It is necessary to start by defining what "political warfare" is.
The term 'political war' is attributed to US diplomat George Kennan, who wrote about the phenomenon in the early stages of the Cold War. In a policy memorandum dated 4 May 1948, Kennan, who at the time was chief of the State Department's policy planning staff, drafted a statement that included the term "organised political warfare".
In the aforementioned paper "The Inauguration of Organized Political Warfare", Kennan stated that a new independent organisation should be created to plan and conduct "political warfare" and defined the term "political warfare" as "the employment of all means available to a nation, short of war, to achieve its national objectives". It went on to note that these operations were to be both open and covert, and would include political alliances, economic policies and the promotion of clandestine resistance organisations.
Kennan perceived the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union not as a matter of state competition alone, but rather as a battle of ideologies between liberal democracy and communism, conducted in the framework of a competition for Kantian-Hegelian space, and political warfare therefore became one of the main means of conducting this new form of warfare, and was placed in the sphere of the State Department, as Kennan put it in his so-called "Long Telegram" of 22 February 1946 to the Secretary of State, James Byrnes.
Before considering Kennan and his "Long Telegram" in depth, in addition to the article, presented as a recapitulation of this document, The Sources of Soviet Conduct, written by Kennan himself under the pseudonym 'X', which subsequently appeared in Foreign Affairs magazine in July 1947, it is necessary to create a minimal historical-conceptual context and framework.
Context and historical-conceptual framework.
The United States had high hopes for a boost to the Kantian-Hegelian vision with the USSR during the winter of 1945-46, exemplified by General Dwight D. Eisenhower's words on his visit to Moscow in 1945:
"Nothing guides Russian policy so much as the desire for friendship with the United States", as reported in Jones (2001, 230).
But in the late autumn of 1945 the alliance began to unravel as Moscow pressed for a sphere of influence in the Balkans, a prelude to what was to become Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. On 9 February 1946, Stalin addressed an assembly of voters. While not as scathing as the American Workers' Delegation of 1929, it was true that throughout his speech he spoke of the wartime alliance as a thing of the past and called for the Soviet Union to undertake a series of five-year plans aimed at rapid military-industrial strengthening... only half a year after the end of World War Two.
The Treasury Department was totally confused, not only by the above, but also by Moscow's refusal to create the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund: Why did the Soviet Union deliberately decide not to participate? What were its intentions? What would be the benefit of not participating? Was it greater than the benefits of participating? So the Treasury Department asked George F. Kennan, a career Foreign Service officer since 1926 after graduating from Princeton University in 1921, in addition to being fluent in Russian, having been stationed in Latvia prior to US diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933 and serving this year on the staff of the first embassy to the USSR, and on the staff of the embassy in Moscow before and after World War Two. Additionally, Kennan would live in the Soviet Union and Europe intermittently from 1933 to 1953. This provided Kennan with a perspective on Soviet behaviour that proved to be paramount in his analysis of current and future US-Soviet relations. He was then in the position and had access as deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Moscow and was the right person for the assessment that the Treasury Department was requesting.
George F. Kennan was born on 16 February 1904 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His name was the same as that of his grandfather's cousin, a person he met fleetingly, whom he never got to know in depth. The reason he was named like his grandfather's cousin was that he was born on the same day as his grandfather's cousin, albeit fifty-nine years later. His namesake was considered an expert on Russian affairs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a book published in 1891, entitled "Siberia and the Exile System", following Gaddis (2011, 9-13) in all this.
Kennan reasoned that US policy towards the Soviet Union was based on a mistaken assumption: that Washington could influence Soviet behaviour by offering incentives to encourage better behaviour. On the contrary, a powerful and irresistible internal dynamic was driving Moscow's behaviour. The Soviets were:
"fanatically committed to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disturbed, that our traditional way of life be destroyed, that the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secured".
Consequently, only the threat of force could limit or alter Soviet ambitions.
What had been the Soviet view on this issue: the views of Litvinov and Stalin
For further work on this section, a great reference, which can always be consulted, is the article published in Foreign Affairs, Reconsiderations: The Cassandra in the Foreign Commissariat, by Vojtech Mastny, in January 1976.
