Nikolai Alexandrovich Bulganin was a Soviet politician who was known for being one of the staunchest supporters of Joseph Stalin. Following his tenure in the Red Army during and after the World War II, he was made a full member of the Politburo. In 1953, Stalin passed away, after which, he was made the Minister of Defence in the administration of Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev. He served in that position until 1955, and then replaced Georgy Malenkov as the Premier of the Soviet Union. During this period, the Suez Crisis took place, and in response, Bulganin threatened the governments of the United Kingdom, France, and Israel with drastic action if they did not withdraw their respective troops from Egypt. Despite installing Bulganin in important positions in the Soviet government, Khrushchev later revealed that he could not trust him completely. By 1957, Bulganin was starting to have doubts about Khrushchev's policies and was dithering between the first secretary and the opposition group led by Vyacheslav Molotov. While he survived the initial removals of the dissenters, he was ultimately demoted. By the time Bulganin retired in 1960, he had been relegated to a token position in Stavropol.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on June 11 (May 30, Old Style), 1895, in Nizhni Novgorod, a trade and industrial centre on the Volga river, Bulganin was the son of an affluent accountant.
He grew up in a well-to-do family and received his education at an excellent private school. Not much is known about his family and upbringing.
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Nikolai Bulganin became a member of the Bolshevik Party in 1917. A year later, he began his service with Cheka, the first secret police organization of Soviet Russia. He worked there until 1922, and when the Russian Civil War ended, he joined the electricity administration as an industrial manager.
In 1927, he was promoted to the position of the director of the Moscow electricity supply. Between 1931 and 1937, he served as the chairman of the executive committee of the Moscow City Soviet.
Bulganin was one of the staunchest supporters of Joseph Stalin after the latter’s rise to power. After becoming a candidate member of the Central Committee in 1934, Bulganin survived Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of 1937–38 and quickly rose through the ranks.
In July 1937, he assumed the office of the Prime Minister of the Russian Republic (RSFSR). He was subsequently made a full member of the Central Committee.
In 1938, two other important responsibilities were designated to Bulganin, demonstrating how much Stalin trusted him. In September, he was made the Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union and head of the State Bank of the USSR.
Service During World War II
When the World War II broke out, Bulganin continued to be one of Stalin’s most trusted men. He held key positions in both the Red Army and the Soviet government. While he never saw any combat, he was made a colonel-general and was part of State Defence Committee.
In 1947, he assumed the office of the Minister for the Armed Forces and was elevated to the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. In 1948, he was granted the full membership of the Politburo.
Nikolai Bulganin allied himself with Nikita Khrushchev after Stalin’s death in March 1953 and helped him outmanoeuvre his biggest opponent in the Politburo, Georgy Malenkov. In February 1955, he substituted Malenkov as the Premier of the Soviet Union.
Despite his previous loyalties, he was a supporter of Khrushchev’s policies, reforms, and de-Stalinization, to the point that publications in the west dubbed him Khrushchev’s puppet. In spite of this, Khrushchev wrote about his doubts about Bulganin in his memoirs.
Bulganin accompanied the first secretary in a number of state visits and served as a public spokesperson for the government. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, Bulganin warned the United Kingdom, France, and Israel that the Soviet Union would conduct rocket attacks on London, Paris, and Tel Aviv if the countries did not pull out their respective forces from Egypt. However, Khrushchev later stated that they did not possess enough ICBMs at the time to carry out the threat.
By 1957, Bulganin had developed his own share of misgivings about Khrushchev’s policies and was vacillating between the government and the so-called Anti-Party Group. The dissenters’ attempt to remove Khrushchev from power failed and they lost their own hold on power.
In March 1958, Bulganin was compelled to step down from his position as the Premier of the Soviet Union.
In the following years, he was demoted several times until he was serving as the Chairman of the Regional Economic Council in Stavropol. In February 1960, Bulganin was sent into retirement on a pension.
Bulganin was awarded the Order of Lenin, the highest civilian distinction in the Soviet Union, twice (1931 and 1955).
He received the Hero of Socialist Labour accolade in June 1955.
Family & Personal Life
Bulganin was married to Elena Mikhailovna Korovina, who taught English at a school in Moscow. The couple had two children: a son named Leo and a daughter named Vera. Bulganin’s daughter would later marry the son of Admiral Kuznetsov.
Nikolai Bulganin passed away in Moscow on February 24, 1975.