Anatoly Dobrynin dies at 90; longtime Soviet ambassador to the U.S.

Associated Press

Anatoly Dobrynin, a longtime Soviet ambassador to the U.S. who represented Moscow during the Cuban missile crisis and later in superpower negotiations to curb the growth of nuclear arsenals, has died. He was 90.

Dobrynin died Tuesday in Moscow, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reported, adding that Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, expressed deep condolences.

His death came the same week that President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met in Prague to sign a landmark treaty to shrink the Cold War superpowers’ arsenals to the lowest point since the arms race of the 1960s.

Dobrynin never intended to become a diplomat but ended up as one of the Cold War’s most prominent and respected, playing a key role in resolving the Cuban missile crisis and representing the Soviet Union in Washington for nearly a quarter-century.


In public, Dobrynin always followed the Kremlin line assiduously, but senior U.S. officials respected him for his ability to get their points of view across to the leadership in Moscow.

He was both sides’ preferred channel of contact between the Kremlin and U.S. presidents for 24 years as both countries swung through enormous changes.

Dobrynin’s ambassadorship began in 1962, when Nikita Khrushchev was Soviet premier. In contrast to Khrushchev, Dobrynin was warm and suave and spoke English fluently; his style meshed with the sophisticated image cultivated by President Kennedy.

Dobrynin quickly established a back-channel relationship with Kennedy’s brother, Robert, the U.S. attorney general. The relationship was put to the test within a few months, when U.S. spy planes photographed Soviet nuclear missiles being installed in Cuba.


President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba as Soviet ships steamed toward the island. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko denied that such missiles were in Cuba. The world watched with dread, fearing that a clash over Cuba would touch off fighting in divided Berlin that would engulf Europe and lead to global nuclear war.

Although Dobrynin stood with Gromyko when he denied the missiles’ presence, in private he was meeting with Robert Kennedy. Through those meetings, Khrushchev proposed that the United States withdraw missiles from Turkey in exchange for Moscow removing the missiles from Cuba. Khrushchev announced the withdrawal two weeks after the crisis began.

Dobrynin was born Nov. 16, 1919, in Krasnaya Gorka, near Moscow, the son of a plumber. Trained as an engineer, he was working as a designer in an aircraft factory in 1944 when his life took a sharp turn and he was selected for diplomatic service.

He was sent to Washington as an embassy counselor in 1952 and became head of the Foreign Ministry’s U.S. and Latin American Department in 1960. He returned to Washington as ambassador in 1962 at the notably young age of 42.


After the missile crisis, Dobrynin continued to cultivate relations with presidents as different as Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan while representing Kremlin policies ranging from the hard line of Leonid Brezhnev to the epochal liberalization of Gorbachev.

Dobrynin was called back to Moscow in 1986 to become secretary for foreign affairs of the powerful Communist Party Central Committee and an advisor to Gorbachev.

In 1995, Dobrynin published his memoirs, “In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to America’s Six Cold War Presidents.”

Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Irina.