Friday, 14 August 2015

Trading With The Enemy?

Ukraine Doesn't Even Come Close: Soviet troops roll over the Afghan border in late-December 1979. The presence of T-54 tanks on the streets of Kabul was not enough, however, to halt New Zealand's burgeoning trade relationship with the Soviet Union. So keen was the Muldoon Government to keep selling butter to the Reds that the relationship even survived  the SIS catching the Soviet Ambassador passing $10,000 to the Socialist Unity Party!
 
NEW ZEALANDERS like to make fun of their Security Intelligence Service. That an SIS agent’s abandoned briefcase was found to contain a cold meat pie and a hot copy of Penthouse magazine has provided endless fodder for the nation’s satirists. The service’s critics also like to reiterate its agents’ failure to secure a conviction for espionage against William B. Sutch – one of New Zealand’s most distinguished public servants. More latterly, we’ve been encouraged to shake our heads in wonderment at the sort of Cold War madness that could persuade the SIS to keep a file on the mild-mannered Keith Locke – from the age of ten!
 
Largely forgotten amongst all this guffawing and tut-tutting is the occasion when the SIS got it right. When all the weeks of surveillance and electronic eavesdropping actually paid off, and New Zealand’s spooks were able to parade the scalp, not of some lowly Eastern Bloc attaché, but of the Soviet ambassador himself.
 
The so-called “Sofinsky Affair” took place just before Christmas in 1979 and featured the Soviet Ambassador, Vesevelod Sofinksy, caught in the act of handing over $10,000 of “Moscow Gold” to a representative of the Socialist Unity Party. The latter, a Soviet-aligned communist organisation, though small in numbers, wielded considerable influence in the then powerful trade union movement. Sofinsky was the SIS’s biggest “gotcha” by far – a Christmas present wrapped up in the reddest of red ribbons.
 
And yet, the Prime Minister of the day, Rob Muldoon, was troubled. His most obvious course of action was to expel the ambassador for what everybody agreed was an egregious breach of diplomatic protocol. The problem was that, on Christmas Eve 1979, just days after the wildly successful Sofinsky “sting”, Soviet armoured divisions began rolling across the Afghan border.
 
Amidst the outraged protests of the Muslim states, and the teeth-grinding rage of the “Free World”, Prime Minister Muldoon was desperately worried that New Zealand’s expulsion of its Ambassador would be construed by the Soviet Government as an act of exaggerated Cold War fealty. How would the Soviets respond? What would happen to the burgeoning trade relationship between the two countries? What was a delinquent ambassador worth? Hopefully not that much!
 
Muldoon dispatched one of his most trusted advisers, Gerald Hensely, to consult New Zealand’s principal allies on the likely consequences. The [Jimmy] Carter Administration in Washington urged caution, but the British were confident that the most New Zealand had to fear by withdrawing Sofinsky’s diplomatic credentials was that the Soviets would do the same to New Zealand’s ambassador in Moscow.
 
And so it proved. The two states expelled each other’s ambassadors, but took no further action. The shipments of butter and mutton to Russian ports continued uninterrupted – as did the unloading of Russian-made Lada cars at the Auckland docks. Not even the Soviets’ reckless intervention in the internal politics of New Zealand, or the presence of T-54 Russian tanks on the streets of Kabul, was enough to keep the Dairy and Meat Boards’ exports out of the Russian market. Back in 1980, foreign trade was important to New Zealand’s prime minister.
 
Customer? Cartoonist, Malcolm Evans, exposes the hypocrisy of the Muldoon Government's anti-Soviet rhetoric.
 
Is it still? As dairy prices tumble, and the Aussie banks start sharpening their pencils, you might think that New Zealand’s current prime minister, John Key, would be doing everything within his power to move this country’s major exports over the border of any country willing to let them through. Russia is one such country. Her people are hungry for butter, cheese and milk powder, and their government is anxious to supply them. Who, or what, could possibly prevent New Zealand and Russia from taking advantage of this mutually beneficial situation?

The answer, apparently, is exactly the same combination of “allies” who, back in 1980, had no problems at all with New Zealand trading with the Soviet Union. Today, however, the Russian Federation is a “no-go area” for New Zealand exports. Russia could invade Afghanistan in 1979, and not be subjected to trade sanctions. But, in 2014, her defensive annexation of Crimea (which had, up until the mid-1950s, been an integral part of the Russian state) has prompted her Nato enemies to declare Russia’s markets off-limits.
 
Why isn’t our government challenging the EU’s/Nato’s/USA’s right to impose such trade barriers? Time, perhaps, for the SIS to place the American ambassador and the National Party under surveillance?
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 14 August 2015.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

So to be clear , are you supporting the annexation of Crimea and the secession of the eastern Ukrainian regions?

pat said...

If i recall correctly that was about the time the Russians (USSR) defaulted on on a butter deal

peter petterson said...

I always thought the Crimea was traditionally part of Russia too. Let them eat cake, not butter!.

Tiger Mountain said...

