Gennady Fedosov: Diplomat who promoted friendship with the West

 

Many people in the arts, commercial, political and sporting life of London will not have forgotten the witty, charming and erudite Gennady Fedosov, who was the Soviet Union’s minister for cultural Affairs in the Soviet Embassy in London. During a fraught period of the relationship between Britain and Russia, Fedosov was a beacon of friendship and understanding.

As the chairman of the Parliamentary Sports Group, I was deeply involved with Denis Howell, who had been Sports Minister from 1964-70, in persuading Charles Palmer, Secretary of the British Olympic Association, to defy Margaret Thatcher’s strident attempts to force a boycott of the 1984 Moscow Olympics.

I was present at a meeting when Fedosov played a pivotal role in persuading the BOA that they would be properly welcomed in Russia. It is not fanciful to argue that without Fedosov, and his Kremlin contacts, not only would there have been no gold medals for Coe, Ovett, Wells and others, but more significantly, in the absence of the American athletes the Olympic movement might have been fatally injured.

Gennady Fedosov was born in Rogachev, Belarus. As a toddler in 1941, at the outset of “The Great Patriotic War”, he escaped with his mother to Moscow. After the vagaries of wartime schooling, his talent won him a place at the Institute of Foreign Languages, subsequently transferring to the Diplomatic Service.

Wonderfully fluent in English, and the American idiom, Fedosov was posted to Washington, working with Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the US for more than a quarter of a century. When my wife and I were in Moscow for the Zoria, or Tattoo, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Kremlin walls, with searchlight scenes from Russian history, which had been co-organised by his son Dmitry, we visited Fedosov and his wife Eugenia – a marvellous cook and successful hostess at the London Embassy – Fedosov reflected: “Dobrynin was not only a marvellous boss, but he also saved the world. On account of his close friendship with Nikita Kruschev and his Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and the respect in which he was held by them, you have to be thankful to Dobrynin for persuading the Kremlin to step back from the brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis.” During his time in the US, Fedosov had honorary citizenship conferred upon him by Kansas City and New Orleans.

Posted to London in 1984, Fedosov found his first Ambassador, Viktor Popov  (who had been Rector of the Soviet Diplomatic Academy) congenial. His successor, Leonid Zamyatin, was “a different kettle of fish”, Fedosov’s words demonstrating his command of colloquial English.

As a young officer, Zamyatin had worked directly under Stalin and had been a hard-line spokesman as head of the Kremlin’s press department and of the official Soviet news agency, Tass. Fedosov did not care for him personally – though he was charming when he came to lunch with us at our home in Scotland – and believed that he thwarted Fedosov’s deepest aim in public life, the understanding of and friendship with the West, a cause which he pursued alongside his great friend, the cosmonaut Valentina Tereskova.

Fedosov leaves his wife and two sons, one of whom, Dmitry, is the world’s greatest scholar on the centuries-old relationship between Scotland and Russia and the editor of the diaries of General Patrick Gordon (a commander of the Tsar’s armies in the latter part of the 17th century), which rank with those of Pepys and Evelyn.

Gennady Fedosov, diplomat: born Rogachev, near Minsk, Soviet Union 8 May 1937; married Eugenia Samas (two sons); died Moscow 11 September 2012.

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