Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov[a] (/
Molotov was the principal Soviet signatory of the Nazi–Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939 (also known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact), whose most important provisions were added in the form of a secret protocol that stipulated an invasion of Poland and partition of its territory between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. He was aware of the Katyn massacre committed by the Soviet authorities during this period.
After World War II (Great Patriotic War), Molotov was involved in negotiations with the Western allies, in which he became noted for his diplomatic skills. He retained his place as a leading Soviet diplomat and politician until March 1949, when he fell out of Stalin's favour and lost the foreign affairs ministry leadership to Andrei Vyshinsky. Molotov's relationship with Stalin deteriorated further, with Stalin criticising Molotov in a speech to the 19th Party Congress. However, after Stalin's death in 1953, Molotov was staunchly opposed to Khrushchev's de-Stalinisation policy. Molotov defended Stalin's policies and legacy until his death in 1986, and harshly criticised Stalin's successors, especially Khrushchev.
Molotov was born Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Skryabin in the village of Kukarka, Yaransk Uyezd, Vyatka Governorate (now Sovetsk in Kirov Oblast), the son of a butter churner. Contrary to a commonly repeated error, he was not related to the composer Alexander Scriabin. Throughout his teen years, he was described as "shy" and "quiet", always assisting his father with his business. He was educated at a secondary school in Kazan, and joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in 1906, soon gravitating toward that organisation's radical Bolshevik faction, headed by V. I. Lenin.
Skryabin took the pseudonym "Molotov", derived from the Russian word молот molot (hammer) for his political work owing to the name's vaguely "industrial" ring. He was arrested in 1909 and spent two years in exile in Vologda. In 1911, he enrolled at St Petersburg Polytechnic. Molotov joined the editorial staff of a new underground Bolshevik newspaper called Pravda, meeting Joseph Stalin for the first time in association with the project. This first association between the two future Soviet leaders proved to be brief, however, and did not lead to an immediate close political association.
Molotov worked as a so-called "professional revolutionary" for the next several years, writing for the party press and attempting to better organize the underground party. He moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow in 1914 at the time of the outbreak of World War I. It was in Moscow the following year that Molotov was again arrested for his party activity, this time being deported to Irkutsk in eastern Siberia. In 1916 he escaped from his Siberian exile and returned to the capital city, now called Petrograd by the Tsarist regime, which thought the name St. Petersburg sounded excessively German.
Molotov became a member of the Bolshevik Party's committee in Petrograd in 1916. When the February Revolution occurred in 1917, he was one of the few Bolsheviks of any standing in the capital. Under his direction Pravda took to the "left" to oppose the Provisional Government formed after the revolution. When Joseph Stalin returned to the capital, he reversed Molotov's line; but when the party leader Lenin arrived, he overruled Stalin. Despite this, Molotov became a protégé of and close adherent to Stalin, an alliance to which he owed his later prominence. Molotov became a member of the Military Revolutionary Committee which planned the October Revolution, which effectively brought the Bolsheviks to power.