It would be interesting to see some evidence for the statement “caught in the act” re the Soviet ambassador, most accounts to this day say “alleged” re the ten grand, and party insiders I spoke to around that time have an interesting take on what transpired when George Jackson met the Soviet Ambassador

the Soviet party did indeed donate money to the SUP but it was in the form of bulk payments in advance for the year of the Tribune, the SUP fortnightly paper which was distributed at CCCP locations

peterlepaysan said...

Since when has Crimea been "an integral part of the Russian State?

Since Stalin brutally evicted the indigenous Mongol inhabitants to slave camps?

How did the Russians lose Crimea as an integral part in the 1950's?

Russia has for centuries been an imperialistic state lusting after warm water ports, at least from Peter the Greats time.

If the (re) annexation of Crimea is defensive (and therefore presumably justifiable) then surely the re annexation of Ukraine is even more justifiable.

Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire long before Crimea was.

Crimean raiding parties into Ukrainian territories irritated the Russian rulers for centuries.

Petersburg was built because the Russians could not break the control of the Crimeans, Turks and other Black Sea neighbours. The subjugated Ukrainians and Don Cossacks were not exactly helpful to Russian rule (hardly surprising).

It is hardly surprising that the Baltic states and Poland are aligning with NATO and beefing up their defence forces.

Maybe some history reading could be in order (heh).

Crimea never has been an integral part of the Russian State it has been (and is) a brutally conquered colony of Moscow.

The only similarity between Crimea "annexation" and Afghanistan "invasion" is the search for a warm water por to support Russian imperialist ambitions.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Our Anti-Russian Commentators.

The Crimea was conquered by the Russian Tsarina, Catherine, in the 18th Century and immediately absorbed into the Russian Empire. Such conquests are never pleasant and the conquered peoples generally lose more than they gain, but History recognises no moral obstacles - as Maori will attest.

And, just to be clear, I would drive Russia's armoured divisions all the way to the River Dnieper and seize all of the Black Sea coast. So, be glad you've got Putin in Moscow - and not Trotsky!

Bushbaptist said...

Can't blame Putin for grabbing Crimea again (Russian Black Sea Fleet Port). And annexing the eastern spots of Ukraine. He wants a buffer from the aggression of NATO on his border as was promised by the powers of Europe. Porochenko is a NATO puppet.

Catherine (who was Austrian BTW) married Tsar Nick who died young and she took over. Drove the Turks out of Kazan and Crimea. At one point the Turks were at the gates of Moscow when she drove them back.

Tsar Peter IX annexed Siberia (and Alaska) and brought it into the Russian Empire. On his travels through Italy he was very impressed by Venice and wanted a similar city in Russia so built Petersburg. He was a relatively small man (160cm tall) with a probable dose of SMS (Short Man's Syndrome) and apparently was a very imposing person. I have visited the cottage (Dacha) where he was born. The Railway line from Moscow to Petersbug is straight except of a diversion in the middle where it circuits a Divorak (Tsar Hunting Lodge).

I spent two years living and working in Russia back in the mid 90's -- fascinating place and I recommend a visit there by anyone interested in European history.

People who criticise Russia for "Empire-Building ignore the fact that the Brits did the same until WW II and the Yanx are doing since.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Lots of places either are or are claimed to be, traditionally part of somewhere else. Doesn't mean to say they should be.

Robert said...

In 1979 the true significance of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was not yet apparent in terms of the fatal cost in lives and money the quagmire would prove for the Soviet Army and Empire or the consequence of the tribal alignments the United States would make in Afghanistan so innocently portrayed in 'Charlie Wilson War' ( I particularly admired the spa bath scene). However President Carter radically changed his policy to seeing the Soviets as a rather more real threat and Australian PM, Malcolm Fraser immediately ordered a fourth and unplanned US Perry class FFG-7 for the RAN. Muldoon of course either officially or by persuasion ended our involvement in the 1980 Moscow Olympics therefore disappointingly ending John Walkers last chance of a 2nd 1500 meters win or podium which would have meant a hell of a lot more at the time.
The Ukraine industry, minerals are very critical to Soviet surface ship construction and the reconstruction of some Russian surface naval capability had bee n greatly restricted by the non availability of supply from the Ukraine. The Black Sea is now the focus of much Soviet naval operation and much of the current Russian submarine building is specifically intended for Black Sea operations. For the USN Navy its cruisers and destroyers are increasingly refitted for ABM and anti satellite ops and the Black Sea is the best place to intercept Soviet and Iranian ballistic missiles particularly ones aimed at Israel. US and UK Naval operations in the Black Sea are restricted to 21 day deployments by treaty and have to of course enter the Black Sea through the Dardanelles and Bosphorous whose narrow and blockable nature is well known to every New Zealander. In 2014 during their strike to take Crimea the Russian Navy indicated its talents for asymentrical war, by blowing up two old cruisers to Block the passage of Ukranian warships.
Russian, Chinese and their Indian allies military and naval capabilities still exist to constitute some sort of a threat, against an ageing US Navy which really requires nuclear deterrent forces for its CVNs to operate. I remain sceptical whether the US could operate its carriers for very long if any attacker did not face the risk of nuclear retaliation, given the massive vulnerability of the carriers to any reliable submarine, and the US Fleet is ageing and the quality of its enlisted men and much of the officers is rather low, as a result of political needs and the deliberate policy of McNamara to abolish conscription and recruit low. The Russians and Chinese crew their submarines with their most capable people where most western navy are inclined to crews subs with the dregs, submarines generally not being very attractive to military elites the Falklands era Royal Navy being an exception.
Auckland and Wellington are very left wing places and NZ has a very left wing culture which was partly disguised by the operations of the NZ military elite in their silent cold war frigates and orions, which seemed an impressive contribution in London and Washington in the 1960s and 1970s but was mainly possible because the RNZN and RNZAF didn't have any local credibility and were a subculture which didn't register in Wellington. In other words the consequences of reopening major trade with the Russians would be serious and very doubtful.

