Following the revolution, Molotov took charge of nationalization programs in various parts of Russia. In 1920 he became secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine and in 1921 secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party and a candidate member of the Politburo. In 1926 he became a full member of the Politburo and in 1930 premier. He slavishly assisted Stalin in carrying out the massive purges of the party and armed forces in the 1930s. Well known for his absolute loyalty to Stalin, Molotov's only sign of rebellion came in 1948 when he abstained from a Politburo vote to arrest and imprison his wife.
In May 1939 Molotov replaced the internationalist Maksim Litvinov as commissar for foreign affairs, an appointment that signaled Stalin's intention to seek accommodation with Nazi Germany. On 23 August 1939, Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Soviet-German Nonaggression Pact in Moscow that allowed Germany to invade Poland and begin World War II. In November 1940 Molotov went to Berlin to confer with German leaders about redefining German and Soviet spheres of influence, but the negotiations failed, and Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. During the war, Molotov helped develop the alliance among the Soviet Union, Britain, and France, and he attended the Allied conferences at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam as well as the 1945 San Francisco Conference that drafted the United Nations (UN) Charter. Stalin determined Soviet foreign policy, but Molotov implemented it, usually taking an intransigent line in negotiations with his Western counterparts for which he earned the nicknames of "Stonebottom" amd "Old Iron Pants." Clashes between Molotov and U.S. President Harry S. Truman at Potsdam helped set the tone for the Cold War.
Molotov was the chief architect of Soviet control over Eastern Europe, and he took a hard line toward the West. He also took a leading role in the Soviet effort to develop an atomic bomb. The Molotov Plan, the Soviet counterpart to the Marshall Plan, bore his name. Molotov also took a hard line toward Yugoslavia that led to the break between that nation and the Soviet Union in 1948. He continued as foreign minister until 1949, when he was demoted following the so-called Leningrad Affair in which doctors and party officials implicated in the plot to kill Andrei Zhdanov were purged. There is absolutely no indication that Molotov was ever involved in any effort to unseat Stalin.
Following Stalin's death in March 1953, Molotov was reinstated as foreign minister. He supported early accommodations in the Cold War, such as the armistice in Korea and the 1954 Geneva Conference ending the Indochina War. There were sharp limits to his concessions to the West, however. He soon clashed with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and his policy of peaceful coexistence with the West, leading Khrushchev to dismiss him as foreign minister in June 1956. In June 1957 Molotov was expelled from the Politburo and the Central Committee and from his government posts. For the next five years, he held such unimportant posts as ambassador to Mongolia (1957–1960) and Soviet representative on the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (1960–1961). His implacable opposition to Khrushchev led the latter to expel Molotov from the Communist Party in 1962. Molotov then retired on a modest pension to a small Moscow apartment. He remained in disgrace until Konstantin Chernenko rehabilitated him in 1984. Molotov died in Moscow on 8 November 1986.
Spencer C. Tucker
Chuev, Felix, and Albert Resis, eds. Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993.; Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000.; Watson, Derek. Molotov and Soviet Government: Sovnarkom, 1930–41. New York: St. Martin's, 1996.