Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Sakharov, Andrei Dmitrievich (1921–1989)

Soviet nuclear scientist, dissident, and human rights activist. Born on 21 May 1921 in Moscow, the son of a physics professor, Andrei Sakharov studied physics at Moscow University during 1939–1942 and at the Lebedev Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences during 1945–1947 under the eminent theoretical physicist Igor Tamm. Sakharov earned his doctorate in 1947 and joined the Soviet nuclear weapons program in 1948, working in a special group then headed by his mentor.

Spearheaded by Sakharov, Tamm's group produced the first Soviet hydrogen bomb, successfully tested in August 1953, a development that greatly intensified the nuclear arms race with the United States. For his contributions to the development of the hydrogen bomb, Sakharov received both the Lenin and Stalin Prizes and earned election as a full member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1953.

Sakharov's participation in the Soviet nuclear weapons program lasted nearly twenty years. Initially, he believed that his work was of vital importance to the global balance of power. However, over time he grew uneasy with what he characterized as moral problems inherent in his work, and he became disillusioned with the Soviet system, specifically the absence of civil liberties and the secrecy surrounding science, culture, and technology.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Sakharov called on the Soviet regime to ban atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. In the early to mid-1960s, he moved on to criticize the continuing influence of the erroneous theories of T. S. Lysenko on Soviet genetics and to protest Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's tentative first steps toward rehabilitating the legacy of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Sakharov ultimately crossed the Rubicon to full dissident in 1968, when his essay "Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom" appeared in the Western press. This extended essay, also known as the Sakharov Memorandum, warned of the dangers, including thermonuclear annihilation, that threatened humanity. He also pushed for reconciliation between socialist and capitalist nations, advocated democratic freedoms in the Soviet Union, denounced collectivized agriculture, and called for a careful reexamination of the Stalin era. In response, the Brezhnev regime removed Sakharov from the Soviet nuclear weapons program and stripped him of all privileges to which he had been entitled as a member of the Soviet Nomenklatura.

In the summer of 1969, Sakharov became a senior researcher at the Lebedev Institute, but his primary concerns for the remainder of his life were human rights and the democratization of the Soviet Union. In 1970, he and fellow physicist Valeri Chalidze established the Moscow Human Rights Committee, which advocated freedom of speech, the full implementation of the Soviet constitution, and monitored violations of the law and the constitution including the arrests of dissidents by the Soviet regime. Sakharov's efforts in the name of human rights earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, making him the first Soviet citizen to garner the award, although he was not permitted to leave the Soviet Union to claim it.

Although the Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB) harassed Sakharov and threatened him with prosecution, he remained a free man until 1980 when, in the wake of his criticisms of the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and with the 1980 Moscow Olympics approaching, the Brezhnev regime exiled him to Gorky, a military-industrial city closed to foreigners. There Sakharov remained until December 1986, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, as part of his policy of glasnost, freed him, allowing him and his wife Yelena Bonner to return to Moscow and resume his scientific endeavors.

In 1989, the Soviet Academy of Sciences selected Sakharov to serve as a deputy in the newly established Congress of People's Deputies, the first democratically elected national legislative body to sit in Russia since the Bolshevik Revolution. There Sakharov proved to be an outspoken critic of Gorbachev, constantly pushing him to carry his political and economic reforms further. Sakharov died of a heart attack in Moscow on 14 December 1989.

Bruce J. DeHart


Further Reading
Lourie, Richard. Sakharov: A Biography. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2002.; Sakharov, Andrei. Memoirs. Translated by Richard Lourie. New York: Knopf, 1990.
 

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