Don Robertson said...

New Zealand, the west and China also supported the Khmer Rouge in the 80's. After the Khmer Rouge's incursions into Vietnam, the Vietnamese - Russia's ally - invaded Cambodia and kicked out the Khmer Rouge.

In order to get back at the Soviets, we were prepared to fund the Khmer Rouge for another decade, fighting the Soviets to the last Cambodian, as it was said at the time.

The Soviets were so bad we would support Pol Pot's genocidal regime. But not so bad we wouldn't take their money.

BTW - didn't we guarantee the Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for dismantling their nukes? So much for western guarantee.

aberfoyle said...

Like to be a follower or be, look at our Kiwi self do number eight wire determination.Don!t see that with our corporations rule of our land as they cowtow to others tell, do that or.See our Prime Minister,with his corporations friends saying we cannot deal with Russia,see our dairy farmers so not walking off the land, but being sold out by bankers profits creed.

China,is starting to farm on areas that borders their borders with the Russian,they are vast farms some 20 thousand milking cows others larger,and China and Russia are going to be doing business,hows our farm fence going to profit from that.Not to worry our corporation fair weather friendly government sees profit in beef farming

Anonymous said...

Wow.
So is it nationalism, or imperialism which is the new left?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

". The Russians and Chinese crew their submarines with their most capable people where most western navy are inclined to crews subs with the dregs, submarines generally not being very attractive to military elites the Falklands era Royal Navy being an exception.:"

Wha'? Citation please.

I suspect this is bullshit. The very nature of submarine service means you cannot staff submarines with the dregs. Often in the submarine service you are the only person, or one of the very few people with the skills needed to do a certain job. You also have to be technically proficient and able to cope with enclosed spaces. The US Navy regard sub Mariners as an elite, and pays them more. So yeah I'm calling bullshit here. Which does bring into question some of your other points whatever they are. And as usual it's difficult to tell.

Victor said...

Bushbaptist

There's a few things wrong with your history.

"Catherine the Great" wasn't Austrian. She was Pomeranian, from the Protestant North-East of Germany and , hence, considered marriageable to a Russian Orthodox prince, the way that a Catholic Hapsburg would not have been.

Secondly, her husband was Peter III and not Nicholas the anything. There was never again a Tsar Peter, let alone a Peter IX, whilst Kazan had been incorporated into Russia approximately two centuries before Catherine took the throne, in the reign of Ivan IV (remembered, not without reason, as "Ivan the Terrible").

St Petersburg was built by Peter II (aka "Peter the Great"), who is unlikely to have suffered from Short Man Syndrome, as he was 6 ft 8 in (which I think equates to over 200 cm) in height. Much of Siberia was under Russian rule by his reign (1682 to 1725) but Alaska wasn't formally incorporated into the Russian Empire till nearly a century later.

Finally, the Turks (as opposed to the Mongols or Tartars) never came anywhere remotely close to taking Moscow or anywhere of significance in Central Russia and most certainly not in the reign of Catherine.

I doubt whether, given your chosen moniker, you had consumed much vodka at the time of imbibing so much misinformation. But perhaps your interlocutors had.
I hope it was a good brand.

Chris

Why are you such a staunch Russophile? I'm not seeking to score points. I'm genuinely interested.

Personally, I like the Russians, appreciate how much they've suffered from foreign invasions but am also aware of their own rather extensive record of 'defensive' invasions.

Don't you think that, whatever friends they choose and whatever the political complexions of their governments, Russia's former subject peoples have a right to self-determination within internationally agreed frontiers, irrespective of which group of sods ruled a specific sod of earth at some arbitrarily determined time in the past?

Moreover, don't you think that treaty obligations, freely entered into, need to be honoured and upheld by the international community, if chaos is not to come again?

Having said which, I agree with you that New Zealand should be seeking to trade more with Russia at this point. Our economy is in a parlous state and we can't afford to be too sniffy. But I think it would then be realistic to offer the US a quid pro quo, possibly in the form of an enhanced military commitment in Iraq.

That doesn't mean that I think the US is doing anything particularly sensible,ethical or useful in the Middle East. It's just that we need powerful friends and we don't want to be in a position where our only powerful friends are in Beijing, although we need friends there as well.

greywarbler said...

Thanks Chris a subject under hot discussion.

A rag in Britain is quoting a RW think tank talking up Russian aggressive moves against NATO. Makes a good headline for them, in place of one about some politician's S&M or brown paper-bagging.

