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Vyacheslav Mikhaylovich Molotov (Russian: Вячесла́в Миха́йлович Мо́лотов) (vyah-cheh-SLAHF mih-KHY-lo-vihch MOL-uh-tawf) (February 25, 1890 (O.S.) (March 9, 1890 (N.S.))–November 8, 1986) was a Soviet politician and diplomat. Molotov and Joseph Stalin himself were the only senior revolutionary Bolsheviks to survive the Great Purges of the 1930s.
He was born in the village of Kukarka (now Sovetsk in Kirov Oblast), Russia, as Vyacheslav Mikhaylovich Skryabin (Скря́бин). He joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1906 and took the pseudonym Molotov (from Russian: hammer). He was, along with Alexander Shlyapnikov, the senior Bolshevik in Petrograd at the time of the February Revolution as figures such as Lenin were still in exile. After what appears to be an odyssey through the landscape of geographic and political Russia including an important role in the October Revolution and editing the newspaper Pravda for a while, he started working under Joseph Stalin in 1922.
From December 19, 1930 to May 9, 1941, he was Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), in which capacity he was the head of government of the USSR, although this position was in practice subordinate to the General Secretary of the Communist Party.
During the drought in the Soviet Union of 1932–1933, which affected most grain-producing territories (Ukraine, Kuban, Volga region, Kazakhstan), Molotov was the head of the Extraordinary commission for grain delivery (khlebosdacha) in Ukraine. Despite the bad harvest and an epidemic of typhoid, he managed to collect 4.2 million tonnes of grain (of planned 4.6 million tonnes).
In May 1939 he became People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs (Foreign Minister), and he held both positions until Stalin took over the Sovnarkom chair two years later. It is believed that he was made foreign minister because his predecessor, Maxim Litvinov, was Jewish, and might thus have insulted the Germans by his role in negotiations. Molotov negotiated in parallel with both the West and Nazis to secure maximal territorial gain for Soviet Union. After British-French-Soviet talks held in August of 1939 failed, he negotiated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with his German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop. In accordance with the pact, the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, after it had already been invaded from the west by Germany on September 1, and subsequently annexed the eastern part of the country. For the citizens of eastern Poland, this meant the beginning of mass arrests and deportations of "class enemies" to the eastern part of the Soviet Union. During this period, Molotov publicly expressed his satisfaction at the fall of Poland under both German and Soviet onslaughts, blaming the Polish state and its "landlords' rule" for the oppression of ethnic minorities.
As a member of the Soviet politburo, Molotov approved executions. For example, on March 5, 1940, the politburo signed an order of execution (prepared by Lavrenti Beria) of 25,700 members of the Polish intelligentsia, including 14,700 Polish prisoners of war. This became known as the Katyn massacre, which was vigorously denied by the Soviet Union.
During the period prior to the outbreak of war between the USSR and Germany in 1941, Molotov consistently annoyed the Germans with his pragmatic tenacity during negotiations, insisting on preserving or advancing Soviet interests in Eastern Europe, and not being deceived by idle German promises of concessions in other faraway parts of the world, such as India. (According to a story later told by Stalin to Winston Churchill, when Ribbentrop was discussing dividing up the spoils of a soon-to-be-conquered British Empire, Molotov once responded by asking him why, if Britain was doomed, were they holding negotiations in an air raid shelter.) Later on, he also frustrated U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt with his firm stance on issues during the war.
In Post-War Europe, Molotov offered the Molotov Plan as an alternative to the Marshall Plan, and was involved in the economic grouping known as the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in 1949. This plan led to bilateral trade agreements between Eastern European countries.
Molotov served as foreign minister until 1949, when he was replaced by Andrei Vyshinsky as a mark of falling out of Stalin's favor—he was removed from the Politburo in 1952. His wife Polina Zhemchuzhina , a staunch Zionist and friend of Golda Meir, was arrested for treason in 1948 during what some have termed an anti-Semitic campaign against "rootless cosmopolitans", which followed Israel's siding against the USSR in the Cold War.
For reasons such as these, some have speculated that Molotov could have become a victim of a purge Stalin was suspected of planning in the last weeks of his life. Following Stalin's death in 1953, he was reinstated in the Politburo (which was now called the Presidium) and served again as foreign minister until 1956, but soon found himself at odds with the reformist policies of Stalin's eventual successor, Nikita Khrushchev, and was strongly opposed to Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin. In 1957, along with other top Stalinists such as Lazar Kaganovich (the so-called Anti-Party Group), he attempted a coup within the party to oust Khrushchev. When this failed, it provided Khrushchev with a pretext to demote Molotov to a series of increasingly irrelevant posts: first as Ambassador to Mongolia (1957–1960) and then as the permanent Soviet delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (1960–1961). By 1964, he had been expelled from the party altogether.
Molotov was allowed to rejoin the party in 1984, but this was a purely symbolic gesture. At the time of his death at the age of 96 in Moscow on November 8, 1986, he was the last surviving major participant in the events of 1917. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow.
- Raymond H. Anderson. "Vyacheslav M. Molotov Is Dead; Close Associate of Stalin Was 96". The New York Times. November 11, 1986. p. A1
- The Associated Press. "200 Attend Molotov Funeral in Private Rites at Cemetery." The New York Times. November 13, 1986. p. D27
- Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War 1996. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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