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Sakharov, Andrei Dmitriyevich


(b. Moscow, U.S.S.R., 21 May 1921; d. Moscow, 14 December 1989), theoretical physics, thermonuclear design and engineering, cosmology, international security and human rights.

Devoted to fundamental physics, Sakharov spent two decades designing nuclear weapons before returning to academic research and producing his major scientific accomplishment: In 1966, by combining particle physics and cosmology he provided the first (and the only as of 2007) explanation of baryon asymmetry, the observed drastic disparity in the natural occurrence of matter and antimatter in the universe. Just a few years later, based on his second domain of professional knowledge—strategic weaponry—together with his understanding of the machinery of the Soviet leadership and his feeling of personal responsibility, this “father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb” developed into one of the leading human rights advocates in the Soviet Union. In 1975, he became the first Russian to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the Family of Moscow Intelligentsia Andrei Sakharov was born in Moscow to a family of intelligentsia. His father, Dmitri, a son of a lawyer, taught physics and wrote popular science books. His mother, Ekaterina (nee Sofiano), a daughter of a czarist army officer, was a housewife. His generation was brought up under the confluence of post–Civil War hardships, lofty ideals of social progress, and real advancement of education and science in Soviet Russia. The Stalinist terror missed Andrei’s parents, and they tried to shield their child from harsh reality, in particular by affording him the opportunity for six years of home schooling. His father was his first teacher in science. But as to social realities, in Sakharov’s words, “My father was afraid that, if I knew too much about Soviet life, I wouldn't be able to get on in this world. This hiding of thoughts from one’s son might best characterize the horror of Stalin’s era” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 67).

On the eve of World War II, Sakharov entered Moscow University, and, with the period of study shortened by a year, graduated with honors in 1942, when the war was at its height. Having declined an offer to go to graduate school, he was assigned to work in a major munitions factory in Ul’yanovsk on the Volga River. A year later, in 1943, he married Klavdia Vikhireva, a laboratory technician who also worked at the factory. In 1945, their first child was born; two more followed in 1949 and 1957.

A Theorist and Inventor In Ul’yanovsk, while busy with routine laboratory work, Sakharov authored a few engineering inventions, including devices for testing the quality of bullets. While implementing those inventions based on electromagnetic theory, he started thinking about problems of theoretical physics as such, and as the war was ending, Sakharov sought to do theoretical research in earnest. He returned to Moscow to become a graduate student at the Physical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (FIAN). He mastered theoretical physics under the prominent theorist Igor Tamm (who would be awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize for the theory of Vavilov-Cherenkov radiation), at a time when the theory of nuclear forces dominated Tamm’s research. The topic also provided the subject matter for Sakharov’s 1947 dissertation and a few other papers, including the pioneering idea of muon-catalyzed fusion.

This pure physics was put on hold in June 1948, when Tamm was commissioned to head an auxiliary group to explore whether a hydrogen bomb was feasible.

This group was to assist the team of Yakov Zeldovich, then the main theorist of the Soviet nuclear project. Although the first priority was to create an atomic bomb, Zeldovich was also occupied with an H-bomb design. The original H-bomb design was initiated by espionage but lacked promise. In a few months Sakharov suggested a radically new design, named Sloyka (the Russian for a layered pastry). Another student of Tamm, Vitaly Ginzburg, added a second key idea concerning the efficient thermonuclear explosive (lithium deuteride, Li6 D).

In the spring of 1950, Tamm and Sakharov were ordered to move to the “Installation,” a secret city in the central Volga region, to implement the Sloyka design. They succeeded, and the first Soviet thermonuclear bomb was tested on 12 August 1953.

Parallel to the bomb effort, in the early 1950s, Sakharov made two major inventions. Together with Tamm he proposed the principle of magnetic confinement of plasma for a controlled thermonuclear (fusion) reactor (the so-called Tokamak, an acronym for the Russian phrase, Toroidal Chamber with Magnetic Coil). Another invention was a way to obtain superstrong magnetic fields created in a magnetic coil compressed by implosion. Both inventions were initially related to weaponry. The thermonuclear reactor, as a powerful neutron generator, was expected to produce plenty of fissile explosive. However, the unforeseen problems of handling plasma made this promise impracticable, and after 1956, when the scientific director of the Soviet nuclear project Igor Kurchatov managed to declassify this research, it was considered as a possibility for a peaceful, practically limitless source of energy.

In 1953, after Tamm returned to Moscow to resume academic work, Sakharov succeeded him at the installation. Sakharov made the key contribution to the fully fledged H-bomb design (of virtually unlimited yield), tested in the U.S.S.R. in 1955, and in 1961 he headed the development of the most powerful bomb ever exploded on Earth (the so-called Czar Bomb, 50 megatons).