And good info, experience and anecdotes about Russia. Just a request though to Peterlepaysan - those spaced one line sentences don't lend themselves to quick understanding. Perhaps some could join into paragraphs.
And what is unreasonable about Russia needing warm water ports. They would be essential for a fully-functioning country and its defence capabilities.

greywarbler said...

This is the inflammatory headline in the Brit media I referred to.
The headline is: ' Russia ‘preparing for war’ against Britain and Nato as Ukraine conflict escalates'
http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/597746/russia-nato-war-michael-fallon-ukraine

Victor said...

Chris

A further thought.

No-one in their right mind would confuse you with Lev Davidovitch

He was a life-long critic of 'Great Russian Chauvinism' and, what's more, was the guy who handed Ukraine over to Austria-Hungary.

Chris Trotter said...

It's a nick-name, Victor.

What else would his left-wing friends call someone named Trotter?

Oh, and I'm a Russophile because the Russian people saved Western civilisation.

Simple really.

Nick J said...

Im with Chris about the Russians saving Western civilisation over the long term. They not only defeated European fascism but also drove their armies to Paris in 1814 to remove the militant French domination of the continent. One Tsar is regarded as a saint in the Balkans for removing the Turks: there is a school of thought that Russian pressure saved Europe from Ottoman westward expansion.

We are not taught the foundation principle of German history which is defensive to the west whilst aggressively expansionist and genocidal to the Slavic east. The Russians have constantly faced this across the Slavic borderlands.

If you are a Russian you most likely have a cultural knowledge of western aggression. Having a former province now on your border militarised by the West would not bode well.

How I ask do the West remember the Cuban missile crisis? How many know the back story of the US missiles aimed at Russia from Turkey that Kruschev could find no other way to remove?

The Russians are not angels: with devils surrounding them who would be?

Bushbaptist said...

You're right in the most part Victor. I confused Catherine with Victoria (Queen Vic's daughter who married Nic the Last). She was born in a village near Vienna which I understood to be Austria. She and her family moved to Pomerania later. She was Protestant which may have been the reason for the move.

As for Peter's stature, he may have been tall as you say but all the pictures of him show him to be short. And the cottage he lived in was definitely a place for a short man with the doorways barely 5' high.

The Tatars etc. were under the control of the Turks and are referred to there as 'Turks' by the Russians. They were of mixed ethnicity.

It's curious how people refer to Russian in a derogatory manner when they want space from outside invaders but don't criticise the Yanx for doing exactly the same for resources.

I agree with Chris; Russia saved our civilisation and considerable destruction to their country. I suggest that you visit Borodino about 60Km south of Moscow, the battlefield where Napoleon and The Nazis met their demise, It's a sobering place worthy of any images we see of Flanders. The battlefield has been left as a shrine to all that fought and died there with shell holes and trenches much as they were at the time.

Charles E said...

That Russia saved our civilisation (inadvertently of course: they did not fight for us) is arguable but the contrary is equally arguable, by which I mean that Russia nearly lost our civilisation by their pact with Hitler which allowed him to gather forces to expand east as well as west. Russia was fine with Hitler occupying western Europe. They had plenty in common with him, until he turned on them.
And it is also arguable that the US taking over from Britain and friends saved civilisation too and would have saved Russia as well if the Nazis had defeated it plus Europe. They would have used the bomb.

But your argument about trade is a good one. We have 'free' trade with China which is a disgusting totalitarian monster we delight in selling our fine products too so we should ignore other peoples embargoes or sell only to the pure, ie no-one. Which is what some of the anti TPP crowd think while enjoying their standard of living which entirely depends on trade, often with bastards. So Russian bastards are as good as any.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Cottages tended to have small doors years ago. Beds were short and narrow often too. :-)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

This is a nice take on the Republican Party debates. This is what we're up against.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIPUDtA7tWw&feature=youtu.be

Peggy Klimenko said...

I chuckled at the Evans cartoon; I remember seeing that at the time it was first published.

I note that one of the epithets Muldoon flings at the Russian bear is "revisionist!". There's a bit of that going on with regard to the Crimea, I've noticed, driven, as far as I've been able to tell, by the US and its various mouthpieces.
So: in the interests of accuracy, Crimea seceded,following a referendum. The annexation by Russia happened AFTER the referendum, not before. Turnout was 83%, the vote in favour of secession was 97%. Following the overwhelming vote to secede, the Crimean government formally requested that Russia annexe the area. The referendum wasn't held at gunpoint, despite desperate attempts by commentators in NZ to so characterise it at the time. This was the third time in just over 20 years that Crimeans had voted to decamp from the Ukraine; this time, they made sure that it happened.
Crimea was given to the Ukraine by Nikita Krushchev in 1954. The people had no say in the matter, of course; such large-scale gestures are the privilege of dictators. No thought for the consequences. But one of those consequences was the determined attempts by Crimeans from the time of independence to decouple their territory from that of Ukraine.
In our view, the Key government's decision to halt FTA negotiations with Russia in 2014 was completely bizarre and wrong-headed. As one member of this household remarked at the time, the government did this to please the US, which will put a man on Jupiter before it'll give us a free trade deal with any tangible benefits to this country. For sheer, blind stupidity and cutting off nose-ery, this takes the biscuit. You gotta weep...

