From the personal archives of a Russianist: installment ten

As noted earlier in this series, the materials presented here will go into the book of Memoirs which I am now preparing for publication. The original collection of documents will be deposited in a university archive, still to be determined.

The concluding Part III of the book consists of excerpts, some lengthy, some brief drawn mainly from my diaries, to a lesser extent from correspondence and business memos of the two focal periods. My intention here is to convey the immediacy and spontaneity of my impressions free from the filters of today.

As regards the diaries, a word of explanation is in order.  Some of these conform to the widely understood notion of a summary of what happened on a given day. But many of the entries recount who said what in my presence. They are verbatim and often are as complete as a tape recording might be.

When I re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace a couple of years ago, I was struck by how he had reproduced on the pages of the novel extensive passages of what people were saying in the society salons, in the tents of the armies in the field and the like. If you were to remove these lengthy conversations, monologues, dialogues from the text, you would have a narrative of a couple of hundred pages, not the couple of thousand that the novel as published came to.  And the stripped down book would be very pale compared to the vivid portrait of Russian society that Tolstoy delivered.

I am hopeful that the publication of my diary entries here will similarly enliven and enrich this account of the period under review.

Second USSR Trip for East – West Marketing, Inc.

November 1977. Preparations for January debut of our first client, Ralston Purina

Moscow, 23 November 1977

Meet Chris downstairs following breakfast. Phone State Committee and speak to Murzaneva, who says meeting for Ralston at the Food Ministry will take place at 12 today, that tomorrow at 10 we will be received by Aikazian (which heartens me considerably). On the negative side, she rejects review of ITT Morton frozen foods, saying that it obviously is only a commercial question, suitable for Foreign Trade or Licensintorg, not for the State Committee. I phone the U.S. Commercial Office to arrange a meeting with Steven Sind at 10 today. Phone Marshall Goldman and arrange to see him at 5pm tomorrow at the National.

The 10 am meeting with Sind goes well. Suggests that as the State Committee will be co-sponsors we allow them to distribute the invitations. We only suggest the institutions to be included. We can send blank invitations to Sind by mid-December for transmission to the GKNT. c/o American Embassy, Box M, Helsinki.  Steve offers to hand deliver messages to the ministries including contracts. Very cordial and helpful overall.

Next we walk over to the U.S. embassy building for meeting with Alan Trick, agricultural attaché whom Chris feels very well informed. Trick is dry, farmer-clever guy in late 50s, no-nonsense language but limited perspective.  Doesn’t really understand appeal of soy protein in this meat-eating nation. His most important point to us: that Ministry of Agriculture is the black hat in our scenario, generally conservative and opposed to soy; that local soy production well under 1 million tons annually; that Lyshenko and USA Institute has no value for this project, purely social. Chris expresses point of concern lest the products be over-old here: should Soviets want to place large orders now the company cannot satisfy new demand, world capacity is fully booked

12.00  Meeting at Food Ministry with deputy director of oils and fats department, assistant to Chubinidze, Ruslan Spino, plus translator and a lady engineer. Though Chubinidze is expected to join us, he does not. Meeting lasts nearly two hours and though rambling and at times discouraging, especially at the outset when Spino tries to rattle us, it is positive by all indices.   Spino opens with a joke to the effect that soy may be fine but red meat is better, that when their delegation visited the US they were feted with meat chunks, not soy. Chris counters, saying soy not intended to replace meat only to extend it; a useful device for keeping meat prices stable. Next he asks what is present price of soy isolate per kg. Upon learning it is about $1.90 per kilo, he then coyly asks what is the price of meat in the US. We estimate it costs $5.00 per kilo and has only 20% of nutrient value of equivalent weight isolate. Spino is placated

Chris identifies 3 problem areas influencing the choice of plant location:  natural gas; potable water; effluent treatment.

Spino: we would use flour for bread and confectionery; concentrates for meats. Concentrate may be less good than isolates on meat but equipment for concentrate is simpler and so is the technology. Besides, concentrate is acceptable for meat and is widely used that way

Spino:  we know over 10 times more concentrate is produced in the US than isolates. So we want to produce concentrates.  We would also use isolates in meat plus confectionery and bread

Spino goes on: Give us a program of collaboration; we shall review it. To cover isolate manufacturing; we do not need assistance in area of extraction as we have enough info in that area.  In January, we’d like to discuss your proposals, conditions of collaboration. To have you work with us rather than for us. One topic to be protein from sunflower seeds, which constitute our basic crop; we shouldn’t concentrate all on soy. You have 42 million tons of soy annually, but we get only 500,000 – 600,000 tons, whereas versus you we have 5 million tons of sunflower versus your 150,000 tons. Our talks on collaboration to take place the day after the symposium we can do it – five of us with five of you on the day following the symposium. We want sunflower in the seminar program.

