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A President, a Marshal, and a Racing Car

Pictured: Marshal V. I. Chuikov with Captain Philippe de Gaulle at President Charles de Gaulle’s grave in France. Press photo from The Daily Telegraph, 14 November 1970.

In leadership positions, there are times when one is called upon to officially represent the organization to the public—this is especially true of states, provinces, and nations. As a Marshal of the Soviet Union, Chuikov served as a representative of the government at various high-level occasions, some of which involved significant travel. For instance, when US President Dwight D. Eisenhower died in 1969, Vasily Ivanovich flew to Washington, DC as a leading Soviet delegate. Marshal Georgi Zhukov knew President Eisenhower personally, but he was in poor health and could not make the trip, according to The New York Times article titled “Russia's Delegation to Funeral Is Headed by Marshal Chuikov” on 30 March 1969. President De Gaulle also traveled to the US for the occasion to pay his respects, meeting with Richard Nixon during his trip.

The following year, Marshal Chuikov traveled to France on the occasion of President Charles de Gaulle’s passing, once again as a representative of the Soviet Union. In my searching for a direct link between the two men, I struggled a bit at first to find it. Interestingly enough, there was a connection between de Gaulle and Chuikov that went beyond their leadership during WW2. After the war ended, Vasily Ivanovich spent 7 years in Germany, during which time he was appointed to the position of Commander of the Soviet Ground Forces. In an interview dated 22 February 2013, Marshal Chuikov’s former driver in Berlin, Ivan Kvaskov, shared about a gift from President de Gaulle:

“On the eve of Defender of the Fatherland Day, a meeting was held with Ivan Kvaskov, who for two years was the personal driver of the hero of the Battle of Stalingrad, Marshal of the Soviet Union Vasily Chuikov. […] A native of [the] republic [of Mordovia], [Kvaskov] served in the army from the fall of 1943 to 1956. He was Chuikov's driver in the post-war period in the 1940s in Germany. ‘I am proud that fate brought me together with the legendary marshal,’ says the veteran. ‘It was a great happiness. He kept his subordinates in tight-knit gloves. He was a tough and demanding commander, but he never shouted at me or punished me in two years. And his wife, Valentina Petrovna, was generally a very kind woman.’ Ivan Kvaskov also shared other memories of the hero of Stalingrad. The future President of France Charles de Gaulle presented Marshal Chuikov with a racing car, in which our fellow countryman [Kvaskov] already in those years ‘squeezed’ 200 km/h on the Autobahn. But the legendary marshal went on official business in a captured German Mercedes. ‘The six-cylinder was,’ recalls the former driver, ‘it was a great car. In the movie Seventeen Moments of Spring, they showed it.’”


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