@ Charles E: "And it is also arguable that the US taking over from Britain and friends saved civilisation too and would have saved Russia as well if the Nazis had defeated it plus Europe."
The Allies could not have defeated the Wehrmacht at the time of the Normandy invasion, had it not been for the Red Army tying the Germans up (and down) in the east. Chris and others are right about this: the effect of the Red Army's offensive was to save Western civilisation, even if one could argue that it wasn't Stalin's intention.

Back to revisionism: said family member has also remarked - with regard to the many ways adduced above in which Russia has saved Western civilisation - that in a few years, the textbooks will be telling us that the Ukrainians did all that. Given the propaganda campaign being waged by US and NATO over what's going on there, it's not a completely loony proposition.

Anonymous said...

different Russians though.

Putin's Russia is hardly a socialist state in the making.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Thank you Charles for your insight into the anti-TBP "crowd", and for so casually dismissing our concerns and misinterpreting them. I presume you have evidence of the way we think? Because no one I know actually thinks that way. As they say on American news sites "citation needed."

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's too simplistic to say that Russia defeated the Germans. It's far too complicated to make a bald statement like that.

Chris Trotter said...

I'm sorry, GS, but who else can claim that honour? Certainly not the UK and the USA, who came with too little - and much too late - to affect the outcome of the war.

All you need do is count the divisions deployed for D-Day and then compare that number with the Soviet total on the Eastern Front. The great victories of the war: Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk and Berlin were all Russian - against which Allied victories like El Alamein and the Battle of the Bulge can only rank as minor skirmishes.

The Cold War required the subtle blanking-out of the Soviet contribution to the defeat of fascism. I well remember the shock experienced by a young member of the Nuclear-Free NZ movement, back in the 1980s, when I told her that 20 million Russians had perished at the hands of the Nazis.

The truth of the matter is expressed best in the final verse of the Soviet national anthem:

We fought for the future, destroyed the invaders,
And brought to our homeland the laurels of fame.
Our glory will live in the memory of nations
And all generations will honour her name.

Everything else, GS, is revisionism and spin.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sorry Chris, but it is indeed not that simple. Perhaps you should read this, which is still an oversimplification.
https://orangeraisin.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/did-the-red-army-defeat-the-third-reich/

Two examples of where you oversimplify perhaps.
Firstly Russian divisions were smaller than Western divisions. You need to look at the total numbers of troops. Still more Russians, but as I said oversimplification.
You also perhaps need to look at the strategic bombing campaign, which for all its faults, did transfer resources from ground troops to air defence, particularly anti-aircraft guns, which make excellent anti-tank guns.

Grant said...

molotov-ribbentrop pact...

Stalin and the USSR were quite prepared to watch Nazi Germany and it's partners knock the shite out of 'western civilization' as long as they got a bite of the apple (Poland) and were left alone by the new Reich to develop there own hegemony in the east. If Hitler & co. hadn't broken the pact and attacked Russia do you think Russia would have fired a single shot in defence of the 'west'.

Grant said...

@Chris "I told her that 20 million Russians had perished at the hands of the Nazis."

I know you use "Russian" as shorthand for citizens of any of the States of the USSR, but it is as well to be clear that of the approximately 26 million Soviet deaths, nearly 7 million were Ukranian (16.3% of population) nearly 2.3 million were Belarussian (25.3% of their population) and nearly 14 million were actually Russian (12.7% of population). It would also be interesting to know what percentage of that total was caused by Soviet internal terrorism and enforcement by agencies such as the NKVD as well as the simply ruthless and careless throwing away of civilian and military lives by the Stalinist regime in general.

All this without even getting into the casualties amongst military and civilian populations during The Great Terror and other lesser purges within the pre 1939 borders of the USSR.

Victor said...

Bushbaptist

You’ve actually confused Catherine with Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Alix of Hesse- Darmstadt, who became the Tsarina Alexandra. One of her many other names was Viktoria but that's not how she's known to history.

She was born, as you would expect, in Darmstadt, which is nowhere near either Vienna or Pomerania and she grew up mainly in England. And, of course, she was born two and a half centuries after Catherine. So you really have to work hard to confuse the two.

As to Peter II’s height, it was universally remarked upon and no more a matter for doubt than the girth of Henry VIII in middle age, Theodore Herzl's beard or the fact that Napoleon wore a hat that stretched from right to left instead of back to front.

It may be that some Russians talk of the Tartars as Turks. If so, this may say something about Russian racial attitudes.

As mentioned earlier, the Tartar stronghold of Kazan came under Russian rule two centuries before Catherine’s reign but it’s certainly true that some Tartar tribes were involved in Pugachev’s rebellion and that the rebels and Catherine's forces fought a major battle at Kazan.

However, the Pugachev rebellion (a huge peasant rising) was essentially an intra-Russian and intra-Cossack affair. So, at best, amidst the mythology that seems to cloud your mind, you’ve glimpsed one small smidgen of half truth, albeit ‘through a glass darkly’. Was it a good thing that Catherine won and shored up serfdom? You tell me.

