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Chernyaev with his partner Lyudmila Rudakova

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, 1991

Top Gorbachev Adviser Chronicles Final Year of the Soviet Union

Archive Marks Author’s 90th Birthday With Online Publication In English for the First Time

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 345

By Svetlana Savranskaya and Anna Melyakova

For more information contact:
Svetlana Savranskaya - 202/994-7000 or by email

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Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989

Previous Chernyaev Diary Postings

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, 1990
Fifth Installment of Former Top Soviet Adviser's Journal Available in English for First Time

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev 1989
Archive Publishes Fourth Installment of Former Top Soviet Adviser's Journal

The Diary of Anatoly S. Chernyaev: 1987-1988

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev
Archive Publishes Second Installment of Former Top Soviet Adviser's Journal

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev
Former Top Soviet Adviser's Journal Chronicles Final Years of the Cold War

"Anatoly Chernyaev's diary is one of the great internal records of the Gorbachev years, a trove of irreplacable observations about a turning point in history. There is nothing else quite like it, allowing the reader to sit at Gorbachev's elbow at the time of perestroika and glasnost, experiencing the breakthroughs and setbacks. It is a major contribution to our understanding of this momentous period."

David E. Hoffman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Dead Hand

Washington D.C., May 25, 2011 - Marking the 90th birthday of former top Gorbachev advisor Anatoly Sergeevich Chernyaev, the National Security Archive today publishes on the Web at www.nsarchive.org the latest installment of the unique and invaluable Chernyaev diary, covering the final fateful year of the Soviet Union, 1991.

Chief foreign policy aide to Gorbachev from 1986 through 1991 and a leading architect of perestroika and “new thinking,” Anatoly Sergeevich remains a champion of glasnost, sharing his notes, documents and first-hand insights with scholars trying to understand the peaceful end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  In 2004, he donated the originals of his detailed diaries covering the years from 1972 through 1991, to the National Security Archive in order to ensure permanent public access to this record – beyond the reach of political uncertainties in contemporary Russia.

Translated into English for the first time, by Anna Melyakova and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya of the Archive’s Russia/Eurasia program, today’s posting on the year 1991 is the sixth installment of the Archive’s publication of the Chernyaev diary, now covering all of the crucial Gorbachev years, 1985 through 1991.

Anatoly Sergeevich Chernyaev was born on May 25, 1921 in Moscow.  He fought in World War II beginning in 1941, and after the war, resumed his studies at Moscow State University in the Department of History, graduating in 1948.  From 1950 to 1958, he taught contemporary history at Moscow State, and from 1958 to 1961 worked in Prague on the editorial board of the theoretical journal Problems of Peace and Socialism.  Returning to Moscow in 1961, he joined the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, rising to a senior position in charge of relations with West European Communist parties, and acquiring a well-deserved reputation as an innovative thinker and reformer. 

In early 1986, the new Party General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, asked him to serve as chief foreign policy adviser; and from that point on, Chernyaev remained at Gorbachev’s side in the highest-level summit meetings with leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and even during the August 1991 coup attempt by hardliners – the central dramatic moment of the 1991 diary published today.  A prolific writer and speaker, Chernyaev has authored six books in addition to numerous articles in Soviet, Russian, European, and American journals.

The 1991 Chernyaev diary chronicles the final momentous year in the history of the Soviet Union, leading to the final lowering of the Soviet flag over the Kremlin on December 25.  Signals of that denouement occur early in the diary for the year, as some of Gorbachev’s closest associates leave him.  Foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze resigns warning of looming dictatorship, and the leading “new thinker,” Alexander Yakovlev, becomes more and more estranged from Gorbachev – who in Chernyaev’s account finds it harder and harder to stay ahead of the wave of change that he himself had unleashed.

As in the previous installments of the diary, the reader gets a chance to experience the tumultuous Moscow almost first-hand.  Chernyaev  describes the winter of 1991 when the situation was bordering on famine, and where the author had to stand for hours in line to buy bread and milk, while protests were organized by the opposition with slogans “down with Gorbachev.”  Through every day of 1991 Gorbachev’s main goal is to preserve the Soviet Union, to prepare and sign the new Union treaty, which would open the possibility of a voluntary association of former republics in a new democratizing entity.  The reader can follow the process step by step through Chernyaev’s notes.

Throughout the year, Chernyaev describes in eyewitness terms the deep tensions between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and Gorbachev’s enormous frustrations with the lack of tangible financial support from the West that might have given him cards to play against the hardliners and the radical reformers, towards more of a soft landing for a demilitarized Soviet Union – for example, at the G-7 summit in July 1991 where Gorbachev came away empty-handed.

The extraordinary diary account of the August coup, from Chernyaev’s privileged view at the Gorbachev dacha at Foros, captures the tension and uncertainty of the moment and provides profound insights both on the coup plotters and on the way the failed coup left Gorbachev even more weakened.  By the evidence in the diary, Chernyaev was well ahead of Gorbachev in understanding that letting the Baltics and Georgia peacefully leave the Soviet Union was the only even remote possibility of preserving the Soviet Union as a democratizing state. 

It is impossible to overestimate the uniqueness and importance of the Chernyaev diary for our understanding of these crucial years in world history, when the Cold War ended, Germany and Europe unified, and the Soviet Union dissolved.  Scholars and students are forever in Anatoly Sergeevich’s debt.


