PIR Center’s exclusive interview with Vladimir Verkhovtsev on the 85th birthday of Evgeny Maslin

Vladimir Verkhovtsev

On May 20, Colonel General, PIR Center Board Member, and Advisor to ANO Aspect-conversion Evgeny Petrovich Maslin would have turned 85 years old. He was going to celebrate this anniversary as beautifully and cheerfully as he did five years ago, when he celebrated his 80th birthday… On this special and important day, the PIR Center has talked with Evgeny Petrovich’s successor as head of the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (2005-2010), Colonel General Vladimir Nikolayevich Verkhovtsev, General Director of the mining division of the State Corporation Rosatom uranium holding Atomredmetzoloto, Candidate of Technical Sciences. We talked about how they first met on the contradictions, how people spoke about him, about heated debates on nuclear technical support and safety, about Maslin’s departure, and what legacy he left behind at the 12th Main Directorate, how they signed two slippery agreements during the visit of US Secretary of Defense William Perry to Russia in 1995, as well as an instructive story involving Evgeny Petrovich and his ability to forgive people.

Vladimir Nikolayevich, thank you very much for agreeing to have a conversation with us. Let me remind you why is Evgeny Petrovich so important for us: he has been in one format or another with the PIR Center since the mid-to-late 1990s, being a senior adviser, a member of the Council, and for a long time actually coordinating the scientific work of our organization. And when he headed the 12th Main Directorate, fundamental historical events took place in terms of nuclear security (which is what the PIR Center studies) and the removal of nuclear weapons from the territory of the post-Soviet states. This eventually became the basis for a number of publications by the PIR Center back in the 1990s within the framework of the journals Yaderny Kontrol and Moskovskiye Novosti. We would like to start, perhaps, with the following question: as far as we understand, you ended up in the central office of the 12th Main Directorate back in 1987, and at that time Yevgeny Petrovich had not yet served there and had already come to the post of deputy head in 1989. Did you know Yevgeny Petrovich even before he became deputy head of the 12th Main Directorate?

No, I was not familiar with him. For the first time I heard the name of Maslin when I was a senior lieutenant, I served «in the depths of the Siberian ores». This was in 1979. The 12th Main Directorate was a large organization, it was scattered throughout the territory of the Soviet Union: there were four facilities in Ukraine, there was a facility in Belarus, a facility in Kazakhstan, and there were many small bases in all other territories. I served near Krasnoyarsk; well, this is a very conditional territory, 100 kilometers north of Krasnoyarsk. And during one of the checkups, Lieutenant General Alexander Grigoryevich Sandrikov (deputy head of the 12th Main Directorate for combat training in 1967-1985), said during the analysis of the exercises that «we are moving forward young promising, very disciplined people, so we are moving now to the position of the commander of object X in Vologda Maslin Evgeny Petrovich», and described him as a very energetic, intelligent man. That is, he described who Evgeny Petrovich in fact was. That was the first time I heard about Evgeny P. Maslin.

I met him … It is very difficult to say «met», because I came to the 12th Main Directorate in 1987, after 2 years I was transferred to serve in the General Staff, and at the end of 1989 Evgeny Petrovich was appointed First Deputy Head of the 12th Main Directorate. So I saw him live for the first time in 1989-1990. But even then, I was a colonel in the General Staff, he was a lieutenant general. Of course, he did not notice me – you never know there is some officer of the General Staff, and he is a magnitude, the deputy head of the 12th Main Directorate. There were many like me, but few like him. Well, we didn’t really interact at all for two years.

In 1987–1989 fundamental changes were already taking place at the level of politics, at the level of diplomacy, but did you feel it in the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, or did the work go on as usual?

The 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense was an integral part of the USSR Armed Forces at that time, and all the processes that took place in the Soviet Union also took place in the 12th Main Directorate. I cannot somehow separate this organism from the Armed Forces and from the Soviet state. Of course, this was reflected in the activities, the mood of the officers, and so on.

Did you feel in your daily work the legacy of what Evgeny Petrovich did when Lieutenant General Igor Nikolayevich Valynkin (1997–2005) headed the 12th Main Directorate of the Moscow Region?

Let’s start with the fact that we had to get to know each other better somehow, and this acquaintance happened, let’s say, on the contradictions that were between me and him personally. It was such a pretty serious debate on a number of issues. As a representative of the General Staff, I expressed my opinion, Evgeny Petrovich categorically disagreed, or vice versa. These were very heated arguments, for example, with the Chief of the General Staff: the three of us often discussed various problems in the field of nuclear weapons, the Chief of the General Staff, Evgeny Petrovich and me. And Maslin said «it is necessary to act like this, like this, like this», but I said no. And it was on these contradictions that Yevgeny Petrovich drew his attention to me: what kind of comrade is it there, the stubborn one, in the General Staff? I have three stars of a colonel general on shoulder straps, and here is a colonel, three small stars… well, big, but much smaller than his, and he objects and pushes his line. And we must pay tribute, this struggle was fought with varying success: sometimes the chief of the General Staff supported me, sometimes Evgeny Petrovich.

