MOSCOW – Anatoly Dobrynin, a Soviet diplomat who represented Moscow during the Cuban missile crisis and later in key superpower negotiations to curb the growth of nuclear arsenals, has died at age 90, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reported Thursday.
In public, Dobrynin always followed the Kremlin line assiduously, but senior U.S. officials respected him for his ability to get their points of view across to the leadership in Moscow. Dobrynin represented the Soviet Union in Washington for a quarter-century.
He was both sides’ preferred channel of contact between the Kremlin and U.S. presidents as both countries swung through enormous changes.
Dobrynin’s ambassadorship began in 1962, the Nikita Khrushchev era when most Americans saw Soviets as crude and bellicose men in ill-fitting suits. Dobrynin, however, was warm and suave, with fluent English.
Dobrynin quickly established a back-channel relationship with President John F. Kennedy’s brother, Robert, the U.S. attorney general. The relationship was put to a stomach-clenching test within a few months, when U.S. spy planes took pictures of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed in Cuba.
President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba as Soviet ships steamed toward the island while Soviet Foreign Minister Alexei Gromyko denied that such missiles were in Cuba.
Although Dobrynin stood with Gromyko when he denied the missiles’ presence, in private he was meeting with Robert Kennedy. Through those meetings, Khrushchev proposed that the United States withdraw missiles from Turkey in exchange for Moscow taking the missiles out of Cuba and Khrushchev announced the withdrawal two weeks after the crisis began.
After the Cuban missile crisis, Dobrynin continued to cultivate relations with presidents as different as Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, while representing Kremlin policies ranging from the grim freeze of Leonid Brezhnev to the epochal liberalization of Mikhail Gorbachev.