Andrei Andreevich Gromyko (1909-1989) represented the Soviet Union for many years in major international conferences after World War II, first as minister of foreign affairs and then as president of the USSR.
Andrei Gromyko was born on July 18, 1909, in a village in Belorussia, then a province in the western region of the Russian Empire. His parents were peasant farmers. After the Revolution of 1917 the Communist state helped young people from working families to obtain a higher education and encouraged them to join the Communist Party. Gromyko took advantage of these opportunities.
Despite the hardships which the collectivization of agriculture imposed on the peasant population, he became a loyal supporter of Stalin's regime. He joined the Communist Party in 1931 and attended an agricultural technical school in his province, graduating in 1936. He then went to Moscow to work in the Institute of Economics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, where he completed his doctoral thesis on the mechanization of agriculture in the United States. For several years he occupied the position of senior researcher in the institute, where he specialized in the American economy.
A Career in Diplomacy
He began a new career in 1939 in the Soviet Diplomatic Service. Many older diplomats had disappeared during the late 1930s in Stalin's police terror. The new recruits who took their place received quick promotion to important diplomatic positions. Gromyko had the necessary qualifications for advancement. Son of working peasants, well educated, and a member of the party since the beginning of the Stalin take-over, he belonged to the new generation of Stalinists. He had no experience or previous training in international relations. He learned his leadership skills on the job. Until 1985 his entire career was devoted to Soviet foreign affairs.
Gromyko began his work at the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., one of the Soviet Union's most important diplomatic posts. In 1943 at age 34 he was made Soviet ambassador to the United States. While serving in Washington he learned to speak fluent English. In World War II the Soviet Union and the United States were allies against Nazi Germany and Japan. Gromyko attended the major Allied conferences at Yalta and Potsdam in 1945, assisting Stalin in his negotiations with US leaders. The Soviet Union that year joined in the founding of the United Nations. Gromyko participated in the writing of the U.N. Charter, which made the Soviet Union a member of the Security Council with the right to veto any U.N. policy. In 1946 he became the permanent representative from the USSR to the Security Council.
In the two years that followed, the beginning of the Cold War produced serious diplomatic conflicts in the United Nations between the Soviet Union and the West. Gromyko faithfully carried out the new Soviet policy, casting 26 vetoes to prevent the United Nations from adopting resolutions of which Stalin disapproved. His unsmiling public appearances earned him the title among Western diplomats of "Old Stone Face." His work satisfied Stalin and Molotov, minister of foreign affairs, and in 1949 he was promoted to first deputy minister, becoming Molotov's direct assistant. In ten years he had risen from the position of research scholar in agriculture to one of the most important posts in Soviet foreign relations.
After Stalin's death in 1953 Gromyko continued to serve the new leaders competently and loyally. When Khrushchev came to power in 1955 he introduced a policy of "peaceful coexistence" to improve relations with the West. New conferences were held between East and West. Gromyko collaborated in these meetings. His influence grew when in 1956 he was appointed a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. His career advanced again in 1957 when the minister of foreign affairs joined a group of other leading Communists opposing Khrushchev's policies in an attempt to remove him from power. They failed and were themselves removed from their leadership positions (Molotov left Moscow to become Soviet ambassador to the Mongolian People's Republic). Gromyko's reward for loyal service and for taking no part in the plot to depose Khrushchev was promotion to minister of foreign affairs.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In his years as minister he distinguished himself by his ability to implement effectively the policies of the Soviet leadership. He was adept at accommodating every Soviet leader from Stalin to Gorbachev, and in dealing with nine US presidents during his career. He participated actively in all international meetings and negotiated with leaders of important countries. In 1962 Khrushchev secretly ordered the installation of Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Cuba. Gromyko went to Washington at that time to talk with President Kennedy, who warned him of the danger of a US-Soviet war if the Soviet missiles were actually placed in Cuba. Gromyko never admitted that his country was involved in this dangerous action; later he claimed that he had not concealed the move since the US president had never put the question of the missiles directly to him.
In the mid-1960s the Soviet Union began major industrial projects with the aid of Western corporations, including the Fiat automobile company in Italy. In 1966 Gromyko led the Soviet delegation to Rome to conclude the Fiat agreement. There he asked for and received an audience with the Pope. He was the first Soviet statesman publicly to recognize the importance of the Papacy. He appeared to have felt a deep satisfaction at the growing power and influence of his country in world affairs, asserting in 1971 that "today there is no question of any significance (in international relations) which can be resolved without the Soviet Union or in opposition to her."
