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Dmitriy Ustinov
Дмитрий Устинов
File:Dmitriy Ustinov.jpg
Minister of Defence of the Soviet Union

In office
30 July 1976 – 20 December 1984
Premier Alexei Kosygin
Nikolai Tikhonov
Preceded by Andrei Grechko
Succeeded by Sergei Sokolov
First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union

In office
13 March 1963 – 26 March 1965
Premier Nikita Khrushchev
Alexei Kosygin
Preceded by Alexei Kosygin
Succeeded by Kirill Mazurov
Personal details
Born (1908-10-17)17 October 1908
Samara, Russian Empire
Died 20 December 1984(1984-12-20) (aged 76)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Profession Mechanical Engineer
Military service
Allegiance  Soviet Union
Service/branch Soviet Armed Forces
Years of service 1922–1923
Rank Marshal of the Soviet Union
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union Hero of Socialist Labor medal.png Hero of Socialist Labor medal.png

Dmitriy Feodorovich Ustinov (Russian: Дми́трий Фёдорович Усти́нов; 30 October 1908 – 20 December 1984) was Minister of Defense of the Soviet Union from 1976 until his death.

Early life

Dimitry Feodorovich Ustinov was born in a working-class family in Samara. During the civil war, when hunger became intolerable, his sick father went to Samarkand, leaving Dimitry as head of the family. Shortly after that, in 1922, his father died. In 1923, he and his mother, Yevrosinya Martinovna, moved to the city of Makarev (near Ivanovo-Voznesensk) where he worked as a fitter in a paper mill. Shortly after that, in 1925, his mother died.

Ustinov joined the communist party in 1927. In 1929, he started training at the Faculty of Mechanics in the Polytechnic Institute of Ivanovo-Voznesensk. Afterward, Ustinov was transferred to the Moscow Bauman Higher Technical School. Then, on March 1932, he entered the Institute of Military Mechanical Engineering in Leningrad from where he graduated in 1934. Afterward, he worked as a construction engineer at the Leningrad artillery Marine Research Institute. In 1937, he was transferred to the "Bolshevik" Arms Factory as an engineer. He later became the director of the Factory.

War service

At the time of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941, Stalin appointed the 32 year-old Ustinov to the post of People's Commissar of Armaments.[1] From this position, he supervised the massive evacuation of the defense industry from the besieged city of Leningrad to east of the Ural Mountains. Over 80 military industries were evacuated that together employed over six hundred thousand workers, technicians, and engineers. Stalin later rewarded Ustinov, whom he called "the Red-head", with the Soviet Union's highest civilian honour, Hero of Socialist Labor. After the war was over, Ustinov played a crucial role in requisitioning the German missile programme, developed during World War II, as an impetus to the Soviet missile and space programmes.

Post war

In 1952, Ustinov became a member of the Central Committee. In March 1953, after Stalin died, the Ministry of Armaments was combined with the Ministry of Aviation Industry to become the Ministry of Defense Industry, with Ustinov assigned as head of this new ministry. In 1957, he was appointed as a Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union and became chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission. Ustinov was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor for a second time in 1961, this time by Nikita Khrushchev for ensuring that a Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, would be the first man to orbit the earth. Khrushchev valued Ustinov's managerial skills enough to appoint him First Deputy Premier and placed him in control of the civilian economy in 1963.

In October 1964, Khrushchev was ousted. While Dmitry Ustinov served as chairman of the Supreme Council of the National Economy, he was detailed to fly down to the Black Sea and bring Khrushchev back to Moscow. Ustinov arrived at the Black Sea on the morning of Tuesday, October 13, as Khrushchev was talking with French Atomic Science Minister Gaston Palewski. Ustinov demanded that Khrushchev return immediately to Moscow for a special meeting of the Presidium. At sunset, Khrushchev and Ustinov landed at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport, where a ZiL limousine waited to take them to the Kremlin.

