Georgi Arbatov





Georgi Arbatov, who has died aged 87, was for 30 years the Kremlin's chief "Amerikanist"; a man whose knowledge of the West convinced him that Soviet communism was doomed, he remained an enigmatic figure.

As head of the Moscow US and Canada Institute from 1967 to 1995, Arbatov was, during the Cold War, one of the Soviet leadership's most trusted advisers and propagandists. For more than two decades, under Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko and Mikhail Gorbachev, he helped to shape Soviet foreign policy. He was instrumental in luring Brezhnev to the arms-control table and fought with military hawks on both sides to keep him there. Cyrus Vance credited Arbatov with being a key instigator of East-West détente.

At the same time, Arbatov acted as the Kremlin's voice in the United States. From the early 1970s he made frequent visits to America, during which he showed an understanding of American foreign policy, spoke fluent English and managed to create the impression that he dared to speak candidly, even critically, about internal Soviet matters.

From the early 1980s Arbatov's institute became a centre of the Soviet Union's "new thinking" and, as an early supporter of Gorbachev, he urged a faster pace of economic reform and led calls for major cuts in Soviet defence spending. Yet the two men did not always see eye to eye, and in 1990 he broke with Gorbachev to become an adviser to Boris Yeltsin. Later, however, he became a prominent critic of Yeltsin's "shock therapy", which he said had concentrated wealth in the hands of oligarchs and undermined the middle class.

Yet Arbatov remained an elusive figure. Critics pointed out that he could not have survived for so long without strong KGB connections (he was a protégé of Yuri Andropov, head of the KGB in the 1970s); and, despite Arbatov's claims in The System: An Insider's Life in Soviet Politics (1992) that he had always been working to change a system he knew to be untenable, he was one of the few Russians trusted by Moscow to peddle the party line on American television....



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