Comments on program of seminar –   Spino: we have much info on general aspects of protein. Better if you make a detailed review of process technology – isolates and concentrates as well. Also how each applied in dairy, sausage, confectionery. Also on environmental controls. Also separate report on equipment – what companies produce the equipment for environmental controls.  Offers to give detailed program suggestions to the GKNT.

Following this meeting we walk next door to the Meat and Dairy, phone my man at the External Affairs Department Bezsonov, who agrees to come down for a moment. We schedule a meeting with all, including Deputy Minister Kroha and the Meat Institute on Friday.

Thursday, 24 November 1977

10.00 meeting at State Committee for Science and Technology

Zoya Ivanovna Murzaneva and Dr. Eduard Asaturovich Aikazian

Murzaneva is wearing pants, close-cropped hair, thick lenses but attractive imported frames, slight build, looks younger but foxy sharp. Aikazian looks unchanged, warmly recognizes me and shakes hands with evident pleasure at seeing a familiar face; he has come down with an awful cold and has badly stuffed nose.

The meeting is brief and to the point: on the seminar, with no departures from that theme. Firstly, Aikazian says that 3 days is too long, that much of the general information can be cut. Suggests we plan on seminar lasting two days – a Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving 2 days for talks with the ministries. Suggest that we deliver Russian language summaries of the reports to the State Committee, as well as Russian language programs at least two weeks in advance.

Aikazian says we will be discussing protocols of cooperation with the two ministries plus a general overarching protocol with the State Committee. Protocols with the ministries will be detailed, covering working program. All 3 protocols to be signed at the same time by the two vice ministers and Gvishiani for the State Committee.

Aikazian strongly urges that we hold the seminar at ASTEC (US/USSR Trade and Economic Council). Suggests that we speak to Gribkov about arrangements so that a project manager can be assigned. Says they will handle clearances and other technicalities. Also that I seek liaison from Murzaneva.

He gives us the written comments of the Meat and Dairy Ministry on our seminar agenda.

Upon conclusion of the GKNT meeting we go over to the Intourist hotel to phone Trade Council. Gubkov not available but his assistant in charge of seminars and shows, Osipov does agree to receive us straight away and we drive over to their headquarters.

This is my first visit to ASTEC and I am somewhat disappointed by the limited size and facilities. The building is old; though modern and comfortable inside, it is small relative to work going on. Only 4 project managers for its vast membership. A hall that is poorly structured and seats no more than 70 or 80 (less capacious than the U.S. Commercial Office). However, staff is fairly pleasant. Russian secretaries are unusually efficient and ready to serve.

[Note:  like his boss, Dzherman Gvishiani, the son-in-law of Soviet Prime Minister Aleksei Kosygin and deputy chief of the USSR State Committee for Science and Technology, Eduard Asaturovich Aikazian, the head of the American desk at this time, was a towering intellect and held a doctorate in chemistry. For a while he had been a post graduate fellow at Cambridge University, after which he served in the USSR trade representation in England as scientific advisor. He later was moved back to Moscow and placed in the GKNT. His lively intelligence was in direct contradiction with his physical presence as slight of build, thin and short, wearing ill-fitting, rumpled suits.  However, U.S. captains of industry understood fully well his personal worth and the influence he wielded in the Soviet decision-making processes. I think back of the satisfied look of the chairman of Abbot Labs Ted Ledder when he arranged for a half-hour session with Aikazian on the sidelines of the annual US-USSR Trade Council meeting in Los Angeles in November 1977.   By 1978, Aikazian handed over his job to an assistant, Anatoly Yarilov, who had been his deputy in New York and was my main contact person and ‘promoter’ within the GKNT.  From 1981 to 1991, Aikazian was the ‘ambassador’ (постпредъ] of the Armenian SSR to Moscow, one of 15 such ambassadors within the USSR. Though he remained in close touch with his native Armenia after the break-up of the Soviet Union, he apparently continued to live in Moscow. In 2016, at the age of 85, he published his memoirs [in Russian] entitled My Unforgettable Twentieth Century]

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]