In the early 1960s, still at the installation, Sakharov began his return to fundamental physics and, in 1966 and 1967, put forward two highly innovative ideas. The first dealt with a strange cosmological asymmetry. For every kind of particle known in physics there is a kind of antiparticle, its exact opposite in charge and equal in mass. Because the laws of fundamental physics treat particles and antiparticles in exact symmetry, it would be natural to expect these two types of matter to be present in equal quantities. But it is an observational fact that ordinary matter is much more Abūndant in the universe than anti-matter.

Trying to explain this peculiar asymmetry on the cosmological scale, Sakharov connected it to a deviation from symmetry in the submicroscopic world. The so-called CP violation (first proposed by Susumu Okubo in 1958) had indicated a subtle difference between certain kinds of particles and their antiparticles. Sakharov added a hypothesis that protons—commonly assumed to be stable particles— could spontaneously and very slowly decay, converting into other kinds of particles. This decay, combined with the CP violation, would result in an imbalance between matter and antimatter in the swiftly expanding, super-dense plasma that made up the very early universe. If the hypothesis were correct, it would then account for the later-observed difference—baryon asymmetry. Experimental attempts to verify “proton decay” continued into the twenty-first century.

Sakharov’s second innovative idea attempted to explain gravity as originating from properties of the quantum vacuum. In the words of physicist John Archibald Wheeler, the gravity would be “an elasticity of space that arises from particle physics,” like ordinary elasticity that arises from the microphysics of atoms and molecules. It was a brand-new approach in the long quest for unifying gravity with other fundamental forces and, at the same time, in the quest for quantum gravity. This double problem remained a central and exceptionally difficult task of fundamental physics into the twenty-first century.

Sakharov’s explanation of the observable baryon asymmetry opened up a new direction for research, sometimes called cosmomicrophysics, astroparticle physics, or particle astrophysics and cosmology—the combination of particle physics and cosmology. Behind Sakharov’s innovations there was a rare combination of talents: those of theorist and inventor. His successful return to theoretical physics strengthened his self-confidence just on the eve of his breakthrough far beyond science.

A Humanitarian Physicist By 1968, Sakharov’s accomplishments in superweaponry had earned him the highest Soviet honors and perks (including membership in the Soviet Academy of Sciences, three Hero of Socialist Labor medals, huge Stalin and Lenin prizes, and a special villa). His theoretical ideas brought the respect of his colleagues, the pure theorists. Moreover, nothing in the public domain portended that this semisecret scientist was about to become a public figure of world stature and—in seven years—a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Nevertheless Sakharov’s humanitarian storyline was tightly intertwined with his storyline as a scientist and expert in strategic high technology.

Most important in Sakharov’s background were Igor Tamm, his mentor in science and in life, and the milieu of Leonid Mandelshtam’s school at Moscow University and FIAN. Mandelshtam had become a scientist in Strasbourg, under Karl Ferdinand Braun, and returned to Russia on the eve of World War I. He made important contributions in optics and radiophysics, but his foremost contribution was his Russian school, the group of his disciples, including Tamm, which featured a union of high professionalism and high moral standing, an extraordinary accomplishment at any time, but especially during the years of Stalin’s reign.

Tamm’s worldview in social life, as well as in science, greatly influenced Sakharov. Tamm was converted to socialism in his teens, before he entered university and well before he became a scientist. Early in 1917, Tamm, a member of a Social Democratic Party of Menshevik internationalists, was elected to the Elizavetgrad Soviet and tasted political life of post-czarist and pre-Bolshevik Russia. Then he “became convinced that Bolshevism in its mass form exists only as demagogic anarchism and unruliness. Of course, this doesn't apply to its leaders, who are simply blind fanatics, dazzled by the genuinely big truth [of socialism] which they are defending, but which prevents them from seeing anything else besides it,” as he wrote in his diary “The genuinely big truth” of socialism was the goal of both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The difference was that for the Bolsheviks, this end justified any means, while Mensheviks were for the evolutionary development by means of parliamentary democracy and in collaboration with other parties. Despite Tamm’s personal losses during the Great Terror of 1937, when his brother, close friend, and beloved student had “disappeared,” he managed to defend the persecuted and to keep his allegiance to the socialist ideals of his youth.

It was thus under both Tamm’s influence and the total control of the media by the Soviet dictatorship, that Sakharov shared the official pro-socialist religion for so long. He felt himself securing peace for the country after a devastating war. “Having given so much to this cause and accomplished so much,” Sakharov “unwittingly created an illusory world to justify” himself, in his own harsh self-diagnosis (Gorelik, 2005, p. 165).

