Anatoly Chernyaev

Anatoly S. Chernyaev Diary, 1977

Inside the Central Committee
during Brezhnev’s stagnation

New details on the historic Tula
speech, Vance mission, Carter and dissidents, challenges of Eurocommunism

May 25, 2017

Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 594

by Anna Melyakova

by Svetlana Savranskaya

more information, call or email: 202.994.7000 or

D.C., May 25, 2017
–The National
Security Archive marks what would have been Anatoly Sergeyevich Chernyaev’s
96th birthday today with the publication for the first time in English of his
extraordinary diary for 1977, written from inside the Central Committee of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where he was then a Deputy Director of the
International Department.

The Archive’s dear friend and partner in
opening historical records passed away this past March, but his voice is with
us and remains irreplaceable for anybody who wants to understand not only the
end of the Cold War in the 1980s, but also what was going on at the very top of
thepolitical hierarchy in Moscow in the darkest years before the dawn of the
new thinking that would put Chernyaev at the right hand of Mikhail

The diary of 1977 continues the themes seen
in the earlier 1970s chapters, previously published on this web site,
chronicling the decline and atrophy of the Soviet political system, starting
with its top leadership.  The first entry of the year vividly describes
Chernyaev’s conversation with his close friend and confidant at the time in the
International Department—Karen Brutents.  They share their feeling of
“despair” about the Soviet Union’s “dead end,” their pessimism about where the
country is going, their embarrassment at the party’s empty ideological words
and the constant flattery with new medals and awards that the leadership

The diary describes the long decline of
then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who sometimes is barely capable of reading
prepared texts in large letters, but is forced by his position to make long
speeches and travel abroad.  Yet Chernyaev also details how Brezhnev
occasionally promoted new initiatives, himself proposing a détente speech to
greet the new U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, before his inauguration in January
1977, which Brezhnev delivered at Tula, emphasizing his genuine desire for arms
control and peace.  The speech won praise from Western Europe (especially
for one of the sections written by Chernyaev) and, in Chernyaev’s view, some
blunting of American rhetoric about the Soviet threat.

Also telling are the diary’s descriptions of
the rest of the Soviet leadership at the time, with one Politburo meeting featuring
only half of its members, since the rest were ailing in various hospitals,
sanatoria and sick beds.  A key character in the diary, often the source
of Chernyaev’s frustration, is his boss, the head of the International
Department Boris Ponomarev (referred to as B.N. in the diary).  The 1977
diary describes the process of drafting the text of the new Soviet Constitution
as Ponomarev’s pet project—grand statements without real substance.

A key theme of the 1977 diary revolves around
Chernyaev’s particular area of responsibility and sincere concern:  the
USSR’s declining relationships with fraternal communist parties. 
Chernyaev details the tensions especially with the Eurocommunists such as
Carrillo in Spain, Marchais in France, and the Italians who seek exclusive
interviews with Brezhnev yet criticize Soviet authoritarianism at the same
time.  Chernyaev laments that the International Communist Movement is
falling apart, losing steam and no longer using the USSR as its model.

The 1977 diary also provides a unique insider
Soviet view of the first Carter administration venture in U.S.-Soviet
relations, the mission to Moscow by new Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in
March, which utterly failed.  The Carter proposal for deep cuts in nuclear
weapons offended the Soviets as a show of disregard of Soviet interests and
initiatives, including the Tula speech, and of the negotiation work that had
already been done with Nixon and Ford.  As Chernyaev’s diary shows, Soviet
experts believed the U.S. proposals were meant to undermine the real security
of the USSR and thought them a Zbigniew Brzezinski ploy in his competition with
Vance.  The diary describes incredible patience on the part of Vance while
in Moscow on the receiving end of real mistreatment by the Soviet leadership.

The 1977 diary has the first assessment of
Carter as champion of human rights and the Soviet dissidents’ protector. 
Soviet officialdom saw dissidents as a major irritant, and it is clear from the
diary that Chernyaev does not hold them in high esteem, while ironically
sharing very similar views with them about the state of the Soviet political
system.  Chernyaev often describes his conversations with close friends
and colleagues about the economic and political situation in the country getting
progressively worse while the people were endlessly patient “as long as there
was no war.”

(For more on the decline of détente during
the pivotal late 1970s, visit the National Security Archive’s Carter-Brezhnev Project page
which presents compilations of declassified documents and a series of
extraordinary conference transcripts from the 1990s featuring face-to-face
discussions between former U.S. and Soviet officials Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew
Brzezinski, Stansfield Turner, Georgy Kornienko, Anatoly Dobrynin, Gen.
Valentin Varennikov, and others.)

One of the many ironies in this chapter of
the Chernyaev diary is the author’s genuine obsession with and admiration for
Lenin.  After reading a particular Lenin essay, Chernyaev remarks on the
“brilliance of thought and phrase” and describes his reactions as “I would jump
up and run around the room, chuckling with delight” – presaging the attitude of
his future boss, Mikhail Gorbachev, who saw his perestroika, at least
initially, as a “return to Lenin.” But that would not happen until the passing
of the aging and ill generation of Soviet leaders so vividly described and
criticized in the 1977 pages of the landmark Chernyaev diary.





The Diary of Anatoly

Source: Donated by A.S. Chernyaev to The National Security