Hitler's rise triggered an effort by Litvinov, the Soviet Union's People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, to mobilise international action to stop the Nazi dictator. It is clear that behind all this a variable, with a certain specific determining weight, points to the Russian interest in organising a calculated campaign to transfer to the Western powers the main risks of this uncertain undertaking with Berlin, and at the same time tried to prevent Moscow from the feared military confrontation with Berlin, confronting two authoritarian futurist corporativisms, the Soviet and the Nazi, while the third corporativism, the liberal one, which took shape with Roosevelt's New Deal, was to position itself on the basis of liberal democracy. Litvinov, as the Soviet architect of collective security, sincerely believed in collaboration with the West in the short term, but he did not (or had to) hide his contempt for an ally that his conviction in agreement with Russian Marxism at this time required him to defend in fanatical positions, in the same way that Lenin and Kautsky clashed at the time, that in truth it was a political and economic body that was moribund in the long term.
Moreover, Litvinov as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs understood Stalin and his organisation of power, so that most of the documented cases in which Litvinov disagreed with his superiors on specific policy issues turn out to predate Stalin's control, as followed in Craig and Gilbert (2021). He lost his post as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs to Molotov in May 1939, partly because he disapproved of Stalin's rapprochement with the Third Reich, and as a consequence to ingratiate Stalin with the Nazis, as Litvinov was Jewish and primarily responsible for executing a policy to combat Nazism. To this would be added the typical alternation between appeasement and defiance in the face of the imminence of Operation Barbarossa, when Stalin also dismissed Litvinov from the Party Central Committee (February 1941), citing "failure to perform his duties". But, at the May Day parade of 1941, one month and three weeks before the start of Operation Barbarossa, Litvinov takes a place of honour as Pope (1943, 458-460) explains, suggesting that Stalin was trying to position himself for a possible failure of his policy towards the Third Reich.
The question arises as to why Litvinov had not been purged, and in addition to having lived in London with Stalin - as Rappaport (2010, 144) reports, he also counted his wife, Ivy Low, a British-born Jewess, the daughter of a university professor, as Haslam (1983, 10-14) details - the knowledge of the outside world and the experience in dealing with foreigners that he had acquired during extended stays abroad. We can conclude that Litvinov was necessary for Stalin if he was to resume contacts with the West once the Third Reich was changing its mind about the USSR.
The results of these visions is Sergey Eisenstein's film Алекса́ндр Не́вский (1938) (Alexander Nevsky), which would reflect Litvinov's positions on Nazi Germany at the time it was made. The film chronicles the attempted invasion of Novgorod by the Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman-Germanic Empire during the 13th century, and their defeat by Prince Alexander, or popularly known as Alexander Nevsky. In the film, Eisenstein in association with Dmitri Vasilyev and with a screenplay co-written with Pyotr Pavlenko from a story entitled Rus, written by Pyotr Pavlenko, a Soviet novelist who conformed to socialist realist orthodoxy, who served as a "consultant" in order to avoid any deviant tendencies on Eisenstein's part, the Teutonic Knights invade and conquer the city of Pskov with the help of the traitor Tverdilo and massacre its population. In the face of resistance from the boyars and merchants of Novgorod (urged on by the monk Ananias), Nevsky decides to rally the common people of Novgorod and in the decisive Battle of the Ice, on the surface of the frozen Lake Chudskoe, they defeat the Teutonic Knights. The story ends in recaptured Pskov, where the foot soldiers are freed, the surviving Teutonic knights will be held for ransom and Tverdilo is run down by the vengeful (and presumably torn to pieces) people.
Within the film, the subplot revolves around Vasili Buslai and Gavrilo Oleksich, two famous Novgorod warriors and friends, who become commanders of the Novgorod forces and engage in a contest of courage and fighting skill throughout the Battle on the Ice to decide which of them will win the hand of Olga Danilovna, a Novgorod maiden whom they are both courting. Vasilisa, who turns out to be the daughter of a Pskov boyar killed by the Germans, joins the Novgorod forces as a front-line soldier, and she and Vasili fight side by side (which makes a strong impression on Vasili); she also personally kills the traitor Ananias. After both Gavrilo and Vasili have been severely wounded, Vasili publicly declares that neither he nor Gavrilo was the bravest in the battle: that honour belongs to Vasilisa, and that after her came Gavrilo. Thus, Gavrilo and Olga are united, while Vasili chooses Vasilisa as his future wife, noting that this happens with her tacit consent.