And so, we went through life until 1996. In 1996, a situation arose when Evgeny Petrovich decided that he was leaving in a year. In November there was a meeting with the Minister of Defense; I was already a general then, but still served in the General Staff. At the training camp, Evgeny Petrovich unexpectedly approached me and said with his characteristic manner of behavior and conversation: «Well, Comrade Verkhovtsev, what about the fact that we need you to return to the 12th Main Directorate?” I shuddered a little, to be honest, I did not expect such an offer from him. Well, life is so complicated that when such conversations begin, you really want to bargain for yourself a little more. I said: «Yevgeny Petrovich, you understand, I have very strong positions in the General Staff, I feel like a fish in water, I know everyone, everyone knows me. So, if I return to the 12th MD, then I won’t go to any position». At that time, there were many generals in the 12th MD, major general positions, deputy chief of staff or something like that. He did not hide it, he said: «Well, if you think that the first deputy head of the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense is any position, then you are mistaken». It was itching somewhere between my shoulder blades from the fact that I was offered such a high position. But, nevertheless, I again say: «Evgeny Petrovich, can I think a little?» He said: «Of course, think about it, there are no questions». Although he told me that the next day there was a meeting of all the officers and generals of the 12th Main Directorate in Sergiev Posad, he said: «Will you be at our training camp? Well, tomorrow come up and tell me your decision». As soon as I moved away from him, the first seditious thought fell into my head: «Why did you do this? After all, he can no longer offer you this!» There was even a desire to come up in five minutes and say: «I thought, I agree!» But you can’t do that, and indeed, the next day I went to the training camp for the commanders, went up to Evgeny Petrovich and said: «I agree». «Well, this is the right decision!», he answered me.

Work has begun. This work was very long, because the Chief of the General Staff did not agree to give me back, then the Chief of the General Staff and the Minister of Defense changed, [Colonel General Igor Nikolayevich] Rodionov [1996-1997] and [Colonel General Viktor Nikolayevich] Samsonov [1996-1997] came. But in the end, Evgeny Petrovich pushed through the candidacy of Igor Nikolaevich Valynkin (this is his merit). And already in conjunction with Igor Nikolayevich, I went to the post of first deputy, as planned.

He [Evgeny P. Maslin] left from the 12th Main Directorate in August 1997. Not even in August, in September. Why in September: he asked permission from the Chief of the General Staff, then Colonel General [Anatoly Vasilievich] Kvashnin [1997-2004], to be allowed to serve until the 55th anniversary of the Main Directorate, just on September 4, the 12th Main Directorate turned 55 years old. He was given the go-ahead, he served until its 55th birthday, celebrated its anniversary, and a week later he resigned.

Has the collaboration continued? Firstly, Igor Nikolaevich was grateful, I think he still adheres to this position, that only through his efforts he advanced to the post of head of the Main Directorate. They met almost every day, all seven years, while Igor Nikolaevich commanded the 12th MD. Yes, they may have had some differences on some issues, but it was a close cooperation. Seeing this, I could not even imagine that the story that was under Evgeny Petrovich does not continue there. The only thing is that they are completely different people. Evgeny Petrovich is one thing, Igor Nikolaevich is another, with completely different views on life, with his own philosophy, both one and the other. But they were in touch before the dismissal of Igor Nikolayevich. And then it lasted even when I was in charge of the 12th Main Directorate: both Evgeny Petrovich and Igor Nikolaevich visited me quite often.

Evgeny Petrovich, when he was retired, worked in a number of organizations and participated in various events. Not every retired general is so active in the field of international relations. This is also why the PIR Center, as a non-governmental organization, has some opportunities, connections, including the international ones. This independent position of Evgeny Petrovich, who could contact those he considered necessary, did it somehow affect your work?

