Gromyko, Andrey

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Andrey Gromyko

Born July 18, 1909
Starye Gromyki, Belorussia (now Belarus)
Died July 2, 1989
Moscow, Russia

Soviet foreign minister and president

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F or over forty years, Andrey Gromyko was a skilled representative and spokesman for the Soviet Union while serving in a number of positions under various Soviet leaders. He maintained a persistent loyalty to official Soviet perspectives in its prolonged Cold War rivalry with the United States. To many in the West, his was the most familiar face of the communist-ruled superpower.

Making use of the new communist system

Andrey Andreyevich Gromyko was born to Russian peasant farmers in the Belorussian village of Old Gromyki. Residents of that region would traditionally adopt the name of their village, so most inhabitants had the same last name: Gromyko. The Bolshevik Revolution occurred in 1917, when Gromyko was only eight years old. The Bolsheviks, mostly Russian peasants and workers rising in revolt against the Russian ruling class, professed the communist ideology of Vladimir I. Lenin (1870–1924), who established the Communist Party in Russia. Communism is a governmental system in which the Communist Party controls nearly all aspects of citizens' lives. In a communist economy, private ownership of property is banned, and accumulated wealth is, in theory, shared equally by all. The Bolsheviks prevailed over the ruling classes and established communist rule throughout the country. The new communist system gave rural peasant youths new educational opportunities, and the intellectually gifted Gromyko would later take full advantage of them. In the meantime, to help support his family, fourteen-year-old Gromyko began working with his father, Andrey Matveyevich, at various jobs, including timber-cutting in the forests surrounding his village.

After completing his secondary education, Gromyko attended the Economics Institute in the city of Minsk and studied agricultural economics. In 1931, at age twenty-two, he joined the Communist Party. He married Lydia Dmitrievna Grinevich that same year; they would have two children. Continuing in the Soviet educational system, Gromyko completed a graduate program in economics and English in 1936 at the Minsk Agricultural Technical School. Moving to Moscow's Institute of Economics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Gromyko completed a doctoral dissertation on U.S. agricultural mechanization. He remained at the institute until 1939 as a senior researcher and lecturer specializing in the American economy. In later years, he would publish three Russian-language books on U.S. economics. Gromyko also worked as a staff member on an economics journal through the late 1930s.

From 1936 to 1938, while Gromyko was completing his higher education, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin (1879–1953; see entry) carried out massive purges of Communist Party leaders as well as ordinary party members; this period of purging is referred to as the Great Terror. Millions of Stalin's opponents—and even some of his supporters—were executed or exiled. Young party members of Gromyko's generation suddenly saw great opportunities open up in the Soviet government; after all, those who had been purged needed to be replaced. As a result, in 1939, Gromyko was recruited into the Soviet Diplomatic Service. Apparently making a quick and highly favorable impression, Gromyko was sent to work in the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. He became a favorite of Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov (1890–1986; see entry), and by 1943 Gromyko, only thirty-three years old at the time, was appointed Soviet ambassador to the United States. By then, he had become fluent in English.

During the mid-1940s, Gromyko became a prominent presence at meetings with world leaders. With his solemn facial expressions, Gromyko personified the long-term chilly relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Gromyko was nicknamed "Old Stone Face," "Grim Grom," and "Mr. Nyet." (Nyet means "no" in Russian.)

A rapid rise to foreign minister

In 1943, Gromyko traveled to Tehran, Iran, to attend the first meeting of Allied leaders during World War II (1939–45). The Allied leaders were Great Britain's Winston Churchill (1874–1965; see entry), the United States' Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1932–45), and the Soviet Union's Stalin. The meeting focused on plans for postwar Europe. Gromyko then led the Soviet delegation at the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks conference in Washington, D.C.; at this meeting, world leaders discussed proposals for the creation of the United Nations (UN), an international organization created to resolve disputes among nations. Gromyko traveled to San Francisco in April 1945 to write the UN charter. He assisted Stalin and Molotov at two other important meetings in 1945, the first at the Crimean resort of Yalta and the second in Potsdam, Germany. Negotiating with Allied wartime leaders from the United States and Great Britain, Gromyko managed to keep Poland under Soviet control and keep Germany a divided nation, two important goals for the Soviet government. In return, the Soviets agreed to help the United States in its continuing war with Japan.

In 1946, Gromyko was named Soviet representative to the newly formed UN Security Council. Because of Gromyko's earlier involvement in writing the UN charter, the Soviets received veto power over any proposals they found disagreeable; proposals posed by the United States and other Western countries were the most frequent offenders. Gromyko used his veto power freely while serving in the UN, casting twenty-six vetoes to prevent adoption of resolutions. He also dramatically stormed out of one Security Council session in protest over discussions of attempted Soviet expansion into Iran.