Similarly, you tell me if you think it was a good thing that the Russians and their weather defeated Napoleon in 1812, thus laying the ground for half a century of political reaction and repression across much of Europe, often enforced by Nicholas I's cossacks?

And, by the way, I too tend to agree with Chris that the Soviet armed forces saved civilization in World War Two.

Of course, many of the men and women involved were from the non-Russian nationalities of the USSR, including none less than Marshall Konstantin Rokossovsky, who was half Polish and half Belarusian. But I’d also agree that the Russians made by far the biggest numerical contribution, reflecting the size of their population.

It’s also the case that the Soviets were very dependent on British and (later on) American arms supplies. Even as early as the Battle of the Gates of Moscow in late 1941, around half the tanks were of UK manufacture. In the US, 'Rosie the Riveter' was rightly lauded for her contribution to the common victory

Where I would differ from Chris, though, is that he seems to think that past Russian heroism and sacrifice should give the Russian state a free pass and justify just about any steps to defend (and, if need be, extend) the frontiers of the Motherland, even against the least substantial of threats.

Chris

I, of course, know it’s a nickname.

But you’re sounding more like Tukhachevsky than his even more notable predecessor.

Peggy Klimenko said...

"The Cold War required the subtle blanking-out of the Soviet contribution to the defeat of fascism."

Indeed. We in the post-War West were comprehensively propagandised in respect of the Soviet Union. And it continues to the present day. The end of the Cold War, and the resulting loss of the USSR as an adversary, left the US without a military purpose. As a consequence, it has, through NATO, done everything possible to force a confrontation with Russia. Fomenting the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected government of the Ukraine was just the most recent attempt.

"I well remember the shock experienced by a young member of the Nuclear-Free NZ movement, back in the 1980s, when I told her that 20 million Russians had perished at the hands of the Nazis."

My extended family has direct experience of this. It's certainly not nearly as well-known as the tragedy of the Jews of Europe. But it explains the Russian fear of the rise of Ukrainian Fascism, which has been supported by NATO and the US in recent times. Their concern is well-founded.

Victor said...

Nothing in my previous post is intended to diminish the amazing Soviet achievement in relocating and rebuilding the USSR's armament and other industries behind the Urals after the shock of Barbarossa.

The Soviets went on to produce some highly effective weaponry, particularly rockets and tanks, and very successfully adopted US mass production techniques with interchangeable parts etc.

They would not have won without these weapons but, equally, they probably would not have won without the weapons provided by their allies and delivered to them at a huge cost in lives amongst merchant seaman and their naval escorts.

My impression (and it's only an impression) is that older Russians understand this and respect the memory of those who perished in the cold seas to and from Murmansk.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The weapons sent by the West to Russia had a minimal effect on their participation in the war. The tanks were inferior, and the planes tended to be too complex to maintain properly and not suited to the weather conditions in winter. What made the difference basically was food, and trucks. Without those, particularly trucks, the Russian army would have hardly been able to move. Even so, they hardly made the dashing long distance advances made by the Germans, the Americans or even the British.
A friend of mine's father drove a Sherman tank all over Italy, and several others drove British tanks. They were pretty scathing of British and American tank design, and I was watching a documentary recently where some old guy claimed that the tank manufacturers, who allegedly received medals after the war – well – let's put it this way - they shouldn't have.
And it's true that the Russians do appreciate this. My father received a Russian medal for convoy PQ 19. It was certainly a damned sight easier to get than the British one which was issued about six months before he died, but they made it so complicated to get we were never able to get it for him before he passed away. - Fuck 'em.

But the whole idea of who won the war is sort of academic and ridiculous to be honest – sorry Chris – it basically ignores the Japanese, against whom approximately 26 million soldiers fought. And without which the United States and Commonwealth would have had millions more troops to contribute to Western Europe. It ignores the contribution of the Chinese, who tied up a million or so Japanese troops. It ignores the necessity to build a huge Navy for the Pacific war which tied down a lot of American industrial capacity which would have been better used making decent tanks for Western Europe and so on and so on. It's just not a simple question.

Peggy Klimenko said...

@ Victor: "Nothing in my previous post is intended to diminish the amazing Soviet achievement in relocating and rebuilding the USSR's armament and other industries behind the Urals after the shock of Barbarossa.The Soviets went on to produce some highly effective weaponry, particularly rockets and tanks, and very successfully adopted US mass production techniques with interchangeable parts etc."

A relative worked in armaments manufacture; the large-scale relocation of those industries after Barbarossa was an astonishing feat. It was very hard on the workers, though: face being "scorched-earthed" to an area very far from home and family, or the firing squad.

@ Guerilla Surgeon:"But the whole idea of who won the war is sort of academic and ridiculous to be honest..."

No it isn't. You're quite right about all the other areas of conflict tying up Allied troops. But that doesn't diminish in any way the decisive role played by the Red Army in defeating the Germans, and the terrible price paid by Soviet citizens for victory. Chris is right: that Soviet accomplishment - and the debt we all owe to them - was elided post-War from the WW2 narrative, as the US and other Western polities pursued the new Cold War narrative.