No, at work, it probably did not affect in any way. I want to say that Evgeny Petrovich did a lot for both the 12th Main Directorate and the Russian state in the development of precisely international military-technical cooperation. Sometimes he was corny lucky in this matter, but he is lucky who is lucky. I remember 1995, when the two strategic agreements under the nuclear cooperation framework agreement signed by Clinton and Yeltsin were first signed. Evgeny Petrovich signed two agreements under this framework: one on the safe storage of nuclear weapons, and the other on safe transportation. I already said that when a small film was made for Evgeny Petrovich on his 80th birthday, that he was the first, like Gagarin in space, and so he pushed these agreements through. The first is always extremely difficult. But not without luck, of course. Why? Because I remember the events of 1995. Then the US Secretary of Defense who flew to Russia was [William] Perry [1994-1997]. Some events and agreements are always prepared for the minister’s visits. Pavel Sergeevich Grachev, being the Minister of Defense, gathered a large team to decide how to meet Perry – and there was a month left before the visit. Nothing was found. He was told: «Well, there are two agreements here, but they are slippery, in such an area and so on». Evgeny Petrovich pushed them through for a long time, they went very hard, because there were a lot of opponents. Pavel Sergeevich decided it all in a jiffy, like a paratrooper: «Well, Perry is on his way, there is nothing to sign, so we will sign these two agreements». And the issue was instantly resolved. Pure luck, so he could push them for a very long time. Under these agreements, visits to the United States have already begun, and I also periodically took part in these visits. Then the US Deputy Secretary of Defense was Dr. [Harold] Smith [1993-1998], who just oversaw all this topic. And Evgeny Petrovich had a very close relationship with him, and he did a lot through him. Retired already, he flew to the States, met with Clinton – it was all at the suggestion of Dr. Smith, because he was a very extraordinary person, Evgeny Petrovich let me read his notes. I remember one of the visits when Evgeny Petrovich was not given a visa to the States. And Dr. Smith wrote to him: «Dear friend, do not attribute to malice that which can be attributed to ordinary human stupidity». I will say that this is a philosophical saying. Therefore, having such close contacts, he flew. Maybe there were some contacts along your line.

Is there any special, didactic story with the participation of Evgeny Petrovich that you would like to share?

Well, there were many such stories. I’ll probably point out one. This again goes back to our debates in the General Staff. In the armed forces there is such a thing as the approval of documents that are brought to the very top. And if Evgeny Petrovich understood that something was not working out, then he could take the liberty of going to the Chief of the General Staff. At that time, this position was held by [Colonel-General] Mikhail Petrovich Kolesnikov [1992-1996], who was very warm towards Evgeny Petrovich. The ChGS told me once, already in retirement, that he had two generals whom he trusted in full: these are Maslin and [Colonel General] Vladimir Leontyevich Ivanov [1992-1996], commander of the space forces. And so, Evgeny Petrovich threw aside all the bureaucratic stages of coordination and went to the Chief of the General Staff and signed a very difficult, in my opinion, directive regarding the tactics of the armed forces in the field of nuclear support. But the ChGS only endorsed it, and it was signed it by the Minister of Defense. And when she fell towards us, the last hairs on my head stood on end. We were quite stubborn, noted that the document passed without approval, there were a number of preliminary meetings with the chief of the main operational department, with the deputy chief of the General Staff. Some Evgeny Petrovich won. But when this issue was brought to the level of the chief of the General Staff, the victory was on our side. I want to pay tribute to Evgeny Petrovich – after all, I broke that idea, that strategy that he had already practically suffered through – it was signed by the Russian Minister of Defense! And we made it so that the directive that was signed was canceled, and a new directive was born with an absolutely opposite vision of the situation. I would have never forgiven such things, for example. On the contrary, there are such people. After that, in my opinion, he began to treat me completely differently and more seriously, as a person who has his own position, can defend his ideas and even break those ideas that he did not put forward.

Well, this is from the practice of official, everyday activities. He was very fond of singing, we often with him, especially when some events were held in the 12th headquarters, we took with us to the company of [Colonel-General] Vladimir Ivanovich Gerasimov, whom Yevgeny Petrovich replaced, and sang «Three tankmen, three merry friends», it was our favorite song.

You just now spoke about this feature of Yevgeny Petrovich – the ability to forgive a person for being defeated in some kind of struggle of ideas.

You are correct: Yevgeny Petrovich understood that a more sensible idea won. I think that he did not trifle, in the sense that he lost or something else. The person was very communicative and very convincing in his thoughts and conversations. I argued with him until the last day. Everyone stood their ground, but it was absolutely interesting for me to talk with him, and I think that he was also interested in me. I last spoke with him a day before his death, but there was no time for controversy. In recent months, I called, and there were some short, dry conversations, I did not understand what was happening. And then he called when I was in Transbaikalia, and we have a difference of 6-7 hours there. He called me at three o’clock in the morning, when Moscow time is nine in the evening. I said: «Evgeny Petrovich, I have a deep night, I will call you back tomorrow». I called back tomorrow, and he said: «I want to repent to you that I didn’t tell you that I have been seriously ill for the last six months. If you can now, help me». Help was needed to get him out of the hospital for at least a week, so that he could return to his family, lie down at home, breathe family air a little. With difficulty, this was done, the current head of the 12th Main Directorate helped. So he stayed at home for a week, then he was put back in the hospital, from which he no longer left …

Article output:

The interview was conducted by PIR Center Junior Researcher Fellow Artem Kvartalnov, May 20, 2022.