SAKHAROV Andrei Dmitrievich


author: Alexandr Daniel

(b. 21.05.1921, Moscow — d. 14.12.1989, Moscow)

Soviet nuclear physicist, one of designers of the H-bomb, political thinker, public figure and politician, and one of the leaders of the Soviet dissidents. During the perestroika he was one of the heads of democratic opposition at the Congress of People’s Deputies and outside it.

S. was born into a family of Moscow intelligentsia; his father, Dmitri Ivanovich Sakharov, was the famous private school physics teacher.

In 1942, S. graduated with honors from physical department of the Moscow University.

In 1942-1944, he worked as an engineer at munitions factory in Ulyanovsk. After the termination of postgraduate study and defense of the candidate’s thesis, in November, 1947, S. was taken on the staff of Department of Theory of the FIAN.

In summer 1948, S. was included in the group dealing with theoretical development for creation of the Soviet thermonuclear weapons and became one of chief researchers supervising the design of H-bomb. From this point on, especially after successful test of H-bomb in August, 1953, S. joined the top scientific and technical elite of the USSR and got access to the highest circles of ruling party and state nomenclature. He made a lightning academic career: in June, 1953 he became the doctor of physical and mathematical sciences and in October of the same year he was elected the full member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR bypassing the traditional intermediate step of "corresponding member". Three times (1953, 1956 and 1962) he was awarded the title of the Hero of Socialist Work, became winner of Stalin (1953) and Lenin (1956) awards.

At first S. took only sporadic and situational active interest in public, political and ideological problems limited by his occupational interest as a natural scientist. Obviously, his first brave deed was his participation in a protest against the campaign of "exposure of idealistic Einsteinism" in the late 1949s and early 1950s. The Pravda and other central press organs featured articles condemning the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics from the positions of "dialectic materialism". In this situation, on June 24, 1952 eleven leading physicists of the nuclear project, including S., wrote in (certainly, for official use only) to the government curator of this project L.P. Beria. The letter played its part and the printed attacks against the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics were stopped.

The active position of S. in a question of prohibition of nuclear tests meant much for the country and the world. He considered his participation in design of an H-bomb not only a patriotic duty, but also a debt to mankind and treated it as a contribution to prevention of the 3rd WW. Later he wrote, "I could not but realize in what terrible, inhuman affairs we were engaged. But at the time the great inhuman war had ended. I was not a soldier in that war but I felt like the soldier of this, scientific and technical battle. <...> Subsequently, we learned or guessed such concepts as strategic balance, mutual thermonuclear intimidation, etc. Even now I think that these global ideas contain some (maybe not quite satisfactory) intellectual justification of creation of the thermonuclear weapon and our personal participations in it". However, up to the mid1950s S. and other nuclear physicists came to understand the price which the mankind had to pay for safety through nuclear parity: global poisoning of environment with products of radioactive decay after each atmospheric or underwater nuclear explosion. In this regard, in 1961, S. opposed the termination of the Soviet moratorium on tests being not afraid to get into a sharp dispute with Khrushchev, which drew upon himself anger of the latter (Khrushchev publicly reprimanded the scientist for his "intervention in policy").

Obviously, the strongest shock for S., which forced him to reconsider the distribution of responsibility between scientific and political leaders, was the "double test" of two different nuclear devices of approximately identical power which were carried out in the fall of 1962 only for reasons of the interdepartmental competition. In his memoirs S. wrote about it, "The awful crime occurred and I could not prevent it. The feeling of powerlessness, intolerable bitterness, shame and humiliation gripped me. I fell face down on a table and began to cry. Possibly, it was the most terrible lesson for all my life: one cannot have it both ways! I decided that from now on I will concentrate my efforts on implementation <...> of the plan of termination of tests in three spheres".