Brezhnev years

Leonid Brezhnev took power after the ousting of Khrushchev, and Ustinov returned to the defense industry. In 1965, Brezhnev made Ustinov a candidate member of the Politburo and secretary of the Central Committee with oversight of the military, the defense industry, and certain security organs. He was also placed in charge of developing the Soviet Union's strategic bomber force and intercontinental ballistic missile system. Ustinov was known in the defense industry as Uncle Mitya. He was also Chelomei's stolid personal adversary. He issued a directive, on February 1970, that ordered the Chelomei design bureau to combine its Almaz space station with Sergei Korolyov's design bureau, headed by Vasili Mishin. This order was designed as an impetus towards the development of the Salyut space station.

Ustinov gained power in the bureaucracy as he rose in the defense industry. When veteran Defense Minister Marshal Rodion Malinovsky died in 1967, there was widespread speculation that the post would pass to Ustinov. Instead, the Kremlin chose another military man, Marshal of the Soviet Union Andrei Grechko.

Minister of Defense

In 1984 in East Berlin, with Erich Honecker.

In 1976, after Andrei Grechko died on April 26, Ustinov became the Defense Minister and was promoted to General of the Army on April 29. On July 30, he was promoted to the highest military rank in the Soviet Union, Marshal of the Soviet Union, although he had no prior military career. Together, with Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov and the Soviet General Staff, Ustinov embarked on a program to enhance and modernize the Soviet Union's development of military sciences. In 1979, he confidently asserted that "The armed forces of the USSR are on a high level that ensures the accomplishment of any tasks set by the party and the people".

The growing influence of the Soviet military gave Ustinov the role of Kremlin kingmaker, for his support was decisive in allowing Yuri Andropov to succeed Brezhnev. Ustinov was also influential in the Chernenko regime, compensating for the latter's serious health problems and inexperience in military affairs.

In 1979, Hafizullah Amin assassinated the leader of Afghanistan, Nur Muhammad Taraki. In October 1979, the sentiment for Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan grew stronger in the Soviet politburo where Ustinov and Andropov were the strongest proponents for military intervention. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko also lent his support for an invasion. The introduction of US forces into the Persian Gulf after the 1979 Iran hostage crisis particularly alarmed the Soviet General Staff. Ustinov began to wonder, "If the Americans do all these preparations under our noses, then why should we hunker down, play cautious, and lose Afghanistan?" In November, Ustinov and Andropov began to formulate plans for a Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan. On 12 December 1979, the Politburo approved the Ustinov-Andropov plan to invade Afghanistan. In 24 December 1979, Soviet troops entered Afghanistan.

In the early 1980s, the development of the Space Shuttle program in the United States caused considerable concern in the Soviet defense industry. While Defense Minister, Ustinov received a report from his analysts that the US Shuttle could be used to deploy space based nuclear missiles over Soviet territory. Russian space program academic Boris Chertok recounts that Ustinov was so worried about the US Shuttle that he gave the development of the Soviet response program, the Buran Shuttle, top priority.

Minister Ustinov and KAL 007

In 1992, Russian president Boris Yeltsin disclosed five top-secret memos dating from late 1983, memos that had been written within weeks of the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007. These memos were published in Izvestia number 228 on October 16, 1992. According to these memos, the Soviet Union had been able to recover the "Black Box" from KAL 007 and decipher its tapes. Thereafter, Ustinov, along with Viktor Chebrikov, head of the KGB, recommended to premier Yuri Andropov that their possession of the Black Box not be made public since its tapes could not support the Soviet contention that KAL 007 was on a U.S. espionage mission.

"In connection with all mentioned above it seems highly preferable not to transfer the flight recorders to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) or any third party willing to decipher their contents. The fact that the recorders are in possession of the USSR shall be kept secret. As far as we are aware neither the US nor Japan has any information on the flight recorders. We have made necessary efforts in order to prevent any disclosure of the information in future." (Memo 5.)

