Jeffrey LewisThe Kataev Archive

Holy cow.

When I read Pavel Podvig’s excellent “The Window of Vulnerability That Wasn’t: Soviet Military Buildup in the 1970s,” I was struck at his sourcing:

The main source of these data is the archival collection of Vitalii Kataev at the Hoover Institution Archive at Stanford University: Vitalii Leonidovich Kataev, papers, 10 boxes. The collection contains copies of official documents and notes taken at the time that describe various aspects of a number of Soviet strategic programs. Kataev was a senior adviser to the Secretary for the Defense Industry of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1974 to 1990.

I had no idea, however, how extensive that collection, held at the Hoover Institution, really was. (Here is a link to a description.

This morning, I attended a rountable at the Brookings Institution with David Hoffman — former Moscow Bureau chief for the Washington Post. Kataev had deposited half of his archive at Hoover; Hoffman arranged for the other half to make its way out of the Russian Federation and to sunny Palo Alto.

Hoffman has also just written The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, which draws extensively from the archive. I haven’t read it yet, but his talk was filled with one revelation after another for me — including a full explanation of Polyus Skif!

The book doesn’t have a fulsome description of the archive, but Hoffman described the Kataev archive in the (virtual) pages of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists this way:

The notes from this meeting are just one small sample of documents in a large cache of materials now coming to light about the Soviet military-industrial complex, arms control, and weapons decisions. The materials were assembled, and in some cases written by, Vitaly Katayev, one of Zaikov’s two deputies. Katayev attended the meeting that day, made the notes, and preserved the agenda, a brief post-meeting memo, and the attendance sheet.

An aviation and rocket designer by training, Katayev had been transferred in 1974 from the missile complex in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, to the Central Committee staff in Moscow. In this position, he had a front-row seat on many of the most important debates of the late 1970s and the 1980s.

His archive may be as significant as the ones revealed in earlier years by Vasili Mitrokhin (in KGB, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, and Next Stop Execution and Oleg Gordievsky (in The Mitrokhin Archive and The World Was Going Our Way). The Katayev documents aren’t comprehensive or systematic—and in some cases they’re fragmentary or in draft form—but they offer new insights into the private deliberations in Moscow that have long been obscured by secrecy and propaganda. For nearly two decades, Katayev kept handwritten journals, entering meticulous, highly technical data in them about warheads, missiles, arms control negotiations, the military-industrial complex, and other matters. He also collected thousands of pages of documents and later wrote several papers that summed up what he had seen.

Update | 1:38 pm October 1, 2009 I somehow overlooked that the National Security Archive found and released a declassified study that made extensive use of the Kataev documents and other sources. See: William Burr and Svetlana Savranska, Previously Classified Interviews with Former Soviet Officials Reveal U.S. Strategic Intelligence Failure Over Decade, September 11, 2009.


  1. yousaf

    Not sure if you saw it, but he has a great piece in FP too about why MD did not win the Cold War.

    Plus, let me take the opportunity to plug my own LTE on that subject in today’s WaPo.

  2. Bob Reed (History)

    Dr. Lewis,
    C’mon, after a tease like that surely you are going to give us the low-down on Polyus Skif! I hope that you will synopsize the items of interest from the conference, including your presentation there.

    All the best

  3. kme

    If ACW ever forms a rock band, Polyus Skif would be a great name.