Earlier, S. offered this idea to the government as a way out of the deadlock reached at the Geneva negotiations on nuclear tests ban. It turned out so successful that in 1963 the USSR, Britain and the USA signed the Moscow Treaty on nuclear test ban in three spheres; later the majority of other states joined the document. "I believe that the Moscow Treaty has historical value. It has preserved hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of human lives, those who inevitably would have died if they went on with the tests in the atmosphere, under water and in space. But, perhaps, it is even more important that it is a step to reduction of danger of world nuclear warfare. I am proud of my participation in the Moscow Treaty" (A. D. Sakharov. Memoirs). From the mid-1960s S. became more active in public and political life.

In June 1964, the name of S., for the first time, was within hearing behind a narrow circle of experts in connection with his speech at the general meeting of the Academy of Sciences against election of M. Nuzhdin a member of Academy as far as he was an active participant of persecutions of modern genetics, one of associates of T. Lysenko and Khrushchev’s protégé.

At the beginning of 1966, S. signed the appeal of 25 scientists, writers and artists to the XXIII Congress of CPSU against an attempt to politically rehabilitate Stalin. It was the first public act of S. outside his professional activity.

In the fall of the same year S. signed another collective petition: the appeal to the session of the Supreme Council of RSFSR concerning inclusion in the Criminal code of article 1901 (analog of art. 1871 of the CC of the UkrSSR).

Having learned about "publicity meeting" at Pushkin Square (on December 5, 1966 this meeting was held for the second time), S. came to the square and even found a form to publicly express his solidarity with other protesters: he read aloud Pushkin’s verses engraved on the pedestal of the monument to the poet.

In 1967, S.’s signature appeared under the letter of 167 scientists and cultural workers to the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR with the offer to approve the bill on legislative ensuring freedom of information. Besides, in February he sent a personal letter to Brezhnev concerning Alexander GINZBURG’s and Yuri Galanskov’s arrest and detainees in connection with the demonstration on 22.01.1967. In the summer of the same year, S., having read a samizdat sketch of Larisa BOGORAZ about the situation around her husband, writer Yuli Daniel, who served his term in the Mordovia camp, calls KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov and asked him to take measures to correct the situation. In September, 1968, already being "disgraced", he called Andropov again in connection with case of "demonstration of seven" against bringing troops in Czechoslovakia (Andropov assured him that the sentences would not be severe).

Writing of the essay Reflections about Progress, Peaceful Co-existence and Intellectual Freedom became a decisive event in S.’s life as a result of which he became a dissident. Through R. Medvedev the text was given to the samizdat (some earlier samizdat editions, obviously, were distributed since April), and from there it was passed abroad.

The Reflections became the samizdat best-seller, gave rise to stormy discussion in samizdat, which lasted for several years, and brought glory to the author. Already in August S. was debarred from working on a secret project and he was absorbed in problems of theoretical physics and more actively participated in public life.

In spring 1970, S., at the initiative of Valentin Turchin and in a co-authorship with him, took part in drafting appeal to the leaders of the USSR which substantiated the need of democratization of the country and suggested a concrete program of transformations. This "Memorandum", which became the first political manifesto of liberal and socialist Soviet intellectuals, was widely circulated in samizdat.

Then, in spring 1970, S. signed many petitions in defense of people pursued for political reasons.

In October 1970, S. for the first time was present at the political process where the case of Revolt Pimenov and Boris Vail accused of storage and distribution of samizdat literature was heard in court. This event became significant for S. personally as well: then he met Yelena Bonner who soon became his wife.

In his dissident and human rights activity S. preferred to work independently, without formal obligations and without joining any dissident associations. The Human Rights Committee in the USSR created at the initiative of Valery Chalidze became an exception. S. joined it and went on working in it even after emigration of Chalidze--the organizer and a driving force of this undertaking--to the USA.

Since the early 1970s, S. began speaking out in defense of concrete people, the political prisoners and other people pursued for political reasons, cares for them both publicly and in private, protests against concrete cases of human rights violations in the USSR and other countries. His various articles and interviews he constantly ended with a list of political prisoners and other persecuted persons.

Below we list only the main, basic events of the dissident biography of S.

