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Department of External Affairs/Library and Archives Canada.

Robert Ford

 

“As a human being, as a professional, as a man of high culture he deserved high respect. And he will remain as a significant positive figure in our relations and the hearts of many Soviets who knew him.”

Georgy Arbatov
Director Emeritus of the Institute of USA and Canadian Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences.

 

Robert Ford kept his finger on the Soviet pulse for much of the Cold War. He arrived as Canada’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1964. His unmatched ability to assess Soviet politics kept him in Moscow for another 16 years. A passion for poetry helped Ford build relationships with Russian writers and artists, which sharpened his insight into Russian culture. As ambassador, he developed a close relationship with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who regularly sought Ford’s advice on relations with Moscow. In 1968, Ford directed the interdepartmental Special Task Force on Europe (STAFEUR) as part of Trudeau’s foreign policy review. Though Ford sensed that Trudeau and his cabinet aimed to withdraw Canada from NATO, the final report highlighted the invaluable role of the American and European alliance both in securing Canadian sovereignty and in keeping Canada relevant in world affairs. STAFEUR, and the wealth of advice Ford provided Trudeau, demonstrated how experienced diplomats informed the policy decisions set by elected officials.

Robert Ford (seated, third from right) looks on as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meets with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin during his visit to Moscow in 1971. Robert Ford fonds/Library and Archives Canada.

Ford joined the Foreign Service in 1940 and served as Ambassador to Colombia, Yugoslavia, and Egypt before his appointment to the Soviet Union. After Moscow, he maintained his interest in Russia and the Soviet Union. Ford’s expertise was lauded by the editor of Foreign Affairs and sought out by the likes of U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. After his retirement from the Department of External Affairs, Ford acted as Special Advisor on East-West Relations and was a member of the Palme Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues.

Ford was born in Ottawa in 1915. He attended the University of Western Ontario and completed a Master of Arts in history at Cornell. Ford was made a Companion of the Order of Canada for his contributions to Canadian diplomacy and received a Governor General’s Award for his poetry.


Further Reading:

Ford, Robert Arthur Douglas. Our Man in Moscow: A Diplomat’s Reflections on the Soviet Union from Stalin to Brezhnev. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.

Ruud, Charles A. The Constant Diplomat: Robert Ford in Moscow. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.

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