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Home News Viktor Sukhodrev, English voice of Soviet leaders, dies at 81

Viktor Sukhodrev, English voice of Soviet leaders, dies at 81

Published on 17/05/2014

The legendary interpreter who served as the English-language voice of every Soviet leader from Nikita Khrushchev to Mikhail Gorbachev has died in Moscow aged 81.

In a career spanning more than three decades, Viktor Sukhodrev was a fixture at Cold War-era summits and responsible for translating Khrushchev’s famed phrase “We will bury you” — a symbol of superpower rivalry.

He died Friday and was described in a foreign ministry statement as a “prominent diplomat and translator” and “direct participant in the most important events in Soviet-American relations.”

He will be remembered, the ministry said, for “his depth, keen observations, humour and human warmth”.

Born on December 12, 1932, Sukhodrev learned his impeccable British-accented English as a boy in London, where his mother worked at the Soviet trade mission. His father was a Soviet intelligence officer who worked in the United States.

After graduating in 1956 from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, Sukhodrev joined the foreign ministry, rising almost immediately through the ranks to become Khrushchev’s official interpreter.

In a letter to Life magazine in 1959, a reader who had seen the young Sukhodrev translating for Khrushchev on a US visit said he had given “a dazzling performance” and had “a keen, lightning-fast mind”.

Sukhodrev stayed many years in the role, interpreting in the meetings of Soviet leaders with six US presidents.

Richard Nixon was so impressed with his skills that he dismissed the need for a US interpreter at a 1972 meeting with Leonid Brezhnev, leaving Sukhodrev alone with the two leaders.

In his memoirs, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger described Sukhodrev as “unflappable” and a “crack interpreter”.

One of his last major assignments was during talks between Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan that eventually led the crucial Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that eliminated some nuclear weapons.

Sukhodrev finished his career in a series of posts at the foreign ministry, including at the department for the US and Canada, and at the UN secretariat in New York.