Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bessmertnykh: Life After Coup

A year and a half after his silence during the rightist coup attempt cost him his job, former Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh agrees that he might have spoken up sooner.


"Maybe I should have made my public statement earlier", he said in fluent English perfected during long stints in the United States.


But during the chaos of the three-day coup, it was more important to continue running Soviet foreign policy smoothly than resign in protest, Bessmertnykh said.


"I was the only one of the leadership in the country who was tested", he said. "Other people were sitting, you know, on the beaches doing nothing".


These "tests" included requests from the coup leaders to join their ranks and to sign new foreign policy declarations prepared by the KGB, he said.


By President Mikhail Gorbachev's standards, however, Bessmertnykh's failure to condemn the coup leaders early meant that he failed the test, and Gorbachev quickly accepted the career diplomat's resignation.


Today, Bessmertnykh occupies a far less visible role as the president of Moscow's Foreign Policy Association, an independent think tank founded by his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze.


"I am enjoying my situation at the moment and I am serving my country pretty well", he said in his small office building that prominently features modern art.


The association has not, even by Bessmertnykh's evaluation, stirred up a lot of attention. But it has recently prepared reports on topics such as nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, and it plans to expand its publication schedule in the coming year, he said.


The group will also prepare investment reports for foreign or domestic clients; but Bessmertnykh said that unlike U. S. consultant Henry Kissinger, he does not use past connections to help clients.


He declined to say how much consulting work his association has done since he became the group's president last March. "We are modest even by Russian standards", he said. He also declined to name any clients, but he said he has done work for businesses in countries including Japan, the United States and Kuwait.


Rough financial times are prompting the association to cut back its staff though, and it will lose about 30 of its 85 staff members in the new year.


The role of think tank administrator is a new one for Bessmertnykh, 59, whose government career has spanned several decades.


As a young foreign service officer he worked in the Foreign Ministry's press department, and he had a chance to craft some speeches for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, he said.


"I wrote one speech for Khrushchev when he went to Paris and he liked it so much that when he came back he asked who wrote it", he recalled. "Some people from the Central Committee jumped up and said 'We did! '"


The young officer did eventually receive recognition and worked his way up the government ranks, serving as an assistant to foreign minister Andrei Gromyko in the late 1960s, and as a diplomat in the Soviet Embassy in the United States for 13 years after that.


He took over the reins of the Soviet Union's foreign policy after Shevardnadze resigned in December 1990.


Among Bessmertnykh's accomplishments were the final touches to the START I accord which reduced strategic arms in the two superpowers.


Today he favors continued dramatic but balanced reduction on both sides. He declined to endorse the current START II treaty because he has not seen the latest draft.


"Deep and drastic reductions are absolutely necessary", he said. "There is no sense in keeping the strategic nuclear armaments even at the level of START I because of the changes that have occurred in the former Soviet Union".


Bessmertnykh gives a mixed report card to his successor Andrei Kozyrev.


"The main problem of the last year is that they did not have a well-defined concept of the foreign policy", he said. "Basically the people who were in charge of the foreign policy in the last year were doing their best, but there were so many new events that they were engulfed by".


Russia must focus more attention on the other former Soviet states and be more generous towards them, he said. Additional attention on the problem of nuclear weapons is also needed, Bessmertnykh said.