Viktor Sukhodrev, translator for Soviet leaders, dies at 81

Viktor Sukhodrev, the Soviet interpreter who for three decades brought the words of Kremlin leaders to the English-speaking world, died Friday in Moscow. He was 81.

Ekho Moskvy radio first reported the death of Sukhodrev, citing his son. No cause was immediately announced.

In expressing official condolences, the Russian Foreign Ministry described Sukhodrev as a “direct participant in the most important events in Soviet-U.S. relations” who would be remembered for his “keen observations, good humor and human warmth.”

Sukhodrev was a fixture at U.S.-Soviet summits beginning with Nikita Khrushchev’s 1959 visit to the U.S., the first by a Soviet leader.

Three years earlier, at the beginning of his career, he had translated Khrushchev’s now famous phrase “We will bury you,” which became a verbal symbol of the rivalry between the two superpowers.


At a 1972 meeting between President Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow, he was the sole interpreter.

“There had been concern expressed that I should have a State Department translator present also,” Nixon wrote in “RN,” his memoirs. “But I knew that Sukhodrev was a superb linguist who spoke English as well as he did Russian, and I felt that Brezhnev would speak more freely if only one other person was present.”

Russian state television on Friday evening showed photographs and videos of Khrushchev and Brezhnev at historic events with the young dark-haired Sukhodrev standing just behind them.

He was also called into service for Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, when he and President Reagan met in Washington in 1987 to sign the treaty that eliminated certain intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

Born on Dec. 12, 1932, Sukhodrev traced his future career to the six years he spent in London as a young boy during World War II with his mother, who worked at the Soviet trade mission. He returned to Moscow at the age of 12 and later graduated from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages.

His father, a military intelligence officer who had worked undercover in the U.S., stopped Sukhodrev from following him into an espionage career, Ekho Moskvy said. Instead, he was assigned to the Foreign Ministry and became the personal interpreter for Khrushchev.