In 1949, Gromyko was promoted to deputy foreign minister under Molotov, a rather rapid rise since entering the diplomatic field just ten years earlier. His work in the foreign minister's office was briefly interrupted in 1952 and 1953 because Molotov had fallen out of favor with Stalin. During this time, Gromyko was Soviet ambassador to Britain. However, immediately after Stalin's sudden death in 1953, Gromyko returned to Moscow to work as assistant foreign minister under Molotov once again. Making a break from past Stalin policies, new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971; see entry) replaced Molotov with Gromyko as foreign minister in 1957. Gromyko served in that post for the next twenty-eight years. Gromyko was moving up rapidly in the Soviet Communist Party as well. In 1952, he had become a candidate member in the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He gained full membership in the Central Committee in 1956.

Man of influence

By 1957, Gromyko was well known worldwide for his extensive knowledge of international affairs; he was also highly respected for his negotiating skills. His fellow Soviets trusted him as their sole representative on major diplomatic missions and as their chief foreign policy advisor.

During his career as foreign diplomat and foreign minister, Gromyko would meet with every U.S. president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89; see entry). Gromyko accompanied many different Soviet leaders, from Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) to Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982; see entry), on foreign visits. Gromyko was very intelligent and able to adapt his philosophies to the particular Soviet leader he was serving. He was the person Khrushchev sent to Washington, D.C., to meet with President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63; see entry) during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Gromyko's role as foreign minister would change over time. Khrushchev's flamboyant personal style kept the much more reserved Gromyko in the background for his first seven years in the post. When Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as Soviet leader in October 1964, Brezhnev kept Gromyko as foreign minister. Under Brezhnev, Gromyko's influence and power grew significantly, and he regained his previous visibility in world affairs. Gromyko even met with Pope Paul VI (1897–1978) in 1966 while visiting Rome, Italy. Gromyko was one of the few Soviet officials to meet with a pope during the Cold War. His visit to the leader of one of the major world religions was notable because a key aspect of communism was the belief in no God and the discouragement of religious practices.

When meeting with world leaders, Gromyko made efforts to keep relations open and honest, but he was nevertheless staunchly dedicated to preserving Soviet communist rule. In 1968, when Czechoslovakia began to reform communist policies and introduce greater freedoms, Gromyko urged Brezhnev to respond with force. Gromyko also charted an aggressive course in Third World, or underdeveloped, countries. During the 1970s, he supported an overthrow of the Angolan government in Africa and encouraged Soviet leaders to provide aid to a procommunist government in Ethiopia. He also pushed for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to support a pro-Soviet government there. The invasion led to a prolonged and costly war.

Much of Gromyko's career was spent negotiating arms control agreements. He played a key role in negotiating the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) with U.S. president Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74; see entry) in the early 1970s, including final negotiations. SALT I was the first treaty to set limits on some nuclear weapons and eliminate antiballistic missile (ABM) systems. Gromyko

proved a quick learner in the technical aspects of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Impressing the negotiators from other nations, Gromyko often negotiated without the immediate need of technical advisors.

As Gromyko's influence in foreign affairs increased, so did his standing in the Soviet Communist Party. In 1973, Gromyko became a member of the Communist Party's policy-making committee, the Politburo. Through his Politburo position and foreign ministry post, Gromyko was a key force in the Soviet Union's efforts to ease tensions with the West; this new policy of promoting better relations was known as détente. Gromyko wanted the Soviet Union to have access to new advanced technologies of the West. In order to gain such access, Gromyko helped negotiate various agreements with Western nations to improve relations. His efforts led to agreements with West Germany addressing central European relations and to the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which made the postwar political boundaries in Eastern Europe permanent, a key to maintaining gains in Soviet influence in the region. In November 1974, Gromyko and Brezhnev met with U.S. president Gerald Ford (1913–; served 1974–77) in Vladivostok to begin discussions on another nuclear arms treaty, SALT II. SALT II was eventually signed on June 18, 1979, in Vienna, Austria, by President Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81; see entry) and Brezhnev. Gromyko and U.S. secretary of state Cyrus Vance (1917–2002) had been the main negotiators.