Gromyko belonged to the Soviet political elite who enjoyed special comforts and privileges. He took personal pleasure in fine clothes, having his business suits specially made by Western tailors. He was probably instrumental in the successful career of his son, who became director of the Institute of African Affairs and wrote many authoritative articles on Soviet foreign policy (one consisting of a rare interview with his father discussing the Cuban missile crisis).
A Power in the Politburo
In the early 1970s the Soviet Union concluded with the United States an important treaty for the limitation of nuclear armaments, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT). Gromyko helped to negotiate the final agreement. He acquired extensive knowledge of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. When negotiating, noted one observer, Gromyko "never took a note, never looked at a folder or turned to his assistants for advice." His service in these negotiations and support for the Soviet leader, Brezhnev, earned him in 1973 a position in the Communist Party's ruling committee, the Politburo. In addition, he received during his years as foreign minister many honors, including the Order of Lenin and Hero of Socialist Labor.
Relations with the United States gradually worsened during the 1970s. Gromyko sought in international meetings to strengthen the global influence of the Soviet Union. He promoted close ties with African states regardless of their type of government or economic system, declaring that "we do not consider ideological differences in social systems." When in the early 1980s Brezhnev became ill and could not make major foreign policy statements, Gromyko took his place. In the campaign to prevent the United States from placing new nuclear missiles in Europe, he declared in 1982 in the United Nations that the Soviet Union, "the world's foremost peace loving nation, " promised never to be the first state in any international conflict to use nuclear weapons. This "no first use" pledge did not represent a new policy, for the Soviet Union had built its nuclear weapons arsenal to match that of the United States and to prevent a nuclear attack. In making the speech Gromyko established that he had begun to play a major part in decisions on Soviet foreign policy. His decades of experience in international relations had by then earned him a new title—"Dean of World Diplomacy."
The Rise of Gorbachev and the Demise of
After Brezhnev's death in late 1982 Gromyko became one of the small circle of Soviet Communists in the Politburo to choose the new Soviet leader. Two successors died soon after their appointments. In 1985 the Politburo picked their youngest member, Mikhail Gorbachev, to be general secretary. Gromyko made the formal announcement of this choice. He occupied by then the informal position among his colleagues as senior member of the Politburo. Gorbachev elevated Gromyko's position to that of President, (the official title being Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, thus replacing Chernenko, who had died in March, 1985. This position, though prestigious, lacked an effective degree of power, and essentially brought Gromyko's political career to an end after 28 years. Gromyko was replaced as Minister of Foreign Affairs by Eduard Shevardnadze, former party boss of the Soviet Republic of Georgia. In 1989, the Politburo voted Gromyko out as president. He was hospitalized for vascular problems shortly thereafter, and died in July 1989, at the age of 80. Only one Politburo member attended his funeral.
Gromyko's autobiography Memoirs was begun in 1979, published in the Moscow in 1988 and in the US in 1990. There are countless discrepancies between events, not only in the nine years it took Gromyko to write the book, but also in the later English translation. In his autobiography, Gromyko recounts meetings with everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Yasar Arafat to Pope John Paul II. Although he reveals little, Gromyko remained a loyal Stalinist to the end. Despite recent reassessment of Stalin's career and methodologies, Gromyko stubbornly defends him. With regard to the Cold War, Gromyko blames the US and holds Stalin himself blameless.
Further Reading on Andrei Andreevich Gromyko
Summary biographies are included in Who's Who in the Soviet Union (1984) and in The International Who's Who 1984-85 (1984); brief biographical accounts of his life are provided in "A Diplomat for All Seasons, " TIME (June 25, 1984); "Winds of Kremlin Change, " TIME (July 15, 1985); in various book reviews of Memories:see New Republic (May 14, 1990); and National Review (April 30, 1990); and in "An Enduring Russian Face, " New York Times (July 3, 1985); scattered references to his activity as minister of foreign affairs are found in Robin Edmunds, Soviet Foreign Policy:The Brezhnev Years (1983); Gromyko's memoirs, titled Memories, were published in 1990.