Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

Kommersant on Russian Arms Imports

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Kommersant is usually a quite good newspaper, but published an article on Russian military purchases abroad that makes a serious historical mistake (partial English version here). Ivan Safronov is the reporter, but may not be responsible for the error. The article as a whole is an excellent survey of the issues surrounding the import of munitions, but its teaser paragraph claims “For the first time in the history of the Russian military, it had begun the purchase of weapons abroad.”

This neglects, of course, the imperial Russian army’s extensive purchases of weapons, particularly during World War I. It neglects the extensive Soviet purchase of systems, models and designs from abroad during the interwar period. The Soviet tank industry, for example, was essentially founded on designs from Vickers, Carden-Loyd, and Christie: the T-26, the T-27, and the BT series. And, of course, the Soviet Union used Western weaponry extensively during World War II as part of Lend-Lease.

In an accompanying survey of expert opinion, the Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen quite rightly points to World War I and Lend-Lease, though not the interwar period closest to my heart. Sergei Maev, though, claimed that “During the First World War, tsarist Russia paid in gold for ten million rifles, but the rifles never reached our borders until the end of the Civil War.” In actual fact, looking just at the United States (I don’t have figures for other suppliers at hand), Russia ordered 3.6 million rifles, and had 400,000 delivered by the February Revolution. While I would never claim that as a sterling performance by American industry, it’s a long way from nothing. Maev, who’s head of DOSAAF, Russia’s chief voluntary organization supporting the military, and a former director of Rosoboronzakaz, really ought to know better.

Alert the media? Not so much.

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

UPDATE: The pummeling continues. At an LSE blog, Artemy Kalinovsky reiterates the problems with Stroilov and Berlinsky’s overblown claims. He adds an additional point: what will the reaction of Russian archivists be to people bragging of sneaking documents out of Russia? Most likely, banning scanners, closing off collections, treating foreign scholars with even more suspicion.
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UPDATE: Ron Radosh, whose anti-communist credentials are not exactly open to question, does a thorough demolition job on Berlinsky, Bukovsky, and Stroilov. Ouch. Hat tip to Tom Nichols for the pointer.
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Claire Berlinsky, writing in the City Journal, has asked why more people aren’t paying attention to revelations from the Soviet archives. She presents two individuals who smuggled documents out of the Soviet Union. One of them, Vladimir Bukovsky, has at least posted his documents online so that people can see for themselves what kind of material he’s got available.

The other person Berlinsky mentions, Pavel Stroilov, hasn’t put any of his material on the web, at least as far as I’ve been able to find. But as Berlinsky presents his claims, he’s got lots of terrific and untapped documents, like Georgii Shakhnazarov’s Politburo minutes and Anatolii Cherniaev’s diaries. Here’s the problem: a 700-page book in Russian has been published, based on those Politburo minutes from Shakhnazarov and others. Cherniaev’s diaries were published in the journal Novaia i noveishchaia istoriia, and are even available in English. They aren’t exactly tough to find–type “Cherniaev diaries” into google and see what pops up.

So at least some of the hot, secret material Berlinsky says Stroilov possesses is neither hot nor secret, and representing it as hot and secret is misleading. It’s tough to know whether Berlinsky or Stroilov is responsible. Berlinsky herself admits she doesn’t know any Russian.

The next big problem is that in many cases, Stroilov is pushing on an open door, and Berlinsky seems simply unaware of what scholars have known for quite some time. For example, Stroilov’s documents on German reunification (as presented in late 2009) show that Margaret Thatcher didn’t want to see it happen. Of course, that’s the same conclusion established by more or less all the scholars who’ve worked on the subject, including most notably Philip Zelikow and the hardly obscure Condoleezza Rice, who showed quite conclusively in 1997 in Germany Unified and Europe Transformed that France and Britain opposed German unification and only strong efforts by Helmut Kohl and George Bush the elder made it happen. Helmut Kohl himself in his memoirs, published four years before Stroilov’s big unveiling, said exactly the same thing.

Berlinsky says Stroilov’s documents describe “most shockingly” that Francois Mitterand wanted a socialist Germany under French and Soviet domination. Since Mitterand was a socialist, and French politicians since de Gaulle have wanted to see Germany under French domination, I don’t see how this qualifies as shocking.

Last, it’s clear that Berlinsky is writing with a particular political agenda–to discredit the European left, question European unification, and cast doubt on the continental European social model while at the same time pummeling the dead horse of Communism. I don’t have any problem with that. My problem comes when pursuing that political aim results in doing violence to historical perspective. One example: Berlinsky finds it scandalous that Joaquin Almunia, current member of the European Commission, was strongly opposed to Ukrainian independence. Know who else was opposed to Ukrainian independence? George Bush the elder.

The Baltics and Geopolitics

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Russian Front Commenter mab asked about a recent document release from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) on the Baltics in World War II.