It was not merely passive conformism. An ability to provide the Soviet leadership with nuclear weapons secured for physicists the greatest intellectual freedom available in the Soviet land and somewhat emboldened them socially—within the idealistically Soviet, prosocialist mindset. With such a mindset Sakharov consciously and wholeheartedly developed thermonuclear weaponry: “I couldn't ignore how horrible and inhuman our work was. But the world war that had just ended was also inhuman. I wasn't a soldier in that war, but I felt like one in this scientific and technological war” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 141). With the same mindset he declined an invitation to join the party but felt himself serving the same cause the Soviet leaders did. He mourned Stalin’s death but, together with other nuclear physicists, defended the true science in physics and in devastated biology.

He grew ashamed of his pop-Stalinism when Stalin’s crimes were exposed by the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, but his prosocialist ideals remained. With this idealistic mindset, Sakharov was asked to write an article denouncing the new American military development of the so-called clean bomb. He took the matter more seriously than a mere propaganda exercise. Using available biological data, he calculated that the detonation of the one-megaton, “cleanest” H-bomb would produce enough radioactive carbon to result in 6,600 deaths worldwide over the next eight thousand years. “What moral and political conclusions must be drawn from these numbers?” he asked in his 1958 article (Gorelik, 2005, p. 214). For him, the death toll from nuclear testing in the atmosphere—however small compared to other kinds of mortality—was a fact proved by science, with inescapable moral consequences. He considered this paper the start of his growing social awareness.

The next phase of his awareness came in 1961, when Khrushchev decided to revoke the three-year moratorium on nuclear tests. Sakharov was the only one who openly objected to the Soviet leader. He argued that tests would yield little new technical information while threatening international security. But, obeying an order from the head of state, he took part in the development of the most powerful device ever exploded, on 30 October 1961 (the so-called Czar Bomb). Sakharov trusted Khrushchev too much—because the leader had rehabilitated the victims of the Terror, allowed a general cultural “thaw,” and called for peaceful coexistence with the West.

Sakharov’s illusory world cracked in 1962, when he tried but failed to prevent another test, totally unnecessary from a technical point of view but producing deadly radioactive fallout—the Soviet “military-industrial complex” had defeated him. His feeling of moral responsibility spurred his effort toward the 1963 Test Ban Treaty, which banned all nuclear tests in the atmosphere. In Sakharov’s view, the treaty saved the lives of people who would have perished had such tests continued, and also reduced the risk of nuclear war.

Describing the evolution of his social worldview, Sakharov admitted that “it took years” for him “to understand how much substitution, deceit, and lack of correspondence with reality there was” in the Soviet ideals. “At first I thought, despite everything that I saw with my own eyes, that the Soviet state was a breakthrough into the future, a kind of prototype for all countries.” Then he came, in his words, to “the theory of symmetry: all governments and regimes to a first approximation are bad, all peoples are oppressed, and all are threatened by common dangers” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 300).

It was at this stage, from 1967 to 1968, that the major change in Sakharov’s social worldview took place. It was the time when anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense became a key issue in U.S.-Soviet relations. Despite the defensive purpose of the new weapons system, Sakharov came to the conclusion that the new kind of strategic arms race would undermine international security and make a world war more likely. He wrote a detailed secret memorandum for the Soviet leaders, advising them to accept a recent American proposal for a moratorium on strategic ABMs. To promote mutual understanding with the West, Sakharov also prepared a nontechnical article on the issue and suggested that its publication in the open press would help “foreign scientific and engineering intelligentsia to restrain their ‘hawks.’” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 267) But Soviet leaders rejected Sakharov’s advice and did not permit him to initiate a public discussion of the ABM problem in the Soviet press.

Growing aware of the Soviet hawks and the Soviet political machine, Sakharov decided to make his views public and wrote an essay titled “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom” (completed in May 1968). He stated his goal of an “open, sincere discussion” without pretending to be an “expert in social issues.” However he started with an issue in which he was a real expert: the threat of nuclear war as a result of the strategic ABM race. And his main conclusion was that “Peace, progress, human rights—these three goals are insolubly linked to one another: it is impossible to achieve one of these goals if the other two are ignored,” as he worded his humanitarian discovery seven years later in his Nobel Lecture. In the words of the Nobel Committee’s citation: “In a convincing manner Sakharov has emphasised that Man’s inviolable rights provide the only safe foundation for genuine and enduring international cooperation.”

The essay circulated in typewritten copies before being published by the Western media in July 1968. The secret father of the Soviet H-bomb emerged as an open advocate of peace and human rights. His background in the privileged scientific elite, privy to the regime’s top secrets, contributed to his public role.

Just after his humanitarian discovery, Sakharov was banned from all classified research. From then on he combined his work on pure physics with activity in the emerging human rights movement. In 1970, he cofounded the Moscow Human Rights Committee. In the movement he met Elena Bonner, who became his mate and comrade-in-arms; they married in 1972 (his first wife Klavdia had died of cancer in 1969).

