Vyacheslav Molotov

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Vyacheslav Molotov : biography

9 March 1890 – 8 November 1986

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact governed Soviet-German relations until June 1941 when Hitler, having occupied France and neutralised Britain, turned east and attacked the Soviet Union. Molotov was responsible for telling the Soviet people of the attack, when he instead of Stalin announced the war. His speech, broadcast by radio on 22 June, characterised the Soviet Union in a role similar to that articulated for Britain by Winston Churchill in his early wartime speeches. The State Defence Committee was established soon after Molotov’s speech; Stalin was elected Chairman and Molotov was elected Deputy Chairman. Following the German invasion, Molotov conducted urgent negotiations with Britain and, later, the United States for wartime alliances. He took a secret flight to Glasgow, Scotland where he was greeted by Eden. This risky flight, in a high altitude Tupolev TB-7 bomber, flew over German occupied Denmark and the North Sea. From there he took a train to London to discuss with the British government the possibility of opening a second front against Germany. After signing the Anglo-Soviet Treaty of 1942 on 26 May Molotov left for Washington, D.C., United States. Molotov met with Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President of the United States, and ratified a Lend-Lease Treaty between the USSR and the US. Both the British and the United States government, albeit vaguely, promised to open up a second front against Germany. On his flight back to the USSR his plane was attacked by German fighters, and then later by Soviet fighters.

When Beria told Stalin about the Manhattan Project and its importance Stalin handpicked Molotov to be the man in charge of the Soviet atomic bomb project. However, under Molotov’s leadership the bomb, and the project itself, developed very slowly and Molotov was replaced by Beria in 1944 on the advice of Igor Kurchatov. When Harry S. Truman, the American President, told Stalin that the Americans had created a bomb never seen before, Stalin related the conversation to Molotov and told him to speed up development. On Stalin’s orders the Soviet government substantially increased investment in the project.Zhukov, Georgi Konstantinovich. "The Memoirs of Marshal Zhukov." New York: Delacorte Press, 1971.

In a collaboration with Kliment Voroshilov, Molotov contributed both musically and lyrically to the 1944 version of the Soviet national anthem. Molotov asked the writers to include a line or two about peace. Molotov’s and Voroshilov’s role in the making of the new Soviet anthem was, in the words of historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, acting as music judges for Stalin.

Molotov accompanied Stalin to the Teheran Conference in 1943, the Yalta Conference in 1945 and, following the defeat of Germany, the Potsdam Conference. He represented the Soviet Union at the San Francisco Conference, which created the United Nations. Even during the period of wartime alliance, Molotov was known as a tough negotiator and a determined defender of Soviet interests. From 1945 to 1947 Molotov took part in all four conferences of foreign ministers of the victorious states in World War II. In general, he was distinguished by an uncooperative attitude towards the Western powers. Molotov, at the direction of the Soviet government, condemned the Marshall Plan as imperialistic and claimed it was dividing Europe into two camps, one capitalist and the other communist. In response, the Soviet Union, along with the other Eastern Bloc nations, initiated what is known as the Molotov Plan. The plan created several bilateral relations between the states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; and later evolved into the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA).

In the postwar period, Molotov’s power began to decline. A clear sign of Molotov’s precarious position was his inability to prevent the arrest in December 1948 for "treason" of his Jewish wife, Polina Zhemchuzhina, whom Stalin had long distrusted. Molotov never stopped loving his wife, and it is said that he ordered his maids to make dinner for two every evening to remind him that, in his own words, "she suffered because of me". According to a close collaborator of Molotov, Vladimir Erofeev,V. Erofeev, Diplomat, Moskva, 2005 at the beginning of 1949 the Israel prime minister, Golda Meir, visited the Soviet Union; she met privately with Polina, who had been her schoolmate in St. Petersburg. Immediately afterward, Polina was arrested and accused of ties with Zionist organizations; she was kept one year in the Lubyanka, after which she was exiled for three years in an obscure Russian city. Molotov had no communication with her, save for the scant news that Beria, whom he loathed, told him. She was freed immediately after the death of Stalin. According to Erofeev, Molotov said of her: "She’s not only beautiful and intelligent, the only woman minister in Soviet Union; she’s also a real Bolshevik, a real soviet person." In 1949, Molotov was replaced as Foreign Minister by Andrey Vyshinsky, although retaining his position as First Deputy Premier and membership of the Politburo.