Eisenstein reflects quite a few elements, besides the references to the White Russians and their possible alliance with the Third Reich in an eventual Nazi invasion of the USSR, and the role played by the people against the traitorous boyars (White Russians), and the role of women and their incorporation into the productive (and defensive) life of the USSR, the director wishes to show certain interesting aspects, such as that certain helmets worn by the Teutonic infantry resemble models of the Stahlhelms of World War I. In the first draft of the script of Alexander Nevsky, swastikas even appeared on the helmets of the invaders. In the first draft of the screenplay for Alexander Nevsky, swastikas even appeared on the helmets of the invaders. The film also conveys very anti-clerical and particularly anti-Catholic messages: the knights' bishop's mitre is adorned with swastikas, while religion plays a minor role on the Russian side, being present mostly as a backdrop in the form of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Novgorod and the clergy with their icons during Nevsky's victorious entry into the city after the battle.
The film presents Alexander as a people' s hero and shows him avoiding a fight with the Mongols, his former enemies, to confront the more dangerous enemy. Think back to the Soviet-Japanese border wars between 1932 and 1939. Even before the Japanese Empire occupied Chinese Manchuria, the USSR had already had conflicts with Chinese troops on the border of this region. After the emergence of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, Japan focused on gaining control of Soviet Siberia with which it shared a border. These armed border conflicts, which did not take the form of a formally declared war, ended with the Soviet victory at the Battle of Jaljin Gol between May and September 1939, the first and most serious Japanese military defeat since the beginning of its expansionism in Asia, which convinced Japan to confront the Soviet Union only if they could count on German support, by creating two fronts far from each other, in Haslam (1992, 131-135). In other words, the message is conveyed to the "East" or the Japanese Empire that "we do not consider you our enemy, our enemy is the Third Reich".
In turn, Eisenstein published an article in Izvestia on 12 July 1938 entitled "Alexander Nevsky and the Flight of the Germans" in which he assimilated Nevsky with Stalin and presented Nevsky's victory over the Germans as a warning to his present-day counterparts, all in Bergan (2016, 378-380). Finally, the film was released in Moscow on 23 November 1938. On 20 February 1938, Hitler had delivered his most anti-Soviet speech to date. There is only one state with which we have not tried to establish relations, nor do we want to establish relations: Soviet Russia. More than ever we see in Bolshevism the embodiment of the human destructive instinct...' In 1938, the Soviet Union seemed completely isolated and ignored. The day after Hitler's speech, Chamberlain declared that peace would depend on 'the four great powers of Europe: Germany, Italy, France and ourselves'. In September 1938 the Munich Agreement was reached, and the belief that appeasement had succeeded. Since Alexander Nevsky was conceived as a history piece with contemporary overtones, and was first screened only two months after the Munich Pact, the defeat of the invading Teutonic Knights by Nevsky's army became, implicitly, a commentary on Nazi aggression and turned out to be a prophecy of what was to happen to Soviet Russia three years later, although it is central to the Russian/Soviet nationalist drift by not following the lines proposed in the film with regard to religion. In Alexander Nevsky, the national and patriotic theme is ultimately addressed to Stalin's liking... only the drift was not quite this, and here Eisenstein takes for certain things that are only in his opinion and desire to please Stalin.
After 23 August 1939, when the USSR signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which provided for non-aggression and collusion between Germany and the Soviet Union, Alexander Nevsky was withdrawn from cinema exhibition, just as Litvinov had failed in his strategic lines, but also the situation changed for Eisenstein's film, for with the start of Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941 the film quickly returned to Soviet and Western screens, Stalin's references to Alexander Nevsky (himself in fact, see Stalin's speech of 7 November 1941) became constant, and the attribution of the Alexander Nevsky medal only closed the loop.
The facts proved Litvinov right, and he felt especially reinforced by the drift of events when as the new ambassador to Washington he witnessed Japan attack Pearl Harbor.
Following Kennan (2021) and Vojtech Mastny in "Stalin and the Prospects of a Separate Peace in World War II", in American Historical Review, December 1972, p. 1378, in the spring of 1943, during the period of the war when Stalin seemed to want to signal to Berlin his willingness to consider a compromise peace, Litvinov together with the other Soviet diplomat with a pro-Western reputation, Ambassador to London Ivan M. Maisky, were ordered to return to Moscow. What is relevant here is that just before leaving Washington D.C., Litvinov, on 7 May 1943, holds a meeting at his request with Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, and this is the first time Litvinov has chosen a trusted Westerner to share his anxiety about the future of the alliance he had helped forge, for he complains that it is impossible for him to talk to Stalin, and assures Welles that the premier is isolated in his opinion with no one to propose alternatives closer to reality in his conversations, and that perhaps this is the cause of a distorted view of the West. He goes on to tell Welles that, once in the USSR, he would try to do everything he could to improve things, but, and this is very relevant: he had no hope of being able to do so. Litvinov goes on to make it clear that he is already openly frustrated about the rigidity of the whole Soviet system and especially about Molotov's iron grip on the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. However, he does not go so far as to let go of any specific criticism of Moscow's policy.