Tributes to Anatoly Chernyaev on his 90th Birthday

Sir Rodric Braithwaite
British Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Russia, 1988-1991

Chernyaev with Lyudmila Rudakova

I first met Anatoli Chernyaev in January 1989 - to discuss arrangements for Gorbachev’s forthcoming visit to London -  when I was the British ambassador in Moscow and he was Gorbachev’s diplomatic adviser. On that first occasion the Foreign Ministry insisted on providing a chaperone: I did not let them do it again. I was charmed to discover a man with a bristling moustache, the courteous look and air of a colonel of an English county regiment, twinkling eyes, a wicked sense of ironic humour and a gurgling chuckle, and a penetrating intelligence. He was a man one felt one could trust - always frank, always judicious, never indiscreet, silent when it would have been wrong to speak, but careful never to mislead; in short, in the words of his idol Margaret Thatcher, a man with whom one could do business - with pleasure.

Over the next three years I did do a fair amount of business with him, mostly routine, but occasionally not. In May 1989 I brought him a letter from Mrs Thatcher saying that we had just expelled thirteen Soviet citizens from Britain because we thought they were spies. His reaction was typical: “Are you sure you’ve got the right ones?” I said “Yes”, of course, even though I was not at all sure.

Much more dramatic was the discussion we had some days after the shootings in Vilnius in January 1991. Chernyaev was more tired and depressed that I had ever seen him, and bitter about the way Gorbachev's liberal advisers were deserting him. He told me with great emotion that he himself was sticking by Gorbachev because he knew that Gorbachev's policies had not really changed: if he thought a change were taking place, he too would leave. He was uncharacteristically touchy and defensive, though he was as courteous as ever. The incident demonstrated some of his most sterling characteristics: intense loyalty to a man he admired; but a loyalty tempered by criticism where he thought it justified, because in no circumstances was he prepared to abandon his own independence of mind.

Securely rooted by inclination and education in the Moscow intelligentsia, he showed that independence at school, in the army, at university, and in the International Department of the Central Committee Secretariat where he spent much of his career before becoming Gorbachev’s foreign policy adviser in 1986. From then on he was at the centre of foreign policy making as long as the Soviet Union existed. He has left a unique record and witness of his time: a memoir of his earlier years, another of his time with Gorbachev. He has published much of the diary which he kept throughout his life. With his colleagues at the Gorbachev Foundation he has published notes on the meetings of the Politburo and a volume of extracts from the records of Gorbachev’s meetings with foreign leaders. All these are indispensable sources for anyone who wants to write the history of those momentous days. They alone would be sufficient to secure his place in history.

In the years since then I have often seen him in Moscow. He came to stay with us twice in London, once with a colleague and once with his indispensable and splendid partner, Ludmila Rudakova. He himself says that it is thanks to her that he has maintained his vitality of mind and spirit right into his present advanced age. I count myself privileged to have the good fortune to know such a remarkable man.

William Taubman
Amherst College, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

Anatoly Sergeyevich Chernyaev is one of the wonders of the world. Born just after the Bolshevik revolution and survivor of its horrors, he tried for decades to get the Communist party to live up to the best of its ideals, all the while recording his doubts and the party’s failures in a marvelously revealing diary. Then, he served as one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s top aides, helping his boss transform their country and end the cold war, while continuing to record and explain perestroika’s successes and shortcomings. Since the fall of the USSR, Anatoly Sergeyevich has worked at the Gorbachev Foundation, applying his unique experience and perspective to document and make sense of the USSR’s last years. For all these contributions, for his courage, integrity and ability to see the world both as it is and as it might become, Anatoly Sergeyevich deserves the highest praise and tribute on his ninetieth birthday.

Archie Brown
Oxford University, UK

Anatoliy Sergeevich Chernyaev has had a most remarkable life. For a man who fought throughout World War Two in the Soviet army – an army which played by far the greatest part in the defeat of Nazi Germany in Europe – to be still a vigorous presence in the Gorbachev Foundation today demonstrates heroic resilience. Two contributions of Anatoliy Sergeevich will be long remembered. They will be recorded by historians even centuries from now, assuming we have managed to save life on this planet. The first is his enlightened influence on Soviet foreign policy during perestroika. Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev chose the perfect foreign policy adviser, giving Chernyaev the freedom to say exactly what he thought and to play a highly significant role in the foreign policy-making process and in the development and implementation of the New Political Thinking. The second achievement is Anatoliy Sergeevich’s role as a witness and participant-observer. His books, diaries, notes of Politburo and other high-level meetings, and contributions to scholarly conferences are outstandingly important primary sources for all who study Soviet politics, perestroika, the transformation of Soviet foreign policy under Gorbachev, and the end of the Cold War. Those of us who have met and been helped in our own work by Anatoliy Sergeevich can add something else that we value immensely. Although he has earned his own place in history, he has combined a self-effacing modesty with great generosity in his willingness to share his knowledge with those who seek to learn from him. Anatoliy Sergeevich! Warmest congratulations on your ninetieth birthday! May you have many years still to enlighten us!  

Stephen Cohen
New York University

Living in Soviet Russia in the 1970s, long before I met Anatoly Chernyaev personally in the late 1980s, I heard about him from Moscow friends -- most of them political nonconformists, even dissidents.  He was the only person in high official circles they ever spoke about as a "truly decent and honorable" (poriadochnyi) man.

For me, Anatoly Chernyaev exemplifies what were once the highest qualities of a Russian intelligent and of a citizen in the finest sense of the word, in four respects:

First, he has been a good man in good political times but also, unlike so many others, in bad political times.

Second, he has remained true to his humanistic and democratic beliefs, even when these beliefs were dangerous.

Third, though his "ideological" beliefs are strong, they have never clouded his common sense of wisdom about events.

And fourth, he has told truth to power, even to his friend and the leader he has served so long and well, Mikhail Gorbachev.

As a result, Russia and the world are better today because of the role played by Chernyaev.

In short, Anatoly Chernyaev's life is a model to which we all should aspire but which few of us will ever attain.


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