Death and legacy

80th Birth Anniversary of D.F.Ustinov, commemorative stamp

On 7 November 1984, Ustinov did not preside over the annual Red Square Military Parade on the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. First Deputy Defense Minister Marshal Sergey Sokolov stood in for Ustinov to both inspect the troops and deliver the commemoration speech. Ustinov had contracted pneumonia in late October. Emergency surgery had to be performed to correct an aneurysm in his aortic valve. His liver and kidneys later deteriorated. Eventually, he suffered a cardiac arrest that killed him. He was honored with a state funeral, and his ashes were interred in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis on 24 December 1984.

The RFS Marshal Ustinov is a Russian warship named after him in his honor. The Baltic State Technical Military-Mechanical University in Saint Petersburg changed its name to the Ustinov Baltic State Technical Military-Mechanical University. The city of Izhevsk was also renamed after him. However, under Mikhail Gorbachev, cities that had been renamed for recent Soviet leaders were reverted to their former names.

Ustinov placed great importance on the military for many decades. For example, he succeeded in always keeping the USSR's intercontinental ballistic missiles, ICBMs, current. Ustinov also wrote several books throughout his life. These included "Selected Speeches and Articles" (1979), and "To serve my country - the cause of Communism" (1982).

Personality and family

In his memoirs Mikhail Gorbachev describes Ustinov as a man who normally had an energetic and bright personality. When Gorbachev was facing opposition in the Politburo shortly after Andropov's death, Ustinov told Gorbachev to "stand firm" and to "take heart".

Soviet Army Colonel General Igor Illarionov, an assistant of Ustinov for 30 years, described him as "the most Stalinist of all the Commissars". Indeed, Ustinov had been groomed by Stalin to maintain the established system. Illarionov also spoke that Ustinov, like many of his contemporaries, was shaped by his experiences in the Great Patriotic War. Illarionov described Ustinov as a man who was very passionate about his work and had a habit of working late at night and sleeping for a couple of hours during the day. The former head of the 4th Chief of the Ministry of Health, Academician Yevgeniy Chazov wrote about Ustinov: "I met him for the first time thanks to Andropov, who was his close friend. From the first moment I liked his will power, quick decision making, optimism, drive, expertise, combined with a certain simplicity and openness. In my mind, he represented the best representatives of the so-called command-and-control systems by which we defeated Germany during World War II. I think his only mistake, which he may not have realized, was the Afghan war. A bad politician and diplomat, he, as a representative of the old Stalinist "guard", believed that all issues could be solved via a position of strength. On the other hand, I saw Andropov tossed and nervous because of the Afghan war. I believe that he ultimately understood their mistake. Ustinov, however, was always calm and apparently convinced that he was right."

Ustinov was married to Taisa Alekseevna Briekalova-Ustinova. They had a daughter, Vera Dmitriyvna Ustinova, and a son, Nikolai Dmitriyvich Ustinov (1931-1992). Ustinov also had a granddaughter, Nastya Nemtsova.

In popular culture

Ustinov appears briefly in Tom Clancy's 1984 novel The Hunt for Red October in his capacity as Defense Minister; his death is mentioned by the titular spy Colonel Filitov in The Cardinal of the Kremlin.

Honours and awards

Soviet Union
Mongolian People's Republic
  • Hero of the Mongolian People's Republic (6 August 1981)
  • Order of Sukhbaatar, three times (1975, 1978, 1981)
  • Order of the Red Banner (1983)
  • 6 other medals
  • Order "For Services to the Air Force"
  • Order of the Flag of the Hungarian Republic with rubies, twice (1978, 1983)
  • medal
East Germany
  • Order of Playa Giron (1983)
  • 2 other medals



  • Zubok, Vladislav (2007). A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin To Gorbachev. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807830987. 
  • Gorbachev, Mikhail (1996). Memoirs: Mikhail Gorbachev. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-48019-9. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Andrei Grechko
Minister of Defense of the Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Sergei Sokolov

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