Molotov: Canny, adept, but still ruthless

For decades the perception of Soviet history during the Joseph Stalin’s reign was that the Georgian despot ruled the USSR with an iron fist and that everyone else was dispensable, figuratively and, often, literally.

Those that survived Stalin’s capricious purges are often portrayed as little more than “yes men,” not that being a cold, ruthless henchmen was any guarantee that you’d survive the next round of show trials, deportations and executions.

Yet a recent biography of Vyacheslav Molotov by Geoffrey Roberts, called Molotov: Stalin’s Cold Warrior, shows that the Soviet politician played a pivotal role over many decades, serving in several positions, including minister of foreign affairs from 1939-49 and again from 1953-56, and was far from one-dimensional.

For one thing, as University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign history professor Mark D. Steinberg points out, Molotov essentially ran the country during the first week after Nazi Germany launched its invasion of the USSR in June 1941, while Stalin sat staring at a wall in his summer dacha.

Also, Roberts argues that Molotov tried to ease tensions between the USSR and the West as the Cold War began, in the late 1940s, and was instrumental in pushing Soviet foreign policy to a less confrontational stance in the 1950s, according to a review of Roberts’ book by the Irish Examiner.

“This was not just Molotov positioning himself in the Soviet hierarchy after Stalin’s death, but was consistent with his position on relations with the West from the war years,” the publication writes.

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