Washington D.C. October 26, 2005 - Alexander Nikolaevich
Yakovlev, who died in Moscow last week at the age of 81, was probably
the best known "architect of perestroika." Soviet ambassador
to Canada, then member of the Politburo and Mikhail Gorbachev's
closest adviser, he could rightfully be called the "Father
Alexander Yakovlev rose through the Communist Party ranks to
become one of the most vocal critics of the Stalinist past and
a passionate advocate of democratization in the second half of
the 1980s. He was one of the people history will credit for his
role in helping to end the Cold War.
Yakovlev was born in a peasant family in the Yaroslavl oblast,
fought in World War II, and was badly wounded in 1943. In the
same year he joined the Communist Party and became a professional
"apparatchik." In 1972, during the Brezhnev years, after
publishing an article in Literaturnaya Gazeta (on a dispute
within the Writers' Union) that was considered "unpatriotic,"
he was sent to Canada as ambassador. In 1983, he was allowed to
return to Moscow to assume the position of director of the prestigious
Institute of World Economy and International Relations, which
soon became a bastion of reformist intellectuals and one of the
springboards of perestroika.
Soon after becoming general secretary in 1985, Gorbachev quickly
recognized Yakovlev's potential and promoted him to head the Central
Committee's Propaganda Department. In 1986, Yakovlev became secretary
of the Central Committee in charge of ideology and in 1987 a full
member of the Politburo. His role in promoting freedom of the
press, political openness and democratization has been widely
noted by observers of the Soviet political process of the late
Recently released documents from the Yakovlev Collection of the
State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) show the unprecedented
scope of issues on which Alexander Yakovlev exerted influence
within Soviet decision-making circles under Gorbachev. Although
we usually associate Yakovlev with glasnost and democratization,
it becomes clear from the record that he was also a key reformer
when it came to arms control ("untying" the Soviet "package"
position on nuclear arms control negotiations), and the Soviet
economy. The documents also show that Yakovlev's position was
quite developed and consistent very early on, when the rest of
the Soviet reformers, including Gorbachev himself, were not yet
willing to look beyond the existing one-party system.
The following selection of materials are part of a much larger
collection of documents from the former Soviet bloc available
for research at the National Security Archive.
Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe
Acrobat Reader to view.
1: Alexander Yakovlev. On Reagan. Memorandum prepared on request
from M.S. Gorbachev and handed to him on March 12, 1985
In this memorandum, which Gorbachev requested and Yakovlev prepared
the day after Gorbachev's election as general secretary, Yakovlev
analyzed President Ronald Reagan's positions on a variety of issues.
The analysis is notable for its non-ideological tone, suggesting
that meeting with the U.S. president was in the Soviet Union's
national interest, and that Reagan's positions were far from clear-cut,
indicating some potential for improving U.S.-Soviet relations.
2: Memorandum to Mikhail Gorbachev, "The Imperative of
Political Development," December 25, 1985
In this memorandum to Gorbachev, Yakovlev outlines his view of
the needed transformation of the political system of the Soviet
Union. Yakovlev writes in his memoir that he prepared this document
in several drafts earlier in the year but hesitated to present
it to Gorbachev because he believed his own official standing
at the time was still too junior. Yakovlev's approach here is
thoroughly based on a perceived need for democratization, starting
with intra-party democratization. The memo suggests introducing
several truly ground-breaking reforms, including genuine multi-candidate
elections, free discussion of political positions, a division
of power between the legislative and executive branches, independence
of the judicial branch, and real guarantees of human rights and
3: Memorandum for Gorbachev, "To the Analysis of the
Fact of the Visit of Prominent American Political Leaders to the
USSR (Kissinger, Vance, Kirkpatrick, Brown, and others), circa
In this memorandum, devoted to U.S.-Soviet relations and the
issues of arms control, Yakovlev proposes a radical breakthrough
in Soviet foreign policy. Until now, the Soviet negotiating position
on nuclear arms control was based on a " package " approach-tying
together progress on strategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range
weapons and forward-based systems in Europe, and the issue of
anti-ballistic missile defense. Gorbachev's insistence on the
package approach and Reagan's commitment to SDI made a breakthrough
at the U.S.-Soviet summit in Reykjavik impossible. Here, Yakovlev
proposes " untying " the package and signing separate
agreements on each of its elements, arguing that this would be
in the Soviet interest. Gorbachev agreed to " untie the package
" as early as March 1987.
4: Text of Presentation at the CC CPSU Politburo Session,
September 28, 1987
This presentation to the Politburo comes after the January and
June Plenums of the Central Committee, which outlined comprehensive
programs of reform of the political (January) and economic (June)
system, and after Yakovlev himself was promoted to the full Politburo
membership (in charge of ideology). This is the first time he
unveils his views on democratization--which he considered at the
time to be the most important task of perestroika--to the Politburo.
5: Notes for Presentation at the Politburo session, December
These notes represent a summary of Yakovlev's thinking about
the most important developments of 1988. His presentation follows
Gorbachev's seminal speech at the United Nations on December 7.
The notes reflect his first disappointments with the slow pace
of perestroika, bureacratic intertia, and the general apathy of
the population. Yakovlev argues for more systematic implementation
of the principles and reforms of the " new thinking "
and gives special emphasis to the U.N. speech, which he calls
a " watershed ."
6: Anatoly Chernyaev, Personal Memorandum to Mikhail Gorbachev,
November 11, 1989
In this personal handwritten memorandum, Gorbachev's foreign
policy adviser, Anatoly Chernyaev, expresses his discomfort with
the way Gorbachev treated Yakovlev at a recent party Plenum. The
memo reflects a recent rift between Gorbachev and Yakovlev, which
was precipitated by a disinformation campaign initiated by KGB
Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov. Chernayev defends Yakovlev, emphasizing
his intellectual potential and his importance for continuing perestroika's