The fall of 1972. S. initiates two collective appeals to the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR: one calls for abolition of the death penalty in the country and the second calls for the wide amnesty of political prisoners.

July 2, 1973. S. gives a big interview to the correspondent of the Swedish radio and television Ulle Stenholm (it was published on July 4 in the Dagens Nyheter). In his interview he expressed his criticism of the Soviet political and social system and listed possible initial steps to democratization of the social and political system underlying that any perestroika in the USSR would demand "continuity and gradualness" not to ruin the country.

August 16, 1973. S. was summoned to the Deputy Attorney-General of the USSR Malyarov who gave a talking to him and stated that S. was engaged in "anti-Soviet" and "subversive" activities.

End of August and September 1973. The Soviet press launched a fierce campaign against S. and, at the same time, against Solzhenitsyn.

October 1973. Soon after the statement of S. devoted to Arab-Israeli "War of the Doomsday" with an appeal to peaceful settlement of the conflict and recognition of the right of Israel for existence, two Arabs who were called members of the Palestinian terrorist organization "Black September" visited S. They held that the statement caused damage to the cause of liberation of Palestine and demanded from S. to disavow it. S. refused to do it, and visitors left, having noted that next time they would finish with his family.

February 1974. S. signed "The Moscow Appeal".

April 1974. S. writes an article in which he expresses the disagreement with some key provisions of the "Letters to the Leaders of the Soviet Union" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

May 1974. Futurological article "The World in Half a Century".

June 28-- July 4, 1974. The first starvation of S. intended to draw attention to the situation of the Soviet political prisoners.

December 1974. Appeal (together with Sergey Kovalyov) to release prisoners of conscience around the world. Then S. received a letter with threats to finish with his family for his "antinational activity", this time on behalf of the "Central Committee of the Russian Christian Party".

In June 1975, S. finished his major (apart from "Memoirs") work--the brochure On the Country and the World. It was devoted to three global questions: nature and current state of the Soviet society; problems of disarmament and decrease of danger of nuclear warfare; left liberal and socialist views of considerable part of the western intellectuals.

On October 9, 1975, S. was awarded Nobel Peace Prize. In his first briefing S. said that he shared this honor with prisoners of conscience and that he hoped for "the world political amnesty". In the USSR, the awarding triggered a new stream of abuse and insults in the official press. He was not allowed to go to Norway for participation in the awarding ceremony ("as the carrier of the state secrets"), and on December 10 in Oslo he was represented by his wife Yelena Bonner who was at this time abroad. She also read the Nobel lecture "Peace, Progress, Human Rights" prepared by S. In particular, it read: “…I ask you to consider that all prisoners of conscience, all political prisoners of my country share with me the honor of Nobel Peace Prize"; and then followed a list of 150 names, more than 40 of them were Ukrainians.

At the end of this lecture C. formulated the world outlook credo again: “Thousands of years ago tribes of human beings suffered great privations in the struggle to survive. In  this struggle it was important not only to be able to handle a  club, but also to possess the ability to think reasonably, to  take care of the knowledge and experience garnered by the tribe,  and to develop the links that would provide cooperation with  other tribes. Today the entire human race is faced with a similar test.”

On the very day of the ceremony S. was in Vilnius where at the time his friend Sergey Kovalyov was tried and struggled in vain to be allowed to enter the courtroom.

On January 12, 1977, S. protested against insinuations of Moscow journalist Victor Louis concerning the case of explosion in the Moscow subway and said that he felt that this was the provocation of "repressive bodies". "I would have been very glad if I were wrong", he noted.

On December 25, 1977 he was summoned to the USSR Prosecutor General’s Office. The Deputy Attorney-General Gusev issued him a warning under the Decree of the PSC USSR of 25.12.1972, called his statement "awful and slanderous" and suggested to disavow it. S. refused to sign the warning. Next day the newspapers featured the brief note of TASS with a heading "The Slanderer Has Been Warned".

March 1977. S. writes the article "Alarm and Hope" for the Nobel collection. The main subjects of the article: the danger of information closeness in the society of totalitarian socialism and fight for human rights as an important factor of international relations.

