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German Goncharov on: Soviet Response to the Announcement Made by President Truman
Q: The announcement by President Truman of January 31, 1950, was very important. It triggered an immediate reaction in the Soviet Union.

GG: I can judge only by the documents I have read. By the technical documents. And the most interesting of them is [head of the Soviet nuclear project Lavrentii] Beria's letter to Stalin, where the former presented for the latter's approval the decision of the Special Committee with the draft of the Soviet of Ministers resolution about the creation of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. I have already mentioned this resolution, i.e., the resolution of February 28, 1950. He began the letter with the following words: "Iosif Vessarionich [Stalin], as you know, hysteria concerning the hydrogen bomb has spread over America." "Hysteria" was the word he used. He says, many discussions and debates are in progress. We have to take measures. And in connection with that, we propose the draft of the Soviet of Ministers resolution, approved by the Special Committee.

This resolution is to declare the creation of two models of the hydrogen bomb: the "sloika" and the so-called "tube" [classical super]. And there various parameters of the weapons proposed for testing were provided. And it was indicated that the sloika was to be developed first. As you know, this means, of course, that Stalin and Beria were informed of the various news reports that appeared in the press. That is, they were constantly handed various selections of the reports published in America. That is obvious. The documents testify that the information would appear on their tables literally the next day. Every published report was immediately brought to the attention of Beria and Stalin. That is why he was informed about all the events. And of course, the Truman's announcement was among the selections they were given. But I have not had a closer look at this correspondence, these surveys. They must be located somewhere else.

Q: If I understand you correctly, you feel that it was Truman's announcement that really set in motion concrete measures in the Soviet Union to actually go and build the hydrogen bomb.

GG: I am fully convinced that it is so. And my conviction is supported by the fact that, for example, already in the summer of 1949 a well-known meeting took place in Arzamas [Soviet weapons laboratory.] The question of the hydrogen bomb, i.e., the condition of the calculations, was one of the items on the meeting's agenda. And it was acknowledged that there had not been any results yet that would directly indicate the possibility of the creation of the hydrogen bomb. Several measures for the acceleration of this work were proposed. For example, it was proposed to place Kurchatov at the head of the work on the hydrogen bomb, to gather all theoretical groups, such as Sakharov's group and Zel'dovich's group together in [Igor] Kurchatov's institute, here, under the leadership of Kurchatov in order to move ahead with this work.

However, this proposal, which is documented and which I have personally read, was never realized. [The head of the Soviet nuclear program, Lavrentii] Beria did not support it. That is, there were glimmers, so to say, in different places: in the Institute of Physics Zel'dovich continued working on the tube, here, in FIAN [Physics Institute of the Academy of Science], [Andrei] Sakharov and [Igor]Tamm were working on the "sloika," that is, mostly on the "sloika" during this period. No real measures to accelerate this work were taken. Well, various reports, reviews would come out, you know, just an ordinary work. But this resolution already meant some concrete measures; that is , it was accompanied by other resolutions, which followed it, about the organization of the production of Lithium-6.

Soon after, the resolution about tritium came out: the special reactor producing tritium was launched.

In other words, measures were taken to organize the corresponding industry, only after Truman's announcement. Or, beginning sometime in March, 1950. Moreover, this process might not have been completely irreversible, because I have read Beria's reports to Stalin, written sometime in 1951 and even in 1952, in which he did not express any particular optimism about the hydrogen bomb and did not make any promises. He wrote very cautiously. Although the resolution to build the hydrogen bomb had been made, he wrote that the research about the possible creation of the H-bomb was being conducted. That is, he was very cautious in this account. That is why I am sincerely convinced that these were forced measures, the measures taken in response [to U.S. action.] That is, there was no attempt of revanchism, of getting ahead of the United States.

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