Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Mikoyan, Anastas Ivanovich (1895–1978)

Soviet politician, Politburo member (1926–1966), deputy prime minister (1937–1955), and chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (1964–1965). Born the son of a carpenter in Sanain, Armenia, on 25 November 1895, Anastas Mikoyan briefly attended a seminary in Tiflis (Tblisi) before aborting his clerical career to join the revolutionary Bolshevik Party in 1915. After participating in underground party work in Baku, where he narrowly escaped execution, he held party assignments that dispatched him to Nizhny Novgorod and the northern Caucasus, where he fought in the Russian Civil War.

In 1922 Mikoyan was elected to the party's Central Committee. A supporter of Josef Stalin, in 1926 Mikoyan became a candidate member of the Politburo and was appointed commissar for foreign trade. In this post, he raised hard currency for the fledgling Soviet economy in part by selling Russian art treasures to the West. In 1934 he headed the Commissariat of Food Production, introducing modern methods to the industry.

Mikoyan became a full member of the Politburo in 1935 and was deputy prime minister during 1937–1955. Although he played a role in Stalin's show trials in 1937, Mikoyan managed to escape the Stalinist purges himself. During World War II, Mikoyan supervised the procurement and transportation of supplies.

Following World War II, still in the Ministry of Trade, Mikoyan's political star waned, but he was sufficiently trusted to be sent to meet secretly in January 1948 with communist leader Mao Zedong, then on the verge of full power in China. There are indications that Stalin believed Mikoyan was plotting to unseat him and that Stalin was planning Mkikoyan's death when the Soviet leader died in 1953.

In the post-Stalin succession struggle in 1953, Mikoyan salvaged his political career by lending his support to Nikita Khrushchev. Even before Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956, Mikoyan often referred to the "evils" of Stalin's dictatorship. In 1957 Mikoyan supported Khrushchev against the challenge from the so-called antiparty group and soon became one of Khrushchev's closest advisors. In autumn 1962 Khrushchev dispatched Mikoyan to Cuba, where he had the unenviable task of persuading Cuban President Fidel Castro to accept the terms on which the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 was ended.

In July 1964 Mikoyan was elected chair of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, making him titular head of state. As such, he timidly supported Khrushchev's ouster from power in October 1964. With new leadership headed by Leonid Brezhnev, Mikoyan found himself increasingly isolated, and he relinquished his chairmanship in December 1965. He retired from the Politburo in April 1966, although he remained a member of the Communist Party Central Committee until 1976. Mikoyan died in Moscow on 21 October 1978.

Paul Wingrove


Further Reading
Mikoyan, Anastas. The Memoirs of Anastas Mikoyan. Madison, WI: Sphinx, 1988.
 

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