It matters now, because we need to be able to see Cold War propaganda for what it was. And when we're alert to it, we can see US and NATO intervention in the Ukraine for the shabby little enterprise that it is.

Victor said...

GS

David Edgerton would probably agree with you over the significance of other World War Two fronts but not over the quality of British weaponry. Either way, I think you'd enjoy his book, "Britain's War Machine", if you haven't already read it:

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1114


Peggy

Welcome back. Many of us have long known about the extent of Soviet loss and achievement in World War Two. It's just not, to my mind, a "clincher" on every single issue connected with Russia and its "near abroad", although, clearly, traumatic memories play their role in complicating such issues and are easily manipulated by the power hungry of all political complexions.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Not to deny that the Soviets' contribution to defeating Hitler was minimised in the past, or the sacrifices they made. But saying they won the war is academic and somewhat frivolous. Frankly they wouldn't have won it without Western aid. They probably would have starved. If only because they had to choose between tractors and trucks. And as I said before it's a very, very complicated thing, and I suspect people's attitude depends more on their emotions than their reason. This argument has been going on for years, and I investigated it years ago as a student at Massey. For every argument there is a counter argument, and it all becomes too convoluted for a person with no dog in the fight to make up their mind :-)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Dammit forgot to say – it wasn't today's Russians that saved Western civilisation anyway. Putin's Russia is closer to fascism than socialism let's face it.

Grant said...

I can't pretend to be as knowledgeable as some other commenters here, but I think I've read enough to feel secure in suggesting that the USSR under Stalin was a totalitarian dictatorship every bit as murderous and dangerous as Hitlers fascist enterprise. As I suggested above, the USSR in 1941 (which does not equal the modern Russian Federation), did not fight for OUR freedom and values. It fought an existential battle with an opposing totalitarian regime for its OWN survival and there is a very good chance that having mopped up the Nazis, the red army which had 13 million men under arms would have pressed the relatively much less powerful Allied forces back to the Atlantic seaboard if it hadn't been for the threat of a nuclear deterrent.

Charles E said...

I'm impressed with some of the knowledge you guys have to contribute to this interesting debate. Masters in WWII history abound.

What about intelligence? Was it not the case that the Allies brilliance here was vital to defeating the Nazis? Did they not manage to delay Hitler's attack on Russia a bit so he got caught by deadly winter weather which then helped Russia's massive effort to defeat him? Or is this fiction?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The British obviously broke the German codes in a sustained way, through Bletchley. The Americans broke the Japanese codes as did the British. Advanced knowledge of what was going on was often very handy. The Russians had a spy in the top echelons of the German Armed Forces, and of course had infiltrated British intelligence with upper-class communists :-). The Japanese and the Germans didn't have nearly the same success.

Peggy Klimenko said...

@ Victor: "Welcome back. Many of us have long known about the extent of Soviet loss and achievement in World War Two. It's just not, to my mind, a "clincher" on every single issue connected with Russia and its "near abroad", although, clearly, traumatic memories play their role in complicating such issues and are easily manipulated by the power hungry of all political complexions."

Thanks, Victor. I'm not sure that it's so widely known as to challenge people's views on the Soviets. And the persistence of Cold War - and post-Cold War - propaganda distorts perspectives, both on the Soviet role in WW2, and on what's happening in the Ukraine. I've just heard a TV news presenter assert again that Putin "seized" Crimea, despite evidence to the contrary reported at the time. This kind of unreflective revisionism is pervasive, but is very difficult to challenge.

I wouldn't want to suggest that Russia should be given a free pass over everything that's happened in the Ukraine, for instance. But I believe that the effects of propaganda mean that whatever it does or doesn't do is interpreted and reported negatively, whereas the US and NATO do get a free pass. Suggestions that news outlets could go to Russian sources for a countervailing view of what's happening there are brushed off with the claim that they're biased, or just a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. Do people seriously believe that they're getting unbiased reports from CNN or the BBC?

The thing about the Red Army victory over the Nazis is that all the other negative stuff people adduce about the USSR - murderous dictatorship, the deaths and disappearances of the Terror, and all the rest of it - is true, but it's irrelevant. Of course those soldiers were fighting to defeat the invaders: we would do the same. And none of them would have had highfalutin thoughts about saving any civilisation other than their own: such judgements can only be made after the event, in any case.


@ Charles E: "What about intelligence? Was it not the case that the Allies brilliance here was vital to defeating the Nazis? Did they not manage to delay Hitler's attack on Russia a bit so he got caught by deadly winter weather which then helped Russia's massive effort to defeat him? Or is this fiction?"

You're right: it's fiction, and a neat example of the way in which the winner has rewritten the story of victory. The attack could not have happened earlier than June in any event, because the airbases to support it were not completed until then, and because time was needed for the spring mud to clear. Allied intelligence at that stage wasn't equal to that sort of interference.




Peggy Klimenko said...

@ Grant: "....there is a very good chance that having mopped up the Nazis, the red army which had 13 million men under arms would have pressed the relatively much less powerful Allied forces back to the Atlantic seaboard if it hadn't been for the threat of a nuclear deterrent."


