Yesterday, the death of Anatoly Fyodorovich Dobrynin, the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the United States from 1962 to 1986, was announced in Moscow. He was 90.
Few diplomats served as long in Washington as Dobrynin. (One who served longer was Ernest Jaakson, who was the representative of the Estonian government-in-exile in Washington, then of the revived nation of Estonia, from 1965 until 1993, and who replaced Dobrynin as dean of the capital’s diplomatic corps in 1986, rather to the latter’s irritation.) During those three-plus decades, he served five Soviet leaders (Khruschchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko and Gorbachev) during six Administrations (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan).

The two most significant achievements of Dobrynin’s tenure in Washington came in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and ten years later, when he played a central role on the Soviet side in negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. The Cuban crisis came six months after his arrival in DC, following a period serving as United Nations Undersecretary-General under Dag Hammarskjold. During the months before President Kennedy learned of Soviet missiles on Cuban territory, Dobrynin managed to establish contacts with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy that proved to be the basis of the back-channel negotiations that ultimately defused what, to date, has been the most dangerous military situation the world has faced since 1945. None of Dobrynin’s predecessors as Soviet Ambassador had shown anything approaching his diplomatic poise and skill; had he not been on the scene, events might have taken a tragic turn.

A decade later, Dobrynin, negotiating with National Security Advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger, helped to assemble the ABM treaty, which, for nearly forty years, has been the cornerstone on which the disarmament agreements between the US and USSR (and later Russia) have been built. He also considerably facilitated the process which led to the SALT I agreement of 1972, and helped further the meetings between Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev which resulted in full-scale detente between the superpowers.

It should be emphasized that Dobrynin, despite his willingness to steep himself in American culture and his genial persona, was always a loyal representative of the Soviet regime and its ideology. When faced with the human-rights stance of President Carter, he gave no ground, and, in the years before Mikhail Gorbachev gained power, took many a hard-line position where Soviet actions abroad were concerned, especially in Afghanistan and Nicaragua. In his 1995 autobiography, In Confidence, he made it clear that he was unhappy to see the Soviet Union disintegrate. But it should be remembered that as a diplomat, he was committed to dialogue over confrontation, wherever and whenever he thought it possible, and that commitment helped the process which ultimately decreased and finally ended the dangerous tensions of the Cold War.

The Russian site offers these tributes from Dr. Kissinger, who so many times faced the Ambassador across a negotiating table, and Donald Kendall, a close friend of President Nixon’s:

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger remembers Dobrynin when, during the Cold War, he was working in Washington DC, heading the Russian Embassy there. “First he was my professional partner,” says Kissinger, “and then gradually, he became my friend.” Even though, he says, the Soviet politics of those times which the ambassador was standing by, often went against the US policies, “he was always trying to achieve peace, to reduce tensions and to stand by a more peaceful life on the planet,” says the former US Secretary of State. “I think of him with respect and warm-hearted feelings,” concludes Kissinger.

“I hope Dobrynin will get the memorial that he deserves,” said Donald Kendall, former head of the PepsiCo in an interview to ITAR-TASS news agency. He suggested that both Russia and the United States should put a monument to Dobrynin, as a sign of honor and respect for his achievements.

Kendall is convinced that Dobrynin’s “fantastic diplomatic skills” have several times “saved the relationships” between Moscow and Washington. “I have stressed this many times, that if in those times there would have been a different ambassador in Washington, then there could have been a real war between the two countries.”