Gromyko's influence within the Soviet Union expanded further in 1983 when he became first deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers controlled Soviet economic and cultural life. Brezhnev became increasingly feeble during his last years of power, and his immediate successors, Yuri Andropov (1914–1984) and Konstantin Chernenko (1911–1985), both suffered from ill health during their short terms in office. As a result, Gromyko was the person who actually ran Soviet foreign affairs in the early 1980s. For example, in 1982, he spoke before the United Nations in opposition to U.S. deployment of new nuclear missiles in Europe. It was clear to those in attendance that Gromyko was speaking from a position of great authority. During this period, Soviet foreign policy became much more aggressive. In 1981, Gromyko supported the Polish government in crushing strikers who were protesting increased food prices. He also took a tough stance against President Reagan, who was threatening a renewed arms race. Gromyko later met with U.S. secretary of state George Shultz (1920–) in Geneva, Switzerland, in early 1985 to discuss arms control.

By 1985, Gromyko was the senior member of the Politburo and had great influence in the Soviet Communist Party. After the death of Chernenko, Gromyko proposed that Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–; see entry) be the next general secretary. Gorbachev did in fact become the new head of the Communist Party; he was the first of a new generation of Soviet leaders. Stressing much-needed economic reform, Gorbachev appointed Eduard Shevardnadze (1928–; see entry) to replace the old-guard Gromyko as foreign minister in June 1985, ending Gromyko's twenty-eight years in that position. However, out of respect for Gromyko and gratitude for his personal support, Gorbachev made him chairman of the Supreme Soviet, a position of prestige rather than power. Gorbachev shook up Soviet leadership again in 1988. Gromyko fell victim to this change and resigned from his Politburo position. By April 1989, he was removed from the Central Committee as well.

Gromyko died of a stroke only a few months after leaving the Central Committee. He had been one of the last remaining members of the old-time hard-line Communist Party generation; indeed, despite Gromyko's long service to the Soviet Union, only one Politburo member attended his funeral. Just before his death, Gromyko published memoirs he had been compiling since 1979. However, for historians, the memoirs revealed few new insights about Gromyko's decades in the Soviet foreign ministry department. Instead Gromyko's writings reflected the traditional, rigid, hard-line communist interpretation of the Cold War.

For More Information


Edmonds, Robin. Soviet Foreign Policy: The Brezhnev Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Gromyko, Andrei Andreyevich. Memoirs. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

Kelley, Donald R. Soviet Politics in the Brezhnev Era. New York: Praeger, 1980.

Linden, Carl A. Khrushchev and the Soviet Leadership, 1957–1964. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966.

Tatu, Michel. Power in the Kremlin: From Khrushchev to Kosygin. New York: Viking, 1969.

Structure of the Communist Party

Andrey Gromyko served as a top leader in the Soviet government for decades; he also held various positions of influence in the Soviet Communist Party. Communism is a system of government in which national leaders are selected by a single political party, the Communist Party, which controls almost all aspects of society. No other political parties are allowed. Therefore, the Soviet Communist Party held more power than the government of the Soviet Union. The Party provided political and social guidance and handled foreign relations, while the government existed for administrative purposes for public works and social services. The head of the Communist Party is the most powerful person in a Communist nation.

The structure of the Communist Party was very different from that of U.S. political parties. Party leadership was divided into several bodies: the Central Committee, the Secretariat of the Central Committee, the Politburo, and the Council of Ministers. The Central Committee was the administrative body of the Communist Party; it consisted of about one hundred of the party's leading figures. The general secretary (also called the first secretary between 1953 and 1966) was head of the Central Committee and top officer of the Communist Party. The Secretariat of the Central Committee consisted of about eleven members; this group of leaders ran the day-to-day activities of the Central Committee, such as keeping the numerous Party positions filled around the Soviet Union, making sure local Party officials were properly carrying out policy, and resolving Party disputes. The Central Committee's executive body was the Politburo (known as the Presidium between 1953 and 1966). It was a small body that directed party policy. The Politburo had no chairman, operating on the communist principle that all the members were equal. Therefore, the general secretary held top power in the country. Another body, the Council of Ministers, was in charge of economic issues.

The Soviet national government was separate from the Communist Party structure but totally subordinate to it. The legislative body of the Soviet government was the Supreme Soviet. The head of state and head of the Supreme Soviet was the premier. The person holding the position of premier was essentially a figurehead and served as the chief administrative officer of the Soviet government. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, composed of forty-two members, was in charge of passing Soviet legislation.

In actuality, the division of functions and responsibilities between the Central Committee, the Politburo, the Council of Ministers, and the Supreme Soviet was not distinct. The system was greatly dependent on individual personalities and how much support they could gain from others of influence. Therefore, no set path for selecting leaders existed. Anyone who had ambitions to lead the Communist Party needed to gather a personal following. Such a leader could come from any of the ruling bodies of the party. There were no set terms of office, so a leader was vulnerable to personal rivalries, conflicts over policy, and the rise of influential people. The system was ripe for and always suffered from corruption and secret deals.