Stalin could have ordered his troops to do as you suggest, yet he did not. But unless his intelligence was very slick, it wasn't the nuclear threat that stopped him. The Red Army had entered Berlin by mid-April 1945, and the Germans surrendered in early May, but the bombing of Hiroshima wasn't until early August. Even the Manhattan Project's successful test in New Mexico wasn't until July of that year.

Grant said...

@Peggy. " But unless his intelligence was very slick, it wasn't the nuclear threat that stopped him."

From Wikipedia's article entitled Nuclear Arms Race referring to Stalins briefing about the new nuclear weapons at the Potsdam conference: "When President Truman informed Stalin of the weapons, he was surprised at how calmly Stalin reacted to the news and thought that Stalin had not understood what he had been told. Other members of the United States and British delegations who closely observed the exchange formed the same conclusion.
In fact Stalin had long been aware of the program, despite the Manhattan Project having a secret classification so high that, even as Vice President, Truman did not know about it or the development of the weapons (Truman was not informed until shortly after he became president). A ring of spies operating within the Manhattan Project, (including Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall) had kept Stalin well informed of American progress. They provided the Soviets with detailed designs of the implosion bomb and the hydrogen bomb."

Anonymous said...

even if you associate all soviet citizens only with Russia, in order to make this ridiculous claim that modern Russia is entitled to seize the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

to argue that they can do so because they beat the Germans, is no different from arguing that the Americans should be supported in Vietnam because of D-Day.

Grant said...

@Chris. "Oh, and I'm a Russophile because the Russian people saved Western civilisation."

Except for that fairly large chunk of it in central and eastern Europe which they pretty much didn't save.. Do you think Stalin wouldn't have dearly loved to have rolled the rest of Europe and the UK if he thought he could get away with it? I'm with GS on this one. If Germany hadn't had to contend with the Allies in the West, hadn't had their dams and factories in the Ruhr bombed to buggery, hadn't had the Luftwaffe ground down to the point where it couldn't maintain air superiority in the east etc etc, do you think it might have been just a bit harder for the Soviets who were being supplied by the Allies with food, trucks etc to hold them off?

Victor said...

Grant

Whilst Stalinism was an obscene phenomenon, Nazism was a whole lot worse.

That's not just a matter of comparative "body counts". It's also a matter of what Hitler, Himmler et al had in mind for the places they'd conquered.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody's ever seen a certified copy of the SS "Generalplan Ost" but we know enough about it to understand that it involved at least a hundred million additional(mainly but not exclusively Russian)civilian deaths, as well as the expulsion eastwards or reduction to perpetual slavery of much of the remaining population of Eastern Europe.

Part of the terrible irony of World War Two is that we Westerners owe our freedom in no small part to the triumph of Soviet arms but that the Russians themselves (and the nations around them )had to endure decades of further tyranny, albeit in a modified form once Stalin died.

Yet most Soviet citizens had survived and they were able to rebuild their country. Far too many ended up in the Gulags. But far more came home from the most terrible of all wars, perhaps to the arms of their sweethearts, as serving men and women were doing the world over.

When they married, they laid flowers on the gigantic monuments to their fallen comrades and, on Victory Day, they stood tall in their baggy suits, frumpy dresses and newly polished medals, their often prematurely aged faces smiling broadly as the little children (whom Hitler had intended should never be born) marched past in their red kerchiefs, singing banal lyrics about "Mother Russia and Father Stalin".

It wasn't an ideal outcome. But it was, so obviously, a whole heap better than the only possible alternative.

Peggy

I'll take some convincing that the Cold War was wholly the fault of the West or that the BBC is necessarily less reliable than 'Russia Today'.

But those, alas, are arguments for another day, as my physio has ordered me to spend less time on the computer.

Peggy Klimenko said...

@ Grant: " A ring of spies operating within the Manhattan Project, (including Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall) had kept Stalin well informed of American progress. They provided the Soviets with detailed designs of the implosion bomb and the hydrogen bomb."

Given that state of affairs, Stalin might well have gambled that his troops could risk making a run for the Atlantic before the US could get its resources together - even if it had had the stomach for dropping one of those things anywhere in Europe or the USSR. In this household, our view is that Stalin would have pursued that strategy, had he seen it as being in Soviet interests. Evidently he did not.

@ Anonymous: " in order to make this ridiculous claim that modern Russia is entitled to seize the Crimea and eastern Ukraine."

I don't think anyone here has made such a claim. But your comment neatly illustrates my beef with propaganda, as expressed above. I repeat: the Crimea seceded, as was reported - even by such as CNN and the BBC - at the time. Crimea was given to the Ukraine in 1954 by Krushchev, and since independence, Crimeans have attempted twice before to decouple their territory from the Ukraine. In 2014, their third attempt, they made sure that it happened.

With regard to Eastern Ukraine, citizens there certainly want to decouple from the Ukraine. Unsurprising when one looks at the nature of the government in Kiev. But it seems that Russia isn't interested in annexing the area. I suggest that you go read Russian news websites and blogsites for a dissenting view from that proffered by NATO and US mouthpieces such as CNN and the BBC.