Chicherin, Georgy Vasilievich

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(18721936), revolutionary and diplomat.

Georgy Chicherin was born on November 12, 1872, in Karaul, Tambov Province, into an aristocratic family of declining fortunes. He studied in the history and philology faculty at St. Petersburg University. After graduation, he worked in the archives department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Disillusioned with the Romanov regime, Chicherin fled to Western Europe in 1904, spending the next fourteen years immersed in socialist émigré politics. He belonged to the Menshevik wing of Russian socialism, but his strong opposition to World War I aligned him with Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik faction.

Returning to Russia in January 1918, Chicherin joined the Bolshevik Party and soon was appointed commissar of Foreign Affairs. He was uniquely qualified for the post, possessing a thorough knowledge of diplomatic history, experience in the tsarist Foreign Ministry, command of several foreign languages, familiarity with European conditions, and considerable negotiating experience from his days in the fractious émigré community. Block-daded by the Allies during the period of Civil War and foreign intervention in Russia, Chicherin used radio and the press to create a novel diplomacy of propaganda. Bolshevik appeals to the governments and peoples of the West for fair treatment of Soviet Russia were mixed with revolutionary calls to overthrow those same imperialist regimes.

The failure of the Bolshevik Revolution to spread abroad convinced Chicherin that a new period of capitalist stabilization had begun. He led the diplomatic component of the USSR's New Economic Policy (NEP), seeking peaceful relationships with the great powers as well as foreign trade, technology, loans, and investment. Chicherin coined the term "peaceful coexistence" to characterize this new era of temporary accommodation with the capitalist world.

Chicherin's major diplomatic successes were the 1921 Anglo-Soviet Trade Treaty and, with Germany, the 1922 Rapallo Treaty and 1925 Berlin Treaty. He saw strong political, economic, and even military ties with Germany as the key to preventing a European-wide anti-Soviet alliance of capitalist powers. He also fought tirelessly against the League of Nations because he saw it as the framework for an anti-Soviet coalition. In the 1920s the USSR received full diplomatic recognition from all the great powers, except the United States. These successes were offset by a number of failures. The USSR was unable to secure sufficient financial and technological assistance from the West. Britain and France continued to manifest undisguised hostility toward Moscow, causing Kremlin leaders to fear renewed armed intervention against Soviet Russia. Germany moved closer to the Anglo-French camp by signing the Locarno Accords in 1925 and joining the League of Nations.

Chicherin saw opportunities in the nationalliberation movements in Asia. Support for anticolonial struggles, he hoped, would sap the strength of the imperialist powers.

Chicherin was never a significant figure in Kremlin politics, though he was elected to the Party's Central Committee in 1925. He played a significant role in foreign policy formulation because Lenin greatly valued his knowledge, experience, and abilities. After Lenin's incapacitating stroke in 1922, Chicherin began to lose influence, and was eclipsed gradually by his deputy, Maxim Litvinov. A combination of Chicherin's estrangement from the Stalinist elite and his increasingly poor health virtually eliminated his role in foreign affairs after 1928. He was replaced by Litvinov as foreign commissar in 1930 and lived on a pension until his death, of natural causes, in 1936.

See also: central committee; league of nations; litvinov, maxim maximovich; rapallo, treaty of


Jacobson, Jon. (1994). When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

O'Connor, Timothy E. (1988). Diplomacy and Revolution: G.V. Chicherin and Soviet Foreign Affairs, 19181930. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

Teddy J. Uldricks

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Chicherin, Georgy Vasilievich

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