that he began all negotiations only after major prep work, seriously delving into the essence of the issues beyond their surface understanding. People close to him claimed that Gromyko believed the selection of materials for negotiations was critical, and this was done by the head of Soviet diplomacy on his own, so that at any moment of the discussion he is aware of important details.

Having enough facts for long negotiations, Gromyko was inclined to delay the process, trying not to hurry and not to miss the slightest detail. In addition, before an important meeting, he always studied the personality of his opponent. No wonder that his awareness was noted by another major diplomat of the era – Henry Kissinger, who served as Secretary of State in 1973-1977. “He’ll tear the opponent to pieces. He is like a heavy locomotive that goes in a given direction trampling everyone with the force of his arguments, stubbornly pushing towards his goals,” – said American diplomat. Precisely because of his stubbornness and persistence Gromyko received a scathing, but pretty accurate nickname “Mr. No” in the West. 

The leader of Soviet diplomacy claimed that he always follows three main rules. First, he said, you must ask for maximum from the other side, don’t be shy. Second, Gromyko called in the right situations, not to neglect such crude, but often effective mechanism, as an ultimatum. According to him, light threats towards the opponent should not be underestimated, and then as a way out of this tense situation politely suggest negotiations. 

“In the West there are always people who bite on this”, – said the head of the foreign ministry of USSR. And, thirdly, he taught the young Soviet diplomats, after starting negotiations, do not retreat a single step. “They will offer you part of what you asked for. But even then, don’t settle, and squeeze more. They’ll do it,” he said. The success or failure of negotiation process he determined in the following manner: 

“When you get half or two thirds of what you asked – then you can consider yourself a diplomat.”

Gromyko followed through with his words during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. According to the diplomat, those days were the most difficult in his diplomatic career, however, he coped brilliantly with the task. At the time USSR sent 42 missiles with nuclear warheads to Cuba. United States threatened to destroy it with a massive strike. The world stood on a brink of a nuclear war. On October 18, Gromyko paid a visit to US President John Kennedy. The diplomat in calm but confident manner told the head of the White house that blackmail was unacceptable in the current situation, and Washington should not be saber-rattling and act oblivious to vital Soviet interests. And this interest was to remove American missiles aimed at the southern regions of USSR from Turkey. In the end, Moscow took the missiles out of Cuba and US withdrew from Turkey. The Soviet Union was able to achieve security of southern regions, and Gromyko was able to add another successful diplomatic operation to his collection.

The patriarch of Soviet diplomacy left his post only in 1985 on the wave of large-scale domestic changes in the USSR. With the death of Konstantin Chernenko again arose the question of power. And in this matter Gromyko, the political old-timer, who at the time was the most influential member of the Politburo had the last word. Unfortunately, Gromyko insisted that the next leader of the state would become a young and promising politician Mikhail Gorbachev. In the future interview the diplomat would say that he did not regret the choice. “We needed a dynamic leader,” – he said after resignation, however, adding that Gorbachev did not meet his hopes. “The hat was too big for him!” – concluded Gromyko.

It is possible that the diplomat was sincere about the fact that the choice in favor of Gorbachev was based on the need for renewal of the ruling elite of the state. At the same time, it is possible that it was just one of the reasons, the tip of the iceberg, whereas other motives lay in a slightly different plane. According to the memoirs of his daughter Emilie, which she outlined in the book “I want to tell”, he said he knows a lot of what he cannot say. “Actually, I know a lot. But it will go with me to the grave”, – quotes his daughter the words of the diplomat. He died in 1989, 17 days before his 80th birthday. As the great diplomat said, he took his secrets to the grave.


Unfortunately, those who came after Gromyko were not just his pale shadow, but were guided by opposite interests, enthusiastically surrendering geopolitical position one after another for a kind word and a pat on the shoulder from Western leaders. In 1985, under Gorbachev, the post of foreign minister of USSR went to Eduard Shevarnadze. Gromyko was shocked at the appointment because, first, a new general secretary did not even bother to consult regarding this nomination with Gromyko, and secondly, because Shevardnadze had no experience in foreign policy. The subsequent actions of the new head of the foreign ministry for reconciliation with the West and unilateral surrender of geopolitical positions only convinced Gromyko that Gorbachev’s choice was very poor. However, Gromyko did not want to interfere in politics, which did not prevent him from expressing his personal opinion about current events. 

“To retreat from the center of Europe was wrong, it’s a mistake of strategic nature, this is our frontline of defense, it must be strengthened, not abandoned”, – he commented on Gorbachev’s surrender of USSR’s allies in Eastern Europe. Gromyko considered the refusal of Soviet leadership to use force as a tool of foreign policy – a mistake, noting that peace, no matter how good, should not be achieved at the expense of your own people. “If you are proud of your pacifism, do not sit in the big chair of a leader of great power. Be proud at home, in your backyard, in your region, but do not harm your state,” – he expressed his position in an interview with journalist Dmitry Tikhonov. 

The head of Soviet diplomacy in his office 

It seemed, no one could be worse than Shevardnadze as minister of foreign affairs. However, appointed in 1993 Andrey Kozyrev was not just a poor diplomat. Compared with Gromyko he was an “anti-diplomat” who volunteered to hook on to Western leash, which was as master of Russia at that time. In his work as the head of the foreign ministry, he didn’t just throw away the legacy of Soviet diplomatic school, especially of Andrei Gromyko, he did everything opposite. Where it was necessary to defend a position, he meekly agreed with his opponents, receiving further derogatory nickname “Mr. Yes.” 

“One of the problems of the Soviet Union is that it was too obsessed with national interests”, – said Kozyrev. 

No wonder, therefore, that with such “professional” cadres, the country was pushed to the margins of global politics, in fact, fell to the level of third-world countries that did not have any authority in the international arena. 

The work to return the former greatness of Russian diplomacy began only in 1996 with foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov. In many respects he was trying to act based on the experience of Andrei Gromyko. Despite the difficult political situation he tried to take a firm position in negotiations with Western countries. As practice showed, this approach proved to be the most efficient for new Russia, allowing to bring back the status of great international power after 2000.

Modern Russian diplomacy, fortunately, is largely based on the legacy of Gromyko. No wonder the current minister of foreign affairs Sergey Lavrov called him one of the greatest diplomats of the twentieth century. Gromyko said himself that he never “fawned” before the West, believing such tactics in negotiations as counterproductive. “We have characters who are shy about protecting their own interests. We cannot offend America! We will not get far like this”, he said. 

Andrei Gromyko

And looking at the new-found confidence of Russia in the international arena, we can say that the country finally got rid of the inferiority complex and the slave admiration of the West of the 90’s. It seems that the ideological and practical legacy of the great Soviet diplomat Andrei Gromyko came in handy in this case. 

– Ivan Proshkin

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