Habakkuk to TTG on the Yeltsin period


They were indeed fascinating times, and the conversations cast a very valuable light on them.

The conclusion of Helmer’s piece I find particularly interesting:

“What a rich irony Yeltsin leaves us in this record of his dealings with Clinton,” observes a senior Soviet officer now retired in Moscow. “Yeltsin proves that because negotiations with the Americans are impossible, and because Russians will not capitulate, war is inevitable. And this from the Communist Party veteran, the Politburo member, who was brought up to believe war was inevitable between communism and capitalism. And he, self-appointed liberator of Russia from communism, ends up proving he didn’t free us from war with the Americans at all. Ha!”

As it happens, while I almost always find what Helmer has to say interesting, I also often think one needs to take what he writes with, say, a certain amount of salt.

The notion that war between the capitalist and communist worlds was in some way fatalistically inevitable, which had been central to Soviet pronouncements through until Stalin’s death, and was a significant cause of the Cold War, was actually abandoned thereafter, although the jettisoning of the whole structure of ludicrous dogma had to wait for four further decades.

That said, what Helmer writes comes together with recent reminders of my own experience of the closing years of the Soviet Union.

So, ‘C-SPAN’ have posted an interview and Q & A session given by Michael MccGwire, credited as ‘Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution,’ on 3 February 1989. The description of the origins of the Gorbachev ‘new thinking’, and the revolutionary changes it implied, was that he gave to myself and a BBC Radio colleague when we interviewed him, it would have been a few days later.

(See https://www.c-span.org/pers… )

As MccGwire said, when asked to describe himself, ‘I went to sea when I was seventeen, I’m basically an ex-naval officer.’

Actually, he had been chief cadet captain at the Dartmouth naval college, and before he turned eighteen had had a ‘worm’s eye’ view both of the crucial ‘Operation Pedestal’ convoy, which relieved Malta in August 1942, and of the North African landings the following November.

After the war, he opted for Russian language training, and became the Royal Navy’s pre-eminent expert on its Soviet counterpart.

Another fascinating document which I came across recently was a piece published in March 1992 by Lieutenant Colonel Timothy L .Thomas of the Foreign Military Studies Office, entitled ‘Soviet Military Theoretician A.A. Kokoshin.’

(See http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr… )

This gives a good summary of the intellectual innovations introduced by Kokoshin and his collaborator General-Mayor Valentin Larionov. The pair had outlined them to us in interviews in Moscow immediately before we flew to Washington to interview MccGwire and others. The piece also touched on the bitter public row, sometime after we did the interviews, between Georgy Arbatov, then Kokoshin’s superior at the Institute of the USA and Canada, and Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev.

I received one of the greatest compliments of my journalistic career when Larionov asked us who else we were interviewing, and when we told him, said, ‘I see you’ve got everybody.’

Unfortunately, at that time I had not come across the Soviet Army Studies Office, as what is now the FMSO then was.

Had I done so, and in particular talked to one of its key analysts, Jacob W. Kipp (who incidentally had started his academic career writing on Russian naval history, and was a friend of MccGwire), I would have had a better grasp of what Larionov was trying to say, when he talked about a Soviet theorist of the ‘Twenties, Aleksandr Svechin, who he said had been ‘repressed’ under Stalin.

Like Arbatov, Larionov was a near contemporary of MccGwire. The former had been one of the young men who heard Stalin’s speech of 7 November 1941 in Red Square, before marching out to defend the city. The latter had gone into the army the following year, and seen action at the battles of Kursk, Warsaw, Prague and Berlin – also, incidentally, been at one of the meetings with U.S. Army people in the heart of Germany.

(I now think the experience may have contributed to a certain sentimental streak, absent in someone I wanted to interview, but could not, because I got my application in too late – that old Tatar calvaryman from Chelyabinsk, another ‘old Mohican’, the then Colonel-General Makhmut Akhmetovich Gareev.)

It had taken me some months of patient and unremunerated effort – I had left the securities, and tedium, of a big television company for the fledgling independent sector some time earlier – to find anyone in British broadcasting willing to take up the idea of going to Moscow and interviewing the ‘new thinkers.’

By that time, ex-colleagues of mine, most of them sometime ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies ‘lefties’, were in key positions in British broadcasting. But the process by which many such people turned into ‘neoconservatives’ and ‘neoliberals’ was well under way.

I have been thinking that I should perhaps write a memoir of my encounters with such people. An initial thought for a title was ‘From CND to CIA’ – but that seemed to me overgeneral about the latter organisation. So it seemed ‘From Joni Mitchell to Joe McCarthy’ might be better.

Reading the drunken Yeltsin’s pathetic implorings to Clinton, what I hear is his desperate attempt to avoid the conclusion that the advice that people like Kokoshin and Larionov – and also, let us not forget, Primakov, whom the Americans appear to have regarded as anathema, but who played a very important role in the ‘new thinking’ – was hopelessly naive. As became clear, Makhmut Gareev, who became the first President of the new Academy of Military Sciences after the Soviet collapse, was far closer to reality.

And the notion, underlying the piece by Lt.-Col Thomas, that Arbatov was simply right, and Akhromeyev simply wrong, in their bitter argument, was effectively refuted by Clinton.

I have followed the careers of some of those we interviewed back in 1989, and their colleagues, over the years.

At the Institute of the USA and Canada, it had seemed sensible not to interview Georgy Arbatov, the director, but his deputy, Kokoshin, who together with Larionov, had together been doing the detailed technical work. At the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, we did not ask for Primakov, who headed it, but for Arbatov’s son Alexei, who was again doing detailed technical work on the interrelations between military and political strategy.

At the then newly-founded Institute of Europe, we interviewed the director, Vitaly Zhurkin, rather than his deputy, Sergei Karaganov – also, I have seen it reported, a close associate of Primakov.

Among the most interesting evolutions has been that of Karaganov.

A few days ago, on the site of the ‘Valdai Club’, there appeared a post by him, reflecting the work of a study group, which was entitled ‘Why Russia’s “Pivot to Asia” is About Coming Back Home.’

(See http://valdaiclub.com/a/hig… .)

It opens: ‘In a few years we will understand that we are no longer the eastern periphery slowly disappearing into the past, although close to most of Europe. Moving to Asia, to new wealth, strength and progress, we return home.’

Ironically, that power would naturally shift towards new centres was a part of Michael MccGwire’s critiques of Western responses to the ‘new thinking.’

But then, he was not a stinking little ‘gutter rat’ like Christopher Steele, who of course, was recruited into MI6 in 1986, and sent to Moscow in 1990. How people in the United States go on taking such a figure seriously defeats me. For God’s sake, why did you bother having a revolution?

In between, Steele was working at the Foreign Office in London. At that time, that organisation was completely and utterly clueless about what was happening in the Soviet Union. I know, I went there for a briefing. But frankly, what all their quite well paid and connected people could produce was vastly inferior to what I could manage, on my own, unpaid by anybody, with the resources of Chatham House and the ‘London Library.’

When we finally made it back from Moscow and Washington to London, we interviewed the Foreign Office Minister, William Waldegrave. He was – is – a nice man, but, frankly, did not have a clue. So likewise, Tom Simons of the State Department, whose total ignorance of how empires actually work I found remarkable.

This entry was posted in Borg Wars, Habakkuk, Russia, The Military Art, TTG. Bookmark the permalink.