January 1980. On January 3 and 4, S. gave interview to Die Welt and New York Times newspapers. It was about the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan. He noted, in particular, that if the USSR did not withdraw from this country, then the International Olympic Committee should refuse holding the Olympic Games-80 in Moscow.

On January 8, the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR passed decrees on S.’s deprivation of all state awards and "About administrative eviction of Sakharov A.D. from the City of Moscow". The first Decree was published in the "Bulletin of the Supreme Council of the USSR" while the second remained secret till 1996.

On January 22, the car, in which S. went to work, was intercepted; he was brought to the USSR Prosecutor General’s office where the Deputy Attorney-General A. M. Rekunkov read the Decree on deprivation him of awards and added that "the decision" was made to banish him to the City of Gorky to exclude the possibility of his contacts with foreign citizens. Directly from the Prosecutor’s office S. was brought to an airfield. His wife was allowed to accompany him and stay with him.

In Gorky S. lived in exile. He was put under supervision; he was forbidden to go beyond the city boundaries, meet foreigners and "criminal elements". The Sakharovs got an apartment in the suburbs of Gorky. Despite this S. retained the lame-duck job at the theoretical department of FIAS. His wife O. G. Bonner remained the only link with the outside world for S. However in May, 1984 this link was broken: she was brought to court on a charge of "distribution of obviously false fabrications discrediting the Soviet political and social order" (art. 1901 of the CC of the RSFSR) and sentenced to five years of exile in Gorky.

After that, until the end of 1985, the Sakharovs were actually cut off from the outside world.

The Gorky exile failed to silence S. In 1980-1986, his very busy schedule included not only intensive creative work in the field of theoretical physics, but also public fight, fight for their own rights and rights of their relatives, protest actions concerning general humanitarian issues and for protection of persecuted. During this period he four times went on long hunger strikes; the first one was for the right of the bride of the foster son to go to him to the USA, three others were intended to obtain permission for his wife to go abroad for treatment. He won these strikes: the authorities were forced to meet his requirements. In Gorky he also wrote several works devoted to public and political issues. The most important of them included the plan of peaceful settlement of Afghanistan problem under the auspices of the UN addressed to the UN Secretary General and heads of member states of Security Council (July 1980) and article "Danger of Nuclear Warfare" (February 1983). Then he finished his "Memoires” in spite of the fact that the manuscript had been stolen three times and once it had been officially confiscated during a search.

In summer 1985, in his letters addressed to M. S. Gorbachev and Minister of Foreign Affairs A. A. Gromyko S. wrote that he did not intend to make open statements on public issues anymore, "except for exceptional cases".

On February 20, 1986 he sent a letter to M. S. Gorbachev in which he urged the Soviet leader "to help to release from jails, exile and special lunatic asylums of all prisoners of conscience.

In October 1986 S. sent a letter to Gorbachev again with in which, having emphasized illegality of his extrajudicial exile to Gorky and injustice of the sentence pronounced to his wife, he confirmed the obligation not to make statements on public issues, except for exceptional cases.

On December 1, at a meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU M. Gorbachev with approval read this letter and raised the problem of S.’s discharge and pardon of his wife. The members of the Politburo accepted the proposal of the Secretary General without much debate. However, on December 16, 1986 Gorbachev on his own initiative called the Gorky apartment of Sakharov (the day before, unexpectedly, without any requests from them, the telephone was installed) and informed S. that the force of the Decree of January 8, 1980 would be stopped and he would be able to return to Moscow "to continue his patriotic actions". He also informed him that Y. G. Bonner would also be able to return to Moscow.

The well-known call of Gorbachev on December 16, 1986 meant not only the termination of the cruel and illegal exile of S. but also of no less severe, though legalized in court, exile of his wife. It was the signal given to the country which understood it, and real and not declared only start of perestroika.

S.’s intention to keep away from public work went by the board; under conditions of perestroika not only the public, but also those who had pressed him "not to speak on public issues", now expected him to do otherwise. Three years which went by between S.’s return from the exile and his sudden death were filled with intensive political and public work.

