Kremlinology

What Maisky Knew

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In the November 21 issue of The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed The Maisky Diaries, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. This fine volume covers the personal writings of Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom during the critical period of 1932 to 1943. Here’s a bit of my judgment of the man:

In the 1930s, British foreign policy was still a matter of balancing the continental powers, particularly France and Germany; and if we avoid the arrogance that hindsight can bring, we should also remember that Neville Chamberlain genuinely thought he was securing a course for peace in Europe. Britain knew how weak its armed forces were—its army, especially—and this knowledge, as Lloyd George told Maisky, was doubtless a factor in Chamberlain’s “deal” with Hitler at Munich.

Maisky, however, had nothing but contempt for such calculations, coming across at certain times here as a kind of thirties neoconservative. Indeed, it’s hard at times to discern that Maisky was a Communist at all, or that he represented a brutal, totalitarian government. His comportment in these pages is measured; his language free of cant. Even his looks—the well-fed, portly body, the kindly eyes, the authentic smile—will strike the reader as very different from the dour, self-defensive faces of that era’s most prominent Soviets.

Read the whole thing here.

Will Putin Save Christians in the Middle East?

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I have written the cover story for the December 11, 2015, issue of The Catholic Herald on whether Vladimir Putin can save Middle Eastern Christians. More broadly, I consider some of the religious and strategic dimensions of Russian foreign policy:

If there’s one mistake any analyst can make, however, it is to assume that a group or person has only one goal.

To ask whether Putin is interested in helping Christians or enhancing Russia’s power in the Middle East is to offer a false choice. It is entirely possible that he is interested in both. It is also possible that he sees the enhancement of Russian power in the Middle East as synonymous with the protection of Christianity.

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Is Your Neighbor an ex-Stasi Agent?

At PJ Media, I investigate what happened to all those agents of the Stasi, the brutal East German secret-police force, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of Communism:

Though the post-Communist German government shied away from hiring too many ex-Stasi officers for state positions, pilfered documents from Wikileaks show that the German government does employ them in (of all places) the federally administered archive of Stasi records—a revelation that caused some dismay in German society. Many other ex-Stasi personnel eventually went on to careers in the private sector. After the Wall fell, it was, oddly enough, the newly reunified German government that urged corporations to absorb former Communist encryption experts, fearing they would otherwise be driven to aid Western enemies with their skills. One German company, Rohde & Schwarz SIT GmbH, a supplier of encryption and communications technology to NATO, employs plenty of former Stasi codebreakers.

Enjoy the rest of it here.

When The Wall Came Down

It’s been twenty-five years since the Berlin Wall fell—more precisely, it’s been twenty-five years since Guenter Schabowski, spokesman for the GDR Central Committee, mistakenly announced during a press conference that East German citizens were free to travel to West Germany, prompting a mad rush to the wall that eventually brought it down forever.

Asked by an Italian journalist about a new law that relaxed travel restrictions, Schabowski said the law took immediate effect—a remark that goaded thousands of East Germans to flood the wall (die Mauer in German) hoping to gain access to the free and prosperous western portion of Berlin. After a three-hour standoff with the border guards, they were allowed to cross into the West. (more…)