17.11.2007
About a «Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals»
№4 2007 October/December
Yuri Dubinin

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation. In 1994-1999, he was Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation.



 

It was
September 1962. My working day was coming to an end when I was
asked to immediately stop by the office of Vasily Kuznetsov, first
deputy to Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. I knew that
Gromyko was not in Moscow and that Kuznetsov was acting for him;
so, the request meant that something important had
happened.

 

I was an
assistant to the head of the ministry’s First European Department.
I specialized mainly in French affairs; so, while I was on my way
to Kuznetsov’s office, I thought we would discuss them. And we
really did.

 

“[Nikita]
Khrushchev has just called,” I heard as soon as I entered the
office. “He is enraged over [Charles] de Gaulle’s statement about a
‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.’ He has given instructions
to urgently clear it up with the French what their president meant,
expressing ideas like that. What if he is hatching plans to break
up the Soviet Union? So, the assignment is urgent. Take a seat and
we will prepare the text of a letter of inquiry.”

 

It should
be noted that the slogan of building a “Europe from the Atlantic to
the Urals” had been launched by de Gaulle long before September
1962. Moreover, de Gaulle had repeated it so often that these words
became a catchword, a kind of credo for French policy in Europe and
even more than in Europe, as de Gaulle put emphasis on them even
during his stay in the United States. Of course, Soviet diplomats
and statesmen had heard those words on many occasions – without
giving much thought, though, to what they could mean or how they
could be interpreted.

Maybe
those words could have been disregarded in September 1962 as well
if de Gaulle had not said them in the Federal Republic of Germany
during his state visit there (September 4-9), thus sort of putting
the idea of a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals” into the
context of the incipient rapprochement with West Germany. In
addition, de Gaulle accompanied his statements with barbed
ideological remarks. The Soviet Union and West Germany were years
away from the normalization of their relations, and Bonn was under
harsh criticism from Moscow for manifestations of revanchist
sentiments there. Moscow was watching the rapid development of
French-West German relations with growing concern. On top of that,
Soviet-French relations at the time were far from ideal. So, when
Khrushchev heard de Gaulle’s statements, he flew into a rage – and
a well-grounded rage, because, even if we disregard where those
words were said, they encroached on the holy of holies – the
territorial integrity of our country. Irrespective of what the
statement might mean, such an unconventional approach to a
sovereign state required a reaction. At the same time, the question
also arose whether de Gaulle had really put such an extreme meaning
into his formula – especially as the Soviet Union had had vast
experience of cooperation and personal contacts with this
statesman, specifically during Khrushchev’s visit to France in
1960. Perhaps this was why even such an emotional man as Khrushchev
instructed his Foreign Ministry to prepare not a note of protest,
but a letter of inquiry in order to clear up the issue before
bringing in the heavy guns. Yet, Khrushchev asked us to spice up
the letter.

 

It was not
at all easy to find a balance between a tough response and a
wording that would let de Gaulle emerge out of the difficult
situation without losing face. We worked with Kuznetsov deep into
the night, but we were not very good at spicing things up. The next
day, Kuznetsov invited a leading Russian specialist on Germany, and
the three of us continued to work. When the memorandum, intended
for the French Foreign Ministry, was ready, it was sent to the
Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee, which
made all the important decisions during the Soviet era. The
Politburo approved the memo.

 

On
September 19, the Soviet government gave a stern assessment of de
Gaulle’s visit to West Germany. The Soviet news agency TASS came
out with a statement headlined “Bonn-Paris Axis Instrument of
Revanchism.”

 

On
September 20, Kuznetsov, on behalf of the Soviet government, handed
the memorandum regarding de Gaulle’s statements on building a
Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals to the French Ambassador in
Moscow Maurice Dejean.

 

The first
part of the memo was sharply critical: “The Soviet government has
taken note of statements made by President of the French Republic
de Gaulle during his visit to the Federal Republic of Germany, to
the effect that the objectives of a Franco-West German
military-political association include the establishment of some
new arrangements in Europe ‘from the Atlantic to the Urals,’ with
the termination of ‘outdated ideology in the East.’ One cannot but
pay attention to the fact that these statements were made in West
Germany in an atmosphere of revanchist and military
demonstrations.”

 

The memo
said further: “Statements like these cannot but evoke analogies and
are reminiscent of the grave past when Nazi Germany also spoke
about plans to build a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals and
about the establishment of the notorious ‘new order’ in Europe. It
is well known what came out of the attempts by German militarism to
implement those delirious plans.”

 

The second
part of the memo contained a question to Paris: “But if we assume
that the statements by the President of France imply the
establishment of cooperation among all European states in the
interests of ‘peace and progress from the Atlantic to the Urals,’
then the question arises: Why do these statements refer to the
Soviet Union not as the whole state, but only as part of the Soviet
Union, namely the territory to the Urals, although the territory of
the Soviet Union stretches far beyond the Urals. So, it remains
unclear what really is behind those statements.”

