Moscow's 'resolute rebuff'
Wednesday 29 August 2018
A footnote to the 7 August piece on Roy Gutman’s award from the American Bar Association:
In the late 1970s, Roy was designated to move from Belgrade to Moscow as my number two with the implicit promise that he would take over as bureau chief when I moved on. In the bureau, we were enthusiastic about the prospect of having an East European hand with his track record on the team.
But there were weeks of silence from the Soviet foreign ministry after the visa request was submitted, and then it was rejected without explanation. Later, a ministry official told me at a diplomatic reception that this was because of his “anti-Soviet activities” while in Belgrade - an effective accolade and clearly a reference to Roy’s insightful coverage of ongoing differences between Moscow and Belgrade.
The refusal left the busy Moscow bureau one correspondent short for several months, a fact which, together with other problems we were facing in our reporting, was taken up in a polite but forthright letter from managing director Gerry Long in a letter to Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, which I was instructed to deliver by hand to the ministry.
Again, there was silence for some time until one morning we found the Long letter, still in its original envelope and with no indication that it had been opened, stuffed into the Reuter letterbox on the ground floor of the foreigners’ ghetto where our office was located and many of us lived.
No Soviet official would ever discuss the affair with me, but we assumed that the head of the ministry’s press department, the charmless Leonid Zamyatin, who in perestroika days served briefly as Moscow’s ambassador to London, was the author of what Soviet propagandists would have labelled a “resolute rebuff” to the Long intervention. ■