As Sakharov’s public stature and international support grew, the regime put increasing pressure on him. In 1973 and 1974, the Soviet media campaign targeted both Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, another fearless voice in the Soviet empire. While Sakharov disagreed with Solzhenitsyn’s Slavophile vision of Russian revival, he deeply respected the author of The Gulag Archipelago. Only a few individuals in the Soviet Union dared to defend “traitors” such as Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, and those who had dared were inevitably punished.

It was time for Sakharov to realize that his political “theory of symmetry” required amendment, because there is not much

symmetry between a cancer cell and a normal one. Yet our state is similar to a cancer cell—with its messianism and expansionism, its totalitarian suppression of dissent, the authoritarian structure of power, with a total absence of public control in the most important decisions in domestic and foreign policy, a closed society that does not inform its citizens of anything substantial, closed to the outside world, without freedom of travel or the exchange of information. (Gorelik, 2005, p. 300)

It was time for Sakharov to compare his country to a “gigantic concentration camp” and to find the appropriate name for the system of government: “totalitarian socialism.”

In 1975, Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Soviet authorities did not allow him to travel to Norway to accept it personally, and he was represented by Elena Bonner (who happened then to be abroad for eye surgery).

After Sakharov’s public protest against the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was extrajudicially exiled to Gorki, a city closed to foreigners. He remained in exile for almost seven years, suffering from the isolation but continuing to promote human rights and international security. During his exile, Sakharov wrote a book of autobiographical memoirs. More than once the KGB stole Sakharov’s manuscript, and each time he rewrote his book anew.

Protesting against the persecution he, his wife Elena Bonner, and her children suffered, Sakharov went on hunger strikes. For months he was totally isolated. Most of his friends in the human rights movement failed to appreciate the motivation for his hunger strikes and blamed Bonner for his sufferings. Sakharov was sorry to see such a gap in understanding but claimed his human right to make decisions that he felt to be morally necessary for him personally.

After the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had initiated the reforms of perestroika, Sakharov was allowed to return to Moscow. A leading figure in the Russian democratic movement, he became a member of the first really elected parliament. An advocate of constitutional democracy,

he drafted a new constitution. He argued that only quicker and more radical reform could guarantee the peaceful evolution of the country. On 14 December 1989, after a difficult day of discussions in the Parliament, he died of a heart attack.

Free Thinking and Religious Feeling In 1985, while Sakharov was still in exile, the European Parliament established the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Indeed, it was his free thinking based on his professional knowledge and personal responsibility that urged him to connect the world of science with humanitarian politics.

The “father” of the Soviet H-bomb had a good reason to contemplate the lots of his counterparts on the other side of the Iron Curtain—the fathers of the American Aand H-bombs. He saw “striking parallels” between his stand and those of J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. While in the view of most American academics, the two were as diametrically opposed as good and evil, Sakharov believed that in this “tragic confrontation of two outstanding people,” both deserved respect, because “each of them was certain he had right on his side and was morally obligated to go to the end in the name of truth.”

Sakharov never felt that by creating nuclear weapons he had “known sin,” in Oppenheimer’s haunting expression. Nor did he persuade the Soviet government of the need for an H-bomb, as Teller did the American government. But as far as international security in the early 1950s went, Sakharov believed Teller was right. Sakharov had learned that for Soviet leaders “all steps by the Americans of a temporary or permanent rejection of developing thermonuclear weapons would have been seen either as a clever feint, or as the manifestation of stupidity. In both cases, the reaction would have been the same—avoid the trap and immediately take advantage of the enemy’s stupidity” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 349).

So while Sakharov strongly disagreed with Teller over two major issues of “political physics,” which were the turning points in his own humanitarian career—nuclear testing in the atmosphere and strategic ABMs (or “Star Wars”), he believed that American academics had been unfair to Teller’s resolve to get the H-bomb for the United States.

Have Soviet and American nuclear scientists helped to keep the peace? Sakharov answered this way:

After more than forty years, we have had no third world war, and the balance of nuclear terror … may have helped to prevent one. But I am not at all sure of this; back then, in those long-gone years, the question didn't even arise. What most troubles me now is the instability of the balance, the extreme peril of the current situation, the appalling waste of the arms race … Each of us has a responsibility to think about this in global terms, with tolerance, trust, and candor, free from ideological dogmatism, parochial interests, or national egotism. (Sakharov, 1990, pp. 97–98)

Sakharov’s free thinking went well beyond science and above politics, and that might explain the connection of the two realms he made in the course of his life, as well as his free connection with the spiritual realm. His mother and grandmother were believers and churchgoers, while his father was not. At the age of thirteen, Andrei decided that he, too, was a nonbeliever. However in his sixties he articulated the stance amazing most of his colleagues: “I cannot imagine the Universe and human life without some meaningful element, without a source of spiritual ‘warmth,’ lying outside matter and its laws. Probably that feeling could be called religious” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 356). Addressing an audience of French physicists and referring to a few centuries when “it seemed that religious thought and scientific thought contradicted each other,” he expressed his belief that the apparent contradiction would have “a profound synthetic resolution in the next stage of the development of human consciousness” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 357).