Litvinov became Deputy People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and took part in the October 1943 foreign ministers' conference in Moscow. On this occasion, Litvinov demonstrated his diplomatic skill by rebuffing Eden's attempts to discourage the Soviets' search for client states. Litvinov is assigned responsibility for post-war planning, especially the planned international security organisation.
The moment came for the Allies to open the Second Front, which Stalin expected as definitive proof of Western goodwill or not, despite transfers of all kinds to sustain them in the face of the Nazi-Fascist advance. All in all, official Soviet statements after the Normandy landings in June 1944 praised the alliance, and showed confidence and absolute determination in the results of the imminent common victory. We reached July 1944, and Soviet ideas on world organisation, a central aspect in the victory, are first made known in an article ("международная организация безопасности", you can go deeper into this issue by clicking here) that appeared in the Leningrad magazine Zvezda under the name "N. Malinin", which was Litvinov's chosen pseudonym.
The most important points of the article published ostensibly for discussion purposes reappeared with an official seal of approval in the 12 August Soviet memorandum for the Dumbarton Oaks conference that was to lay the foundations of the future United Nations. Recognising the urgent need to replace the anaemic League of Nations with a more vigorous body, both documents stressed that the key to its success lay in the correct application of the principle of unanimity. This meant, on the one hand, that the ability of small nations to turn the organisation into a vehicle for their selfish interests would be effectively limited. On the other hand, however, the great powers' pursuit of such interests was to be dignified by their prerogative to veto any decision they did not like. As Litvinov later commented, "this was our way of demanding a guarantee of equality, a guarantee against combinations and a rejection of the balance of power system". On this subject, the interested reader can consult this interesting link.
It should be noted, however, that there were other concerns and aspirations inherent in both the article and the memorandum. The Soviets demanded that the organisation confine its activities strictly to security matters, leaving economic and social issues especially outside its purview, because membership would not expose the tightly controlled but troubled Soviet economy to the potentially disruptive impact of the West's more robust free enterprise system; and, on the other hand, it would help protect Soviet society from undesirable international scrutiny. It would also facilitate Moscow's management of foreign communist parties whose activities could be justified in Marxist terms as a result of social tensions. But it was the veto issue that ultimately caused the Dumbarton Oaks conference to end in an impasse papered over with high-flown generalities.
On 22 August 1944, when the conference was still in session but its break-up was already beginning to look imminent, Litvinov made it clear to Norwegian Minister Rolf O. Andvord that he wished the views he had expressed at Zvezda were those of the Soviet government, but that unfortunately his government was in favour of a more flexible international organisation, revealing a disagreement between his recommendations as Deputy People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs and the official policy of the Soviet Union.
Litvinov proceeds to further details and elaborate on the differences he pointed out in a fascinating off-the-record interview with the American left-wing journalist Edgar Snow on 6 October 1944, where he explains that his original plan, which everyone had seen in public documents, had been discarded, and that instead, at Dumbarton Oaks, the Soviet representative, Andrei A. Gromyko, had come up with an entirely different scheme without even attempting prior consultations with Washington and London about it, making the conference a complete fiasco. Gromyko, had come up with a completely different scheme without even attempting to consult Washington and London on it beforehand, making the conference a complete fiasco.
Litvinov was referring in particular to the document of 12 August 1944 where he did omit one of Litvinov's original suggestions: that the world organisation be strengthened by a special pact linking especially the Big Three, but this was not measured in its true sense by the Western Allies, despite Litvinov's warning, who did know how to read the true Soviet intentions.
