Institute of Military History, Moscow 28 Sept. 1990
Interviewer: Gwynne Dyer
Dyer: You are the first person who has been able to get into the archives to write a history of the Stalin period. How important was it that the archives be opened?
Volkogonov: I came to the conclusion, from working with this period of history, that it is easier to gain liberty than to deal with it. We failed to deal with liberty well and we turned it over to the tyrant. We should accuse those Bolsheviks who did not fulfill Lenin’s desire to take Stalin off the leadership. The political culture of the masses was very low; we lacked the traditions of democracy. The Romanovs were in power for 300 years and the rest of the country will have to look to them to show what can be done. Another factor is our Russian style radicalism. We want to do everything in one step and at that time it seemed that one man would be able to do that.
Each political leader dies three times. The first is physical death, and the second is his political death (this is going on now with Stalin) and the third is his historical death. Stalin will never die historically.
Dyer: What kind of a war leader was Stalin?
Volkoganov: Stalin was intelligent but evil. He wanted only two things in his life, power and glory. He knew of only one way of resolving problems: by violence. He was a political leader but he was forced to deal with military questions too. Until the end of the war he remained unsophisticated about such problem. He was a militarist to some extent at the second and third stages of the war, but not at the beginning._
Dyer: I am thinking of two events where he seems to have used terrible judgment: military and political. The first was the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact, which he seems to have believed would not be broken. The second is the recently-released information about his attempt to make a separate peace through the Bulgarians while the Germans were approaching Moscow.
Volkoganov: When it comes to the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact, he was forced to do it. He thought that he would gain more than HItler and Hitler thought that the treaty was more in the interests of the Germans. As to the second events, there are a lot of myths and I think this is one of them and that we should clear it. There is no evidence of it except from Beria, who says that he was told to get in touch with somebody, but Beria is not somebody to believe, so this will remain one of the mysteries of the Great War.
Dyer: Toward the end of his life, during the Doctors Plots of 1952-53, was he still sane?
Volkoganov: Yes, I think he was sane but in moral terms he was so deformed that an ordinary person could hardly imagine it.
Dyer: Was he planning a new purge during that last year of his life?
Volkoganov: I think that that doctor’s case was a sign that there was a new wave of repression coming but fortunately, he died.
Dyer: What about his role in creating the Cold War?
Volkoganov: I think it was mostly Truman and Churchill who started it, but they got an exact answer from Stalin. There were no soft personalities in the leadership of any of those countries at the time.