Courtesy Reuters

The Apparatchik's Lament

In This Review

In Confidence: Moscow's Ambassador to America's Six Cold War Presidents

By Anatoly Dobrynin
Times Books, 1995
688 pp. $30.00
Purchase

A reader of Anatoly Dobrynin's important memoir is likely to be struck by a sense of having seen all this somewhere before. Colored throughout by nostalgia for a great but vanished empire, it is written in a conversational now-this-can-be-revealed tone, containing large dollops of court gossip, intrigue, and wistfulness about the author's loss of high position. It suggests that things could have turned out much better had it not been for incompetence and even betrayal in high places. Then it dawns on you. Although Dobrynin, a long-time diplomat and ambassador, was a loyal servant of the communist regime throughout his career, his book reads for all the world as though it were written by a tsarist functionary in the wake of the 1917 revolutionary cataclysm.

As with many memoirs in this genre, Dobrynin's is a fascinating read; it will also be an essential source for historians trying to come to terms with the late Soviet period. Ultimately, however, Dobrynin gives little insight into fundamental questions. He certainly provides useful new information about such things as Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty negotiations and the fate of détente. But relying solely on his account would leave one wondering why the formidable Soviet empire, whose power and status until recently seemed to be a permanent fixture of the international scene, proved so brittle and crumbled so suddenly and completely. Like his tsarist predecessors, Dobrynin is at a loss to explain how everything he thought permanent could prove to be so ephemeral.

A MISTRUST OF CONVICTION

Dobrynin was an outstanding product of the second generation of Soviet diplomats, as was his longtime boss, Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko. The first generation had been composed of old revolutionaries, cosmopolitans whose experience of the world predated the Soviet period. They were a linguistically talented, heterogeneous lot whose broad knowledge of the non-Stalinist world, far from making them an asset to the great dictator's diplomacy as one might think, doomed them to the concentration camp or the bullet. They

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