This omission is very interesting, because Stalin himself was definitely attracted by the idea of the reissue of a Dreikaiserbündnis, akin also to Roosevelt's favourite notion of a "world police". That is, a reissue of the secret neutrality agreement of the so-called "Three Emperors League", which was concluded on 18 June 1881 between the Second German Reich, Austria-Hungary and Russia, whereby the parties committed themselves to benevolent neutrality in a potential war with one quarter for a period of three years and agreed on a duty of consultation for their activities in the Balkans. The German Reich could thus be assured of Russian neutrality in a possible Franco-German war, while Russia was assured of German and Austro-Hungarian neutrality in the event of a war against Britain over the Straits or against the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, which enabled Russia to find a clear path to Central Asia and position itself in the southern Transcaspian region in what is now Turkmenistan in 1881 in response to the British invasion of Afghanistan. Between April 1884 and January 1885, the German Empire acquired colonies in Africa. However, the clash in the Balkan context between Russia and Austria-Hungary could not be overcome by the Three Emperors' League, despite tensions between Vienna and St. Petersburg, and thanks to Bismarck's efforts, it was enlarged again on 27 March 1884. But when the rivalry between Russia and Austria-Hungary over the Balkans flared up openly again during the Bulgarian crisis of 1885/86, the Three Emperors' League was dissolved and Bismarck had to salvage his alliance policy with the so-called temporary aid system. Bismarck's main objective after the end of the Three Emperors' League was to counter the threat to the security of the German Reich posed by the alienation of Russia by means of a renewed contractual relationship. To this end, Bismarck exerted enormous political and economic pressure on Russia to bring it back into a contractual relationship and to make it aware of its impending isolation in the European, and thus Western, power system in the wider context of the status quo. The direct consequence of the failure of the Dreikaiserbund was: (a) the conclusion of the Reinsurance Treaty, which was a secret neutrality treaty of the German 2nd Reich with the Russian Empire signed on 18 July 1887 where Germany proposed neutrality in a possible confrontation between Russia and Austria-Hungary, should Vienna initiate hostilities, In exchange for Russia's neutrality in a possible confrontation between France and Germany, which served mainly to maintain the minimal and indispensable union between St. Petersburg and Berlin, while convincing the Russian Empire that, although Germany would defend the integrity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it would not help it to expand at Russia's expense. Berlin thus succeeded in delaying a Franco-Russian alliance. In fact, Bismarck recognised Russia's right to advance into the Strait, but to mitigate the associated risk of war between the Russian Empire and the powers interested in maintaining the status quo in the Balkans (the case of the United Kingdom and Austria-Hungary), Bismarck played a key role in the next central element, the Mediterranean Entente, which I will discuss below. When Moscow pressed for an extension of the agreement expiring in 1890 because of the advantages described above, the Second Reich, with Bismarck ousted and under the leadership of Kaiser Wilhelm II, flatly refused to reissue it, going so far as to maintain this position even when Russia agreed to renounce the "Additional Top Secret Protocol". The official reason for the German decision was the assumption that an agreement with Russia on the Balkans would undermine Germany's credibility with its allies Austria-Hungary and Italy, although there is reason to believe that this would have been compatible with the Triple Alliance, and instead Wilhelm II felt that the German Second Reich should protect itself more through its own military build-up rather than by relying on alliances such as those drawn up by Bismarck, which is why between 1890 and 1893 there was a phase of German "maximum armament", to be read in the context of Germany's assault on world hegemony. As soon as Russia realised that it found itself without an international partner and German-Russian relations grew increasingly frosty due to incompatibilities in foreign trade and economic policy, Moscow approached Paris and agreed on a military convention in 1892 and finally in 1894 on a firm alliance with the Franco-Russian Alliance. This brought about the two-front situation that Bismarck had always feared for the German Reich and laid the foundations for the political power blocs in World War I; and, b) the Mediterranean Entente, between the United Kingdom and Italy, which they signed on 12 February 1887, mediated by Bismarck. On 24 March 1887 Austria-Hungary acceded to the agreement, and on 4 May so did Spain. The parties agreed to recognise the status quo in the Mediterranean, which was directed against Russian expansion in the Balkans and in the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits, as well as securing the existence of the Ottoman Empire, while Italy was strengthened against France. Bismarck was thus able to bring the United Kingdom closer to the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy) without the German Reich II becoming a member of the Mediterranean Entente. However, the agreement soon lost importance as the UK and Russia drew closer. The Mediterranean Entente survived until Wilhelm II alienated the British with Krüger's dispatch in 1896, provoking the British Empire over its interests in South Africa. It is interesting to keep all this in mind.