A few lines in his diary reveal his creed: “For me all the religions are equal; I have no affinity to any of them. For me God is not the ruler of the world, not the creator of the world or its laws, but the guarantor of the meaning of existence—despite all the apparent meaninglessness.” But in no way did Sakharov consider himself a prophet or the like: “I am no volunteer priest of the idea, but simply a man with an unusual fate. I am against all kinds of self-immolation (for myself and for others, including the people closest to me” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 339).

In defending the human rights of others, together with his own dignity, the humanitarian physicist relied, even if half-jokingly, on fundamental physics itself. In a letter written from his exile, he cheered up a fellow physicist and human rights activist with the words: “Fortunately, the future is unpredictable and also—because of quantum effects—uncertain” (Gorelik, 2005, p. 358). For Sakharov the “uncertainty” of the future held an importance far beyond quantum physics. It supported his belief that he could, and should, take personal responsibility for the future of humanity.


Andrei Sakharov’s Nobel Lecture and other materials are available at the Nobel Foundation Web site:


“Radioaktivnyi uglerod iadernykh vzryvov i neporogovye biologicheskie effekty” Atomnaia energiia 4, no. 6 (1958): 576–580. English translation: “Radioactive Carbon from Nuclear Explosions and Nonthreshold Biological Effects.” Science & Global Security 1 (1990a): 175–187; also available at The first of Sakharov’s writing involving moral and political issues.

“Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom.” In “Text of Essay by Russian Nuclear Physicist Urging Soviet-American Cooperation.” New York Times, 22 July 1968; available at Reproduced in: Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom. New York: Norton, 1968. Sakharov’s first writing publicly manifesting his political dissent with the Soviet regime.

Collected Scientific Works. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1982.

Nauchnye trudy[Scientific Works]. Moscow: Tsentrkom, 1995.

Vospominaniya. 2 vols. Moscow: Prava cheloveka, 1996. Available from English: Memoirs. Translated by R. Lourie.

New York: Knopf, 1990b; Moscow and Beyond, 1986 to 1989. Translated by A. Bouis. New York: Knopf, 1991.

“Lecture in Lyons: Science and Freedom.” Translated by M. Yankelevich. Physics Today 52, no. 7 (July 1999): 22–24. One of the last public talks given at a session of the Société Française de Physique in Lyons, France, 27 September 1989.


Altshuler, Boris L., et al., eds. On mezhdu nami zhil. Vospominaniya o Sakharove. Moscow: Praktika, 1996. AndreiSakharov: Facets of a Life. Gif-sur-Yvette, France: Editions Frontières, 1991. Recollections of friends and colleagues.

American Institute of Physics. “Andrei Sakharov: Soviet Physics, Nuclear Weapons, and Human Rights.” Web exhibit at the American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics. Available from

Drell, Sydney D., and Sergei P. Kapitza, eds. Sakharov Remembered: A Tribute by Friends and Colleagues. New York: American Institute of Physics, 1991.

Ginzburg, Vitaly. The Physics of a Lifetime: Reflections on the Problems and Personalities of 20th Century Physics. Berlin: Springer, 2001.

———. About Science, Myself and Others. Bristol: IOP Publishing, 2004. Both of Ginzburg’s books are recollections of a prominent theoretical physicist, close colleague of A. Sakharov, and cofather of the Soviet H-bomb.

Gorelik, Gennady. “The Metamorphosis of Andrei Sakharov.” Scientific American 280 (March 1999): 98–101. An explanation of Sakharov’s transformation into public and political figure.

———, with Antonina W. Bouis. The World of Andrei Sakharov:

A Russian Physicist’s Path to Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. The first authoritative study of Andrei Sakharov as scientist as well as public figure; relies on previously inaccessible documents, archives declassified in the 1990s or later, and personal accounts by Sakharov’s friends and colleagues.

Gennady Gorelik

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Andrei Sakharov

Andrei Sakharov

Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989), one of the Soviet Union's leading theoretical physicists and regarded in scientific circles as the "father of the Soviet atomic bomb," also became Soviet Russia's most prominent political dissident in the 1970s . From 1980 to 1986 he was banished from Moscow to Gorky and cut off from contact with family, friends, and scientific colleagues.

