Russia

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.

Why Are Iran and the Vatican Cooperating?

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I’m a bit late in posting this, but I have written the cover story for the January 29 issue of The Catholic Herald on the curious relationship between Iran and the Holy See. Here’s a taste:

Tiny though it is, the Holy See is an important sovereign entity – one with immense influence and moral force within the West. While not afraid to pour scorn on American-style capitalism, the Pope can influence US public opinion: witness the crowds of non-Catholics who gathered to applaud his stance on climate change. The influence works both ways, however. Without the 70 million American Catholics, the Vatican would struggle to keep afloat financially.

Iran seems to have concluded that courting the Holy See allows it to tap into the complex and important relations between the Catholic Church and America. Moreover, this week’s Francis-Rouhani dialogue serves to soften the image of Iran in countries all over the world with significant numbers of Catholics.

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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The Other War on Terror

In The Weekly Standard, I review Adam Zamoyski’s Phantom Terror, a study of European monarchs’ paranoia regarding the threat of subversion and terrorism after the French Revolution:

Time and again, rulers construed uprisings not as expressions of discontent—the stimulus for action was more likely to be a bad grain harvest than a radical pamphlet—but as grand conspiracies hatched by shadowy maestros. The locus of Europe’s subversion was thought to be a body called the comité directeur. From its perch in Paris, this imagined group was the alleged central committee of European discontent, the heirs of Robespierre and Saint-Just.

Like all fantastical masterminds, the comité was everywhere and nowhere. Utterly convinced of its existence, European authorities whiffed its influence in every protest and every disturbance.

Read the whole thing here.