S. participated in the international forum "For the Nuclear-Free World and Survival of Mankind". He actively participated in creation of Memorial Society and talking shop Moscow Tribune.

On October 20, 1988 S. was elected the member of Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

In April 1989, S. was elected the delegate of the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR according to "quota" of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR despite resistance of the conservative part of the Academy management. He joined the Interregional Deputies’ Group, a prototype of democratic parliamentary opposition, and co-chaired this group.

S. drafted the Constitution of the new Union State which, in his opinion, had to replace the USSR: the Union of the Free Republics of Europe and Asia.

In the fall he became one of campaigners for cancellation of the 6th article of the Constitution of the USSR in which the CPSU was proclaimed “the leading and directing force” of the Soviet society. Early in December he addressed the meetings of the interregional deputies’ group to call the country to all-Union strike with the purpose to support this requirement.

On December 14, 1989 S. suddenly died in his apartment.

Sakharov’s funeral became a national event: thousands of people came to make their farewell and take part in his funeral and funeral demonstration in Luzhniki. He was buried on the Vostryakovsky Cemetery in Moscow.



Воспоминания // Сахаров А.Д. Воспоминания. В двух томах. Том 1. – М.: Права человека, 1996.

Горький, Москва, далее везде // Сахаров А.Д. Воспоминания. В двух томах. Том 2.– М.: Права человека, 1996. – С.239-446.

Мир, прогресс, права человека: Статьи и выступления. – Л.: Советский писатель, 1990. – 128 с.

Размышления о прогрессе, мирном сосуществовании и интеллектуальной свободе. // Сахаров А.Д. Тревога и надежда. – М.: Интер-Версо, 1991. – С.11-47.

Памятная записка и Послесловие к ней // Там же. С.48-62.

Интервью Улле Стенхольму // Сахаров А.Д. Воспоминания. В двух томах. Т.2. – М.: Права человека, 1996. – С.449-456.

О письме Александра Солженицына «Вождям Советского Союза» // Сахаров А.Д. Тревога и надежда. – М.: Интер-Версо, 1991. – С.63-72.

Мир через полвека // Там же. С.73-85.

О стране и мире // Там же. С.86-150.

Мир, прогресс, права человека: Нобелевская лекция // Там же. С.151-163.

Тревога и надежда // Там же. С.173-184.

Открытое письмо Л.И. Брежневу [План мирного урегулирования в Афганистане] // Там же. С.199-201.

Сахаров А.Д. Ответственность ученых // Там же. С.201–212.

Сахаров А.Д. Опасность термоядерной войны: Открытое письмо д-ру Сиднею Дреллу // Там же. С.212–227.


«Он между нами жил…» Воспоминания о Сахарове. – М.: Практика, 1996.

Боннер Е.Г. Постскриптум. Книга о горьковской ссылке. // Сахаров А.Д. Воспоминания. В двух томах. Т.2. – М.: Права человека, 1996. С.7-238.

Боннер Е.Г. Вольные заметки к родословной Андрея Сахарова. – М.: Права человека, 1996.

Горелик Г. Андрей Сахаров: Наука и Свобода. – Ижевск: НИЦ «Регулярная и хаотическая динамика», 2000.

30 лет «Размышлений…» Андрея Сахарова: Материалы конференции. К 30-летию работы А.Д.Сахарова «Размышления о прогрессе, мирном сосуществовании и интеллектуальной свободе». – М.: Права человека, 1998.

Летопись жизни, научной и общественной деятельности Андрея Дмитриевича Сахарова. 1921-1989. Ч.1.: 1921–1953. / Фонд Андрея Сахарова; Публикации Архива Сахарова. М.: Права человека, 2002.

Ковалев С.А. А.Д.Сахаров: ответственность перед разумом. – Известия. 21 мая 1998 г.

Alexandr Daniel, Moscow

In fact, this interview took place on July 3 (translator’s note).

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