I’ve finally had time to do a first read of the documents to see what I think they’re intended to show and what they actually do show.  The collection is entitled “The Baltics and Geopolitics” (Pribaltika i geopolitika), available in three parts on the SVR website, at present only in Russian.

No question that this release is connected to the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (early in the morning of August 24, 1939), and not surprisingly Russia’s SVR is releasing this document collection in an effort to shape interpretations of the events of 1939-1941.  This fits quite well, at least in the SVR’s public spin on the documents, with Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev’s efforts to fight what he sees as falsification of the Soviet Union’s role in World War II, efforts that I’ve discussed extensively at the Russian Front, most recently here and here.

According to the SVR, the documents reveal that the Soviet Union had no choice but to enter Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, that Britain and France had abandoned any possible alliance with the USSR, and the alliance with Hitler was necessary to prevent German takeover of the Baltic states.

The document collection is quite interesting, but what it tells us is not what we’re told it tells us.  The conclusion that the Soviet Union was forced into an alliance with Nazi Germany simply does not follow from the evidence presented.  It reminds me of Emile Faguet’s parody of Plato (hilariously funny if you’re read the Republic–trust me):

“The whole is greater than the part?”
“Surely.”
“And the part is less than the whole?”
“Yes.”
“Therefore clearly philosophers should rule the state.”
“What?”
“It is evident; let us go over it again.” (Hat tip: Will Durant)

While the documents don’t quite hold up to the weight put upon them, what we do learn is nonetheless quite significant.

Most of the pre-war documentation is either Soviet intelligence reports on the policies of the Baltic states, or actual government documents from the Baltic states.  It’s not surprising that the Soviets would have Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian documents, since they occupied those states and could comb their archives at leisure.  What’s striking, though, is that the Soviets seem to have had a VERY good agent in the Finnish foreign ministry, who got them lots of Finnish diplomatic documents in something like real time.  The actual Finnish documents include Soviet cover letters from the time; the Estonian documents, by contrast, have no accompanying covers that would indicate that the Soviets had access to them in 1938-1939 (doc. 26, for example), and so the Estonian documents were likely obtained after occupation.

The actual content of those early documents hits on a number of themes, many but not all of which fit comfortably with current Russian political priorities.  These include German commercial penetration of the Baltic, pro-German attitudes among large segments of the population, and anti-Soviet views, at least in Estonia and Latvia.  The implicit message here that the SVR would like us to take away is that Soviet occupation of the Baltics prevented them from becoming German satellites.  Maybe–one could just as easily argue that the Soviet threat pushed the Baltics toward Germany.

The oddity here is Lithuania–Russia today would probably prefer to paint all the Baltics with a single Nazi-sympathizer brush, but Lithuania followed a somewhat different line.  It shared no border with the Soviet Union, and was quite nervous about Poland, both of which made it more friendly to the USSR.  That didn’t make any difference–it got swallowed up like the others.

There’s an awful lot of documentation of the sovietization of the Baltics.  Two things strike me here.  First, we have a mental picture of the Soviet takeover as a sharp break: the Soviets move in, and everything changes instantaneously.  The process was, in fact, longer and more complex, as the documents show.  Second, the fact that the process of sovietization was not instantaneous makes it much like the later sovietization of Eastern Europe.   A comparative analysis of the process of Soviet takeover in the Baltics 1939-1941 and the Soviet takeover in Eastern Europe 1945-1948 would be quite interesting–twisting and complex paths to a foreordained outcome.

One of the things that’s most striking to me about the documents is what’s not included.  Nearly two-thirds of the documentation comes AFTER 22 June 1941, when the really significant part of the story is over.  There’s much less than I would have liked to see on the key 1939-1941 period.

Most strikingly, and I find this utterly staggering, is that there are NO documents on the period from July 1940 to November 1941.  One or two important things happen in there, but this publication tells us nothing.  If I were Viktor Suvorov (though I’m not), I would be jumping up and down and pointing to this omission as evidence of something to hide: namely Soviet intent to launch aggressive war in 1941.

Designing America’s Russian Policy

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Those interested in American policy toward the Russian Federation may want to investigate the new website “Designing U.S. Policy Toward Russia.” Sponsored by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences with support from the Carnegie Corporation, “Designing U.S. Policy Toward Russia” is part of a larger initiative aimed at “develop[ing] a comprehensive, coherent, and effective policy on U.S.-Russian relations for consideration by the new U.S. administration.”

The website’s primary feature is a “Strategic Assessment” PowerPoint presentation which analyzes Russia’s current (and potential) place within the U.S. foreign policy agenda, challenges facing the countries’ bilateral relationship, and specific recommendations for how to structure and conduct a high-level strategic dialogue. Members of the project’s Steering Committee invite feedback from informed readers and will aim to answer as many questions as possible. (Responses will be posted to the project’s blog available via a link from the project’s main page.)

In addition to the “Strategic Assessment,” the site provides a number of recent reports regarding current thinking about the U.S.-Russian relationship. Additional reports will be made available as they are completed.