INTERVIEW WITH OLEG TROYANOVSKI
INTERVIEWER: Mr Troyanovski, after Stalin's death, could you tell me something about the feeling in the country at the time?
O. TROYANOVSKI: Well, I think the new leadership realised rather quickly after Stalin's death that the international situation was on the boiling point, if I may put it that way. There was a war on in Korea, a war on in Vietnam, the Cold War was mounting up all the time; and there was a feeling that something had to be done, and done rather quickly, to sort of improve the situation. And therefore, when President Eisenhower made that speech - I believe it was on the 16th of April '54 - where he said that there was a chance for peace if things like putting an end to the war in Korea, concluding a peace treaty with Austria, and releasing prisoners of war, Japanese and German prisoners of war - if that were done, the situation would improve. So within the next several years, the new Soviet leadership - and I would say that Khrushchev was the number one man by that time -... they began to do something about it. There was a truce in Korea, and then the Austrian treaty was concluded, despite rather,... some difficulties put up by Molotov, who thought that we were moving forward too fast. Also, in '55, diplomatic relations were established with West Germany and Japan, and the PoWs were released, including some who were regarded as criminals, war criminals. And in spite of the fact that, on the face of it, what Eisenhower put up as conditions for a better relationship, that didn't evoke any positive response from the United States. And in fact there were other steps that were taken, like,... the (Porkara Ud) base, which the Soviet Union got from Finland, was turned over to Finland. And,... relations were established with Israel. And the claims that during Stalin's time were put to Turkey for some territorial claims... (Hesitates) these were removed, these claims were removed. And yet there was no response from the United States - positive response, I mean. And that put Khrushchev in a rather difficult situation within the leadership, because others were saying, "Look, we have been doing all these things, and on the other side nothing is being done. On the contrary, there are attempts to bring West Germany into NATO, and even some talk about the possibility of nuclear arms being given to West Germany." And in fact, in 1957 there was an attempt to topple Khrushchev, as you may know. So all that together, led Khrushchev, I think, to the realisation, from his point of view, that... these approaches aren't working. And he thought that some pressures should be put on the Americans, and the obvious place was West Berlin; and that led to the Berlin crisis which started in November of '58. So this was a sort of shock therapy (Laughs) on the part of Khrushchev, I would say. ... and, well, this is the next chapter of the relationship between the Soviet Union and the West.
INT: So would you say that the Berlin Wall was effectively Khrushchev's irritation at America for not recognising progress towards peace?
OT: Not the Wall. I would say that when he started the crisis and delivered that ultimatum that West Berlin should be turned into a sort of a neutral unit within East Germany, he started it... I recall a conversation with him saying that "It seems to me that we haven't a general plan. Where do we go from here?" And he quoted a saying which Lenin used in 1917, before the Revolution, saying that "We get engaged, and then we see what happens." Actually it came from Napoleon, who used to say that during battle. And so Khrushchev repeated that thing, that "We'll see how it goes." And (Laughs) it didn't go anywhere, particularly after the U-2 incident. And later on... I don't know where the idea about the war first came, whether it came from the East German leadership, or whether it was Khrushchev's idea, but for him it was a way out from the impasse. In fact, I think it was a way out for Kennedy too, because it's been said that Kennedy said "A wall is better than a war." So... the Wall... was a way out, really, for Khrushchev. And although the Berlin affair continued to be discussed, it was no longer in a state of crisis, as it had been before the war, you see.
INT: Good answer. Going back to the time just after Stalin's death, could you tell me a little about the power struggle that took place, and how Khrushchev emerged, and how the Americans began to realise that Khrushchev was in fact the leader of the Soviet Union?
OT: Well, I'd say that immediately after Stalin's death, Beria actually was the more active man in the leadership. He made some suggestions which to some of the others looked as too far-reaching. And as for Khrushchev, I think if the Americans, or the British, for that matter... they should have realised that being their head man in the party, he had the stronger position than anyone else. (Clears throat) So that was his jumping-off ground for becoming number one man. And furthermore, he initiated the idea of arresting Beria. He was... in fact he told the story in rather great detail, and the way he approached one member of the Politburo after another, explaining that something had to be done about Beria. The situation at that time was not yet ripe enough to criticise Stalin immediately after his death, but it was ripe enough to arrest Beria, if I may say so.
INT: Was there a point where you would say that the West began to realise that Khrushchev was in fact the leader?
OT: Yes, I'd say by about '54, because he took into his hands the negotiations with the Chancellor of Austria, on the Austrian treaty. He and Bulganin went to see Tito and try to mend fences with the Yugoslavs; and a few other steps were... In some instances... Bulganin, as Prime Minister, was formally the head of the group or delegation, but in actual fact it was Khrushchev who was the number one man.
INT: There's a nice story... I've been told that after Eisenhower appealed for "open skies", Khrushchev came up to him after the meeting and spoke to him. Can you tell me...?
OT: Yes. Yes, indeed. Because Eisenhower came out with this idea at the formal session, and Bulganin did not react, as far as I remember. But when there was a coffee break or something, and they met in the hall, Khrushchev approached Eisenhower and said, "This is completely unacceptable to us, because this is inspection without disarmament." And later on, I think, mm, he thought that this was preparation... because next year, the U-2 flights started, and certainly if the open sky proposal were accepted, that would have made those flights legal. So that was, for Khrushchev, some anticipation, foresight, as far as what happened later on.
INT: Was there any sense during that period - I'm talking here of middle-Fifties, going up into the Sixties - of fear of a war developing between the East and the West?
OT: Yes, well, I don't know about actual fear, because by that time both countries were pretty well armed with nuclear weapons, and at least on the Soviet side there was a realisation that a nuclear war would mean the end of civilisation, if not the end of mankind altogether. So there was a feeling, I think, that if there are sensible men in Washington, they wouldn't take any steps which would lead actually to war. But there was certainly a great deal... I wouldn't say fear, but uneasiness that West Germany might be armed with nuclear weapons; and there was talk about that in Washington. In fact, publicly Eisenhower a couple of times said something, that "If our potential enemy has nuclear weapons, why shouldn't our friends not have nuclear weapons?"
INT: And what was the feeling about the rearmament of West Germany and its possibility of joining NATO? How was that taken here?
OT: Very seriously, I think. Psychologically, you see, it was only 10 years after the end of the war...
INT: Can I just stop you there? It would be a huge help to me if you could say, "The rearmament in West Germany and its possibility of joining..." Thank you.
OT: Of course, thquestion arises as to the reaction in Moscow about the possibility of West Germany being wiNATO, and particularly a re-armed West Germany, and more particularly re-armed with nuclear weapons. And certainly, psychologically that was taken very seriously. I think it was taken seriously by public opinion in the country in general - similar to how this thing about the NATO moving to the East now is being taken. So very seriously, I'd say.
INT: Could I ask you then, sir, about Malenkov's speech after Eisenhower...?
OT: Yes. ... Malenkov spoke about the danger of nuclear war. And one of the reasons why the reply to Eisenhower was perhaps not as constructive as it might have been, was that a couple of days later John Foster Dulles made another speech which was very tough, very much in the spirit of the worst days of the Cold War. And for that reason, I think the reply to Eisenhower was somewhat cool, if I may put it that way. Although a few days later, there was a statement by Churchill in the House of Commons, where he suggested that a summit should be held between the two sides. But the Americans were not very happy about that, and the idea at that time sort of died off, to be picked up again a year or two later.