Andrei Sakharov was born in Moscow on May 21, 1921, the son of a physics teacher. A brilliant student, he studied at Moscow University under Igor Tamm, winner of the Nobel Prize for theoretical physics. During World War II Sakharov served as an engineer in a military factory. In 1945 he entered the Lebedev Institute in Physics and soon joined the Soviet research group working on atomic weapons. Author of numerous scientific articles in this period, his achievements were broadly recognized inside Soviet Russia and out. In 1953, at the age of 32, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Between 1950 and 1968 Sakharov conducted top secret research on thermonuclear weapons in a secret location. He also developed an acute awareness of the dangers of nuclear testing activity and the irreversible consequences of nuclear war. His activities as a dissident can be dated from the period of relative intellectual freedom under Nikita Khrushchev in the late 1950s, when Sakharov began to send letters to Soviet leaders urging a halt to nuclear testing. In November 1958 Pravda allowed him to publish a lengthy article criticizing a plan to send children talented in mathematics and physics to the countryside for farm work. He also published several prominent articles in Atomnaia Energiia and other Soviet journals arguing against continued nuclear testing and the arms race. His views apparently carried weight with Khrushchev and others, with whom Sakharov communicated directly, and influenced the Soviet decision to sign the first test ban treaty in 1963.

The freedoms Sakharov and others enjoyed in these relatively liberal years had enormous effect. The ability to think and write openly about critical social issues was not easily repressed, despite the concerted efforts of Khrushchev's conservative successor, Leonid Brezhnev. In 1966 and 1967 Sakharov openly warned against efforts to rehabilitate Stalin and pressed for civil liberties. With the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the brutal repression of the Prague Spring, Sakharov and others became more militant, expressing their criticism more openly and sometimes standing vigil at trials of those arrested for protest activities. It was at this time that Sakharov published his most prominent and eloquent political essay, Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom, urging cooperation between East and West, civil liberties, and an end to the arms race.

It was while standing vigil at one such trial in 1970 that Sakharov, a widower, met Elena Bonner, who soon became his second wife and strongest supporter. The publication of Reflectionsin the West resulted in Sakharov's removal from most of his scientific projects and his dismissal as principal consultant to the Soviet Atomic Energy Commission. It soon became difficult for him to publish scientific works as well, although he continued his research and writing. In these difficult circumstances, Sakharov, assisted by Bonner, rapidly assumed a leading role in the Soviet dissident movement.

His writings and protests throughout the 1970s generally touched four themes: the treatment of individuals, particularly other dissidents arrested or otherwise harassed for their political views; the suppression of civil liberties in the U.S.S.R. and elsewhere; attacks on Soviet "totalitarianism," as he described it, and demands for political freedom in Russia; and the grave dangers of the arms race and nuclear development and testing plus the likely consequences of nuclear war. Sakharov's great international prestige as a nuclear physicist (and his particular knowledge of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons program) gave special significance to his views and also for a time helped protect him from arrest and expulsion.

Toward the end of the 1970s Sakharov became increasingly alarmed about the Soviet arms build-up. A strong advocate of East-West parity in nuclear weapons, he saw the development of new Soviet missiles as a reflection of aggressive and expansionist designs. He frequently expressed his views to foreign reporters, and much of his samizdat writing appeared in the West. His outspoken criticism of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 reflected these concerns and led, finally, to his detainment and expulsion from Moscow. In a celebrated incident, Sakharov was banished by administrative order to Gorky, a small city 250 miles east of Moscow, and cut off from open contact with friends and colleagues. Thus began a period of almost total isolation and constant harassment by the KGB (secret police).

Sakharov's plight became in the 1980s a constant sore in Soviet-American relations. In 1983 he reportedly considered emigration, but was refused because of his knowledge of Soviet state secrets. Continued protests against Soviet militarism resulted in new threats and warnings to him and to family members. On several occasions Sakharov engaged in hunger strikes to call attention to these threats and to gain the right of family members to go abroad. In 1983 President Reagan proclaimed May 21 "National Sakharov Day" in recognition of his courage and his contribution to humanity.

Sakharov was detained in Gorky for almost seven years, released at last by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. The remaining three years of his life were spent traveling abroad—something he had never previously done, despite his international fame. He died of a heart attack on December 14, 1989, in Moscow.

Three times named "Hero of Socialist Labor" (1953, 1956, 1962), winner of the Order of Lenin, the Stalin Prize, and the Lenin Prize, Sakharov also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his tireless work for nuclear disarmament and his outspoken criticism of human rights violations everywhere, especially in his homeland. He was for many, inside the Soviet Union and out, a noble symbol of courage, intelligence, and humanity.

Further Reading

Articles by Andrei Sakharov can be found in translation in various places, including the journals Chronicle of Human Rights, Russia; and New York Review of Books. An important article, "A Letter from Exile," was also published in the New York Times Magazine on June 8, 1980. Sakharov's major books in English are Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom (1972); and Alarm and Hope (1978). There is also a collection of essays, Sakharov Speaks (1974), edited by Harrison Salisbury.

Numerous articles about Sakharov have appeared in Western newspapers and journals, particularly The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (1971, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1984); Science (1973, 1975, 1981, and 1984); and TIME; and Newsweek. His activities as a dissident are chronicled in Biographical Dictionary of Dissidents in the Soviet Union, 1956-75 (1982). Readers interested in examining particular aspects of his career more closely should consult the New York Times through its annual index. An "Autobiographical Note" appears in Russia (1981), but there is as yet no adequate biography.