In short, Soviet behaviour in August 1944 revealed a deeper dilemma: Should or should not the Soviet Union anchor its relationship with the two Western powers in an institutional framework conducive to closer collaboration but also involving greater compromise? Or should it forgo the benefits and responsibilities of such a partnership, seeking instead the greatest possible freedom from coercion in a flexible system built on the prerogative of the veto? New military developments at the time added urgency to the dilemma, and Litvinov provided further commentary on why his government ultimately preferred to choose the latter path. In short, what Lenin and Wilson had envisioned decades earlier was closer than ever to being realised, albeit with different approaches: the Market or the Proletariat, which was closer to fulfilling the aims set out in their Kant and Hegelian proposals... or else it was not to be realised at all.... or else it was not going to happen.
In the late summer of 1944, the chain reaction was triggered as the Red Army changed its role in countries where it was seen as a conqueror rather than a liberator. This led to misgivings about the Soviets' real intentions, misgivings which in turn led to Moscow's reassessment of the alliance as a suitable vehicle for its interests.
The pattern emerged in all its melancholy logic when the Poles, in August, attempted to establish an independent government in Warsaw in the face of the imminent arrival of Russian troops, and Stalin, in turn, proved unwilling to act quickly enough to save them from annihilation by the Germans. At the same time, however, he moved too quickly into Romania and proceeded, without warning his allies, to conquer non-belligerent Bulgaria in early September. Churchill understood what was happening and Harriman began to send his increasingly urgent warnings to Washington that the Soviet Union could become "a world bully". Litvinov, however, believed he saw the "revival of traditional British diplomacy in Europe.... this time fully backed by the United States", and that they were pursuing an association of Western European nations, anticipating that with the Soviets "we will not be able to agree on a common programme for Germany", with the thought of stopping the British proposal made by Churchill, realising that only a "United States of Europe" could level the playing field on the continent (for more information, see here... and the fact that Churchill is one of the real "founding fathers" of the European Union, while the United Kingdom has, as a result of Brexit, contained German power in Central and Eastern Europe... one might ask, if this were the case, would a return of the United Kingdom to transform "Europe" into a deeper alliance with the Atlantic link be in the interests of the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe? Personally, given certain scenarios, I would not rule it out).
Emphasising that what he was saying was strictly his opinion, Mr. Litvinov went on to assert that "we are drifting further and further in the same direction", and suggested that "diplomacy could have done something to avoid this if we had made our intentions clear to the British and if we had made the limits of our needs clear, but now it is too late, suspicions abound on both sides". And, in trying to explain his government's negligence, he pointed to surprising shortcomings on the part of some of its key representatives.
During their conversation Litvinov is radically clear that the "People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs is headed by only three men and none of them understands America or Britain" (Litvinov refers to Molotov and his two deputies, Vyshinsky and Dekanozov). Deploring the disastrously provincial outlook of these three men, he commented that Dekanozov, the former ambassador to Nazi Germany, "sat next to Ribbentrop for a year and that's all he knows about abroad". Although Litvinov did not mention Stalin by name, he hinted that the supreme leader was also prone to certain misconceptions, especially reading too much into the occasional unfriendly statements of the free Western press. And hinting that the responsibility for cultivating these misconceptions lay not so much with the dictator himself as primarily with his entourage, who would be spinning him into these ideas rather than showing them alternatives, he concluded that "absolutely the only way... to improve things" was through direct talks between Stalin and Roosevelt.
Stalin, however, in his speech of 6 November 1944 conveyed in particularly effusive terms a faith in the indestructibility of the alliance as the foundation of the post-war order... while a month later, Litvinov had the opportunity to develop further his ideas on the preconditions of that order. In a second "Malinin" article, he focused on "regionalism", which, as he had hinted to Snow, was another issue on which he differed with those who stood between him and Stalin.
Litvinov advocated the creation of regional groupings within the framework of the United Nations but otherwise under the aegis of the great powers with primary interests in the respective regions. He was at pains to stress that he was not referring to spheres of influence in which "from the point of view of peace nothing attractive can be found". It was different with "security zones" which, he insisted, would only involve mutually beneficial military arrangements between big and small powers.
However, Moscow had been creating the conditions in East Central Europe for exactly the same sphere of influence that Litvinov detested. At Yalta, Stalin behaved as if he believed that the West had acquiesced in these practices, a misconception fuelled in turn by the neglect of his allies to make it sufficiently clear to him what their purposes were and the limits of their tolerance. But once he went ahead and they protested, there was inevitably the slide into hostility that Litvinov had predicted and whose consequences Kennan will address, as we have seen.
