Anatoly Dobrynin, 90

Anatoly Dobrynin, former Soviet ambassador to U.S., dies

"Subtle and disciplined, warm in his demeanor while wary in his conduct," former U.S. envoy Henry Kissinger once wrote of the Soviet ambassador, "Dobrynin moved through the upper echelons of Washington with consummate skill." (1995 Photo By Tyler Mallory For The Washington Post)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 2010

Anatoly Dobrynin, who negotiated arms treaties, helped settle the Cuban Missile Crisis and was the dean of Washington's international diplomatic corps during his 24 years as Soviet ambassador to the United States, died April 6 in Russia at the age of 90. The Russian government did not release the place or cause of death.

Mr. Dobrynin, the chief representative of the Soviet Union in the United States throughout the Cold War, helped pull the two superpowers back from the brink of war in the 1962 missile crisis, and his mastery of secretive "back-channel" diplomacy led to a new era of detente and the end of the nuclear arms race in the 1970s.

Few diplomats from the Soviet era understood the United States as well as the affable, English-speaking Mr. Dobrynin, who first came to Washington in 1952 for a three-year stint at the Soviet embassy. Equally committed to his Communist ideals and to a belief that the two international adversaries could coexist in peace, he cultivated a wide network that included presidents, congressmen and journalists. He and U.S. envoy Henry Kissinger had an especially close and sometimes fruitful diplomatic friendship.

"Subtle and disciplined, warm in his demeanor while wary in his conduct," Kissinger once wrote, "Dobrynin moved through the upper echelons of Washington with consummate skill."

Mr. Dobrynin's office at the Soviet embassy on 16th Street NW had no windows and was surrounded by a magnetic field to prevent electronic eavesdropping. Seven months after he presented his credentials as Soviet ambassador to President John F. Kennedy, U.S. spy planes detected Soviet missiles in Cuba in October 1962. As Soviet ships moved toward Cuba, Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of the island nation situated 90 miles from U.S. shores, and a tense, 13-day standoff almost led to a nuclear showdown.

Negotiating directly with Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Mr. Dobrynin suggested that the United States remove its missiles from Turkey in return for a Soviet withdrawal from Cuba.

The aging U.S. missiles in Turkey had little strategic value, but Mr. Dobrynin knew that the agreement would be seen as a face-saving move in the Kremlin. Soviet premier Nikita S. Khrushchev relented, Soviet ships and submarines turned around, and an armed confrontation was narrowly averted.

For the next quarter-century, Mr. Dobrynin's presence was felt in almost every diplomatic maneuver of the Cold War, including Vietnam, the Middle East, summit meetings and Soviet incursions into Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. He had a parking space at the State Department's underground garage and a secret hotline to Kissinger, who was then President Richard M. Nixon's national security adviser. The telephone, Mr. Dobrynin revealed in his 1995 memoir, "required no dialing and was not dependent on the ordinary telephone network."

His private meetings with Kissinger -- often at the White House's Map Room -- led to the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, which essentially ended the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race.

Mr. Dobrynin had entered the Soviet diplomatic service in 1944, when Josef Stalin was the Soviet premier, and left his ambassador's post in Washington in 1986, during the glasnost era of Mikhail S. Gorbachev. He worked closely with six U.S. presidents, from Kennedy to Ronald Reagan.

"If someday there should come about the genuine relaxation of tensions and dangers which our period demands," Kissinger wrote in the 1980s, "Anatoly Dobrynin will have made a central contribution to it."

Anatoly Fyodorovich Dobrynin was born Nov. 16, 1919, near Moscow and was the son of a plumber. He was educated at a Moscow aviation institute and helped design fighter planes before he was chosen for the diplomatic service.

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