Additional Sources

Sakharov Andrei, Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom, Norton, 1968.

Sakharov, Andrei, My Country and the World, Knopf, 1975.

Sakharov, Andrei, Collected Scientific Works, Dekker, 1982.

Sakharov, Andrei, Memoirs, Knopf, 1990.

Sakharov, Andrei, Moscow and Beyond, 1986 to 1989, Vintage Book, 1992.

Babyonyshev, Alexander, editor, On Sakharov, Knopf, 1982.

Bonner, Yelena, Alone Together, Knopf, 1986. □

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Sakharov, Andrei

Andrei Sakharov

Born: May 21, 1921
Moscow, Russia
Died: December 14, 1989
Moscow, Russia

Russian physicist and reformer

Andrei Sakharov was one of the Soviet Union's leading physicists and is regarded in scientific circles as the "father of the Soviet atomic bomb." He also became Soviet Russia's most prominent political dissident (a person who holds political views that differ from the majority) in the 1970s.

Early years and education

Andrei Sakharov was born in Moscow, Russia, on May 21, 1921, the oldest of two sons. He was also part of a large family. When he was growing up, four Sakharov families shared the same apartment building. His father taught physics, the branch of science that examines matter and energy, and how they work together. He would take young Andrei to his laboratory and show him experiments. Andrei was dazzled and began performing his own experiments at home. His father encouraged him and gave him the desire to find fulfillment in his work.

Sakharov studied physics at Moscow University. During World War II (193945; a war fought mostly in Europe between the AxisGermany, Italy, and Japanand the Alliesled by the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and the United States) he served as an engineer in a military factory. He met Klavdia Vikhireva, a laboratory assistant, and they married in 1943. The couple had three children.

Physics research

In 1945 Sakharov entered the Lebedev Institute in Physics where he joined the Soviet research group working on atomic weapons. He wrote many scientific articles and his achievements were recognized throughout the world. In 1953, at the age of thirty-two, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Between 1950 and 1968 Sakharov conducted top secret research on thermonuclear weapons. Thermonuclear weapons release destructive energy by fusing the nuclei (the dense central cores) of atoms under high temperatures. He was named "Hero of Socialist Labor" in 1953, 1956, and 1962. He also developed a strong awareness of the dangers of nuclear testing activity and the irreversible consequences of nuclear war.

Takes stand against Soviet government policies

In the late 1950s Sakharov sent many letters to Soviet leaders urging them to stop nuclear testing. He also published several articles in Soviet journals arguing against continued nuclear testing and the arms race. His views apparently carried weight with Premier Nikita Khrushchev (18941971) and others, and influenced the Soviet decision to sign the first nuclear test ban treaty in 1963.

In 1966 and 1967 Sakharov openly pressed for civil liberties (rights of the people of a country). He became more militant (devoted to his cause) following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Sometimes he and other dissidents stood vigil (watch) at trials of those arrested for protest activities. While standing vigil at a trial in 1970 Sakharov, who was then a widower, met Elena Bonner. They later married, and she became his strongest supporter.

Reflections and banishment

At this time Sakharov published his best-known and most persuasive and forceful political essay, Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom. In it he urged cooperation between East and West (primarily the Soviet Union and the United States), civil liberties, and an end to the arms race. Following the publication of Reflections in the West, Sakharov was removed from most of his scientific projects and dismissed from the Soviet Atomic Energy Commission. It soon became difficult for him to publish scientific works. For a time, Sakharov was protected from being arrested because of his international prestige as a nuclear physicist, and his specific knowledge of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons program.

Toward the end of the 1970s Sakharov became increasingly alarmed about the Soviet arms build-up, which he saw as a reflection of aggressive plans. He frequently expressed his thoughts to foreign reporters and many of his views were printed in the West. His outspoken criticism of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 led to the banishment (forced exit) of Sakharov and his wife to Gorky, a small city two hundred fifty miles east of Moscow. He was cut off from open contact with friends and colleagues and constantly harassed by the KGB (Soviet secret police).

In 1983 Sakharov reportedly considered leaving Soviet Russia but was refused because of his knowledge of Soviet state secrets. On several occasions he engaged in hunger strikes (where someone refuses to eat as an act of protest) to call attention to continued threats against him and his family.

In 1983 U.S. president Ronald Reagan (1911) proclaimed May 21 National Sakharov Day in recognition of his courage and his contribution to humanity. Sakharov was detained in Gorky for almost seven years, released at last by Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (1931) in 1986. In 1989 he was elected to the newly formed Soviet legislature. The remaining three years of Sakharov's life were spent traveling abroad. He died of a heart attack on December 14, 1989, in Moscow.