On 5 April 1945 Litvinov gave an interview to Cyrus L. Sulzberger of The New York Times, in which he was openly pessimistic, both about the prospects of the United Nations and about the future course of Soviet-Western relations as a whole. From this point onwards Litvinov, who had attributed the spiral of action and reaction mainly to mutual misperception, for which he had held the West as responsible as the Soviets (if not more so), moves unfailingly towards a revision of his estimation. The end of the European war, far from making the limits of Russia's objectives clear (as he had wished), saw instead an expansion of its desiderata beyond those already registered: territory and bases in Turkey, a share in the administration of Italy's former African colonies, a role in the western Mediterranean.... and it claimed "rights" and influence over the island of Bornholm (Denmark), as I mentioned here, in the section "Bornholm, a strategic island"... something that has survived to the present day, as an extension of an unrenounceable strategic thinking under the banner of a neoliberal, hyper-nationalist and authoritarian Russia that is an offshoot of the Soviet drift, without which it cannot be explained, and in its ideology, a part of which it justifies itself.
Litvinov is then absolutely clear, with clear-sightedness telling Snow when he went to Moscow again in June 1945, in the run-up to the incipient Cold War: "Why have you Americans waited until now to start opposing us in the Balkans and Eastern Europe? To which Litvinov replies: "You should have done this three years ago. Now it is too late and your complaints only arouse suspicion here", as reported in Snow (1972, 357). So here is the answer as seen from the inside, by a privileged mind, as well as key actor and person, Litvinov: his country's lust for power and influence over and above its reasonable security needs was the primary cause of the conflict; the West's failure to resist the effort early enough was an important secondary cause.
Litvinov put it exactly the same way to Harriman during a theatrical performance in Moscow in November 1945, while deploring the recent failure of the London foreign ministers' conference. When asked by the ambassador what the United States could do to satisfy the Soviet Union, he replied "Nothing". And when asked further what his own government could do to improve matters, he gave the same curt reply, adding the cryptic qualification: "I think I know what needs to be done, but I am powerless". Despite a glimmer of hope for Litvinov with the decision of the foreign ministers to hold their next meeting in Moscow, in May 1946 Litvinov concludes: "I now feel that the best that can be hoped for is a prolonged armed truce.
On 18 June 1946, Litvinov was telling CBS correspondent Richard C. Hottelet the same thing he had told Snow virtually a couple of years earlier, but showing greater dissent as his worst predictions materialised, already openly pointing to Moscow's reversion to the obsolete concept of security through the possession of a land mass, a return to the traditional, nationalistic Russian idea, as the cause of all present and future challenges. Indeed, he warned that its appetite might be insatiable, and outside what the Russians themselves define as the "Russian world". Hottelet heard Litvinov sentence that:
"If the West were to accede to the current Soviet demands, it would be faced with the next set of demands in a more or less short period of time."
In fact, Hottelet expected to be arrested at any moment, despite the precautions taken by Litvinov, or else to learn in the following days that Litvinov had died suddenly, most likely in an accident. Hottelet recalls that during the interview, which took place in Litvinov's office on a hot summer day, a fire was burning in the fireplace as if the old man had been in the process of burning his papers, as Vojtech Mastny records in his conversation with Richard C. Hottelet. Two months later Litvinov was finally dismissed and granted a pension.
In February 1947, Litvinov told the British journalist Alexander Werth that at the end of the war Moscow had two options: to take advantage of the goodwill it had treasured in the West or to embark alone on an elusive quest for absolute security. Litvinov lamented that the Kremlin was not listening to him and that the Soviet leadership had refused to believe that goodwill could form the lasting basis of any policy. Instead, they had opted to expand (and subdue) "as much as they could while the going was good".
This is part 1 of the dossier. Part 2 will work on the "Long Telegram", the doctrine of containment and how the concept of political warfare has been worked out since Kennan, and how it was done by the USSR and Russia.
Bibliography part 1
Craig, Gordon A., Gilbert, Felix, The Diplomats, 1919-1939, Princeton University Press, 2021. (Kindle Version)
Gaddis, John Lewis, George F. Kennan: An American Life, Penguin Books, 2011. (Kindle Version)
Haslam, Jonathan, Soviet Foreign Policy, 1930-1933: The Impact of the Depression, Palgrave Schol, Print UK, 1983.
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