 

The memo
ended with the following words: “Since the aforementioned
statements by the President of the French Republic refer directly
to the Soviet Union and its territory, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs of the U.S.S.R., acting on behalf of the Soviet government,
would like to receive explanations from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs of France as to what meaning is put into these statements.
We would be grateful if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France
gave such explanations.”

 

Time
passed, but Paris kept silent.

 

The
Politburo decided to remind the French government via the Soviet
ambassador in France, Sergei Vinogradov, that we were waiting for a
response to our memo.

On October
24, Vinogradov visited the Foreign Minister of France, Maurice
Couve de Murville, and, referring to instructions from the Soviet
government, conveyed the request to him. Yet, even that did not
cause the French to break the silence and give a
response.

 

On January
29, 1963, Vinogradov visited de Gaulle and handed him a letter from
the Soviet government with its considerations concerning the
January 22 signing of a political treaty between France and West
Germany, known as the Élysée Treaty. The letter made no
mention of plans to build a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals;
nor were they mentioned during Vinogradov’s conversation with the
Gaulle. At the same time, at the end of the main part of their
conversation, the French president said an interesting phrase:
“There will come a time when we will build Europe together with the
Soviet Union.” This capacious and forward-looking thought with a
broad geopolitical dimension attested to de Gaulle’s all-embracing
approach to relations with our country and to European
affairs.

 

Several
more months passed. In mid-1963, I was appointed First Secretary of
the Soviet Embassy in France. I quickly established good contacts
with the Foreign Ministry of France, and the French began to more
and more often send via me important information and operational
reports, which Vinogradov forwarded on to Moscow. Finally, on
December 30, 1963, the head of the Pacts Service, one of the key
departments of the French Foreign Ministry, Jean de La Grandville
(earlier, he had been Minister-Counselor at the French Embassy in
Moscow), in a conversation with me raised the issue about the
meaning of the expression “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.”
He did that on his own initiative, which means, on instructions
from his bosses. The following are quotes from my notes of the
conversation with de La Grandville:
“In my opinion,” he said, “the political absurdity of
such an expression is obvious. Upon receiving your letter of
inquiry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France for a long time
discussed how to reply to it. In the long run, at the initiative of
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we prepared a draft document and
sent it to the Élysée Palace [the official residence of
the French president. De La Grandville’s words meant that the draft
was sent to de Gaulle].” “The project,” de La Grandville continued,
“was not approved. Then, [Foreign Minister] Couve de Murville told
us that there would be no reply at all. Meanwhile, officials at the
Quai d’Orsay [the Foreign Ministry] now avoid using the phrase
‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’.”

 

These
notes are kept in the archives of our Ministry. I am grateful to
historian Dr. Marina Arzakanyan for telling me about them after she
came across them during her work in the archives. Recollections of
those events inspired me to write this article.

 

I had been
acquainted with Couve de Murville for years. He had always been a
true doer of de Gaulle’s will, and, of course, it was only with de
Gaulle’s knowledge that he could instruct the Foreign Ministry
staff to stop using the phrase that was directly associated with
the name of the French president.

 

So, the
French did answer our question, although not as quickly as we would
have liked them to. Their straightforward answer put an end to any
interpretations that could damage the relations between our two
countries. I must give credit to the form they chose for the reply.
Even the best pens at the French Foreign Ministry would have hardly
expressed in the formal language of a memorandum what de La
Grandville told me as eloquently as he did.

 

The main
result of our demarche was that from then on de Gaulle never spoke
of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. At the same time, on
many occasions, including during his lengthy official visit to the
Soviet Union in 1966, he reiterated the need for close cooperation
among all European countries, including, of course, the Soviet
Union (by that time, de Gaulle had learned to call our country its
proper name), as a foundation of international peace and
security.

 

Not long
ago, I discussed de Gaulle’s statements about a Europe from the
Atlantic to the Urals with a leading French political analyst,
Academician Thierry de Montbrial. He told me that, not knowing
anything about our demarche, he himself had studied the essence of
this formula by de Gaulle and concluded that it was simply a result
of the ill-thought-out application by de Gaulle of his knowledge of
geography, which he had received at school.

 

Anyway,
our demarche helped to clear up our relations of mistrust with
France. The response to our letter, given by de La Grandville,
fitted well into a period of the improvement of Soviet-French
relations, which began in mid-1963 and which has led Russia and
France to their present political partnership.

 

As regards
cooperation among all European countries, its deepening is now
becoming an increasingly imperative demand. Russia and France have
every reason to play a leading role in the development of this
process and to jointly build a Europe of the future.