Sakharov received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work for nuclear disarmament and his outspoken criticism of human rights violations everywhere. He was for many, inside the Soviet Union and out, a noble symbol of courage, intelligence, and humanity. Part of his obituary said, "Everything [he] did was dictated by his conscience."

For More Information

Bonner, Elena. Alone Together. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1986.

Lourie, Richard. Sakharov: A Biography. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2002.

Sakharov, Andrei. Memoirs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

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Sakharov, Andrei Dmitrievich


(19211989), physicist, political dissident, and member of the Council of People's Deputies; recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

Andrei Sakharov was born into an intelligentsia family in Moscow in 1921. Following in the footsteps of his physicist father, he enrolled at the physics faculty of Moscow University in 1938. Exempted from military service in World War II, Sakharov graduated in 1942 and spent the war years as an engineer at a munitions factory. There he met and married Klavdia Vikhireva (19191969), a laboratory technician.

After the war Sakharov undertook graduate work in the laboratory of Igor Tamm. He received his candidate's degree (roughly equivalent to a Ph.D.) in 1947. In the late 1940s, Sakharov conducted research that led to the explosion of the Soviet hydrogen bomb in 1953. The same year, he was elected a full member of Academy of Sciences. At thirty-two, he was the youngest member in the history of that institution.

Sakharov began to support victims of political oppression as early as 1951 when he sheltered a Jewish mathematician fired from the Soviet weapons program. In 1958 he published two papers on the effects of nuclear explosions and appealed for a ban on atmospheric testing. With this work he began to move beyond physics into political activism.

The 1968 publication in the New York Times of Sakharov's essay "Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom" marked, he wrote in his memoirs, a "decisive step" in his development as a dissident. The essay called for disarmament and rapprochement with the West. As a result of the essay, Sakharov was banned from all weapons research. His wife died shortly thereafter, and Sakharov returned to Moscow and academic physics.

Sakharov became involved in the emerging human rights movement, cofounding the Moscow Human Rights Committee in 1970. Through articles, petitions, interviews, and demonstrations, Sakharov and others in the movement aided political prisoners and advocated the abolition of censorship, an independent judiciary, and the introduction of contested elections. Sakharov married fellow human rights activist Yelena Bonner in 1972. She represented him at the Nobel Prize ceremony in 1975. The Nobel Committee's citation emphasized Sakharov's linkage of human rights and international cooperation.

Sakharov's denunciation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 led to his exile to Gorky in January 1980. He maintained ties with

Moscow and the West via Bonner until her exile in 1984.

In 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev invited Sakharov to return to Moscow. Sakharov immediately became an important and ubiquitous figure in the democratization movement. He was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies in 1989. He participated in drafting a new constitution. He lent his personal support to numerous causes, advocating amnesty for political prisoners, disarmament, peaceful solutions to ethnic conflicts, and limits on Gorbachev's emergency powers. On the eve of his death in December 1989, he was working to abolish Article 6 of the Soviet constitution, which enshrined the Communist Party's monopoly on power. The article was abolished in March 1990.

See also: bonner, yelena georgievna; congress of people's deputies; dissident movement; glasnost; human rights


Bonner, Elena. (1986). Alone Together, tr. Alexander Cook. New York: Knopf.

Lourie, Richard. (2002). Sakharov: A Biography. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Sakharov, Andrei. (1989). Moscow and Beyond, 1986 to 1989, tr. Antonina Bouis. New York: Vintage Books.

Sakharov, Andrei. (1990). Memoirs, tr. Richard Lourie. New York: Knopf.

Lisa A. Kirschenbaum

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"Sakharov, Andrei Dmitrievich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . 26 Apr. 2017 <>.

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Sakharov, Andrei Dmitriyevich

Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov, 1921–89, Soviet nuclear physicist and human-rights advocate; first Soviet citizen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (1975). From 1948 to 1956 he helped to develop the USSR's hydrogen bomb. In the 1960s he emerged as a prominent critic of the arms race and of Soviet repression, and in 1971 Yelena Georgiyevna Bonner, 1923–2011, a pediatrician who also was a human-rights activist, became his second wife. In 1980 he was exiled to Gorky; in 1984 Bonner was convicted of anti-Soviet activities and also restricted to Gorky. Sakharov's banishment inspired worldwide protest, and in 1986, after Gorbachev's rise to power, both Sakharov and Bonner were pardoned. In 1989 he was elected to the Soviet parliament, and briefly served before he died. Bonner remained a liberal critic of the Soviet and Russian governments until her death.

See Bonner's Alone Together (tr. 1986); biography by R. Lourie (2002); study by J. Bergman (2009).

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Sakharov, Andrei Dimitrievich

Sakharov, Andrei Dimitrievich (1921–89) Soviet physicist and social critic. His work in nuclear fusion was instrumental in the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. An outspoken defender of civil liberties, he created the Human Rights Committee in 1970, and received the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize.

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