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Books on Russia


Update No: 352  (30/04/10)

Sometimes a voice from the past can be prescient about the future. The opinion of arguably the most highly esteemed Russian public man in the world, regarded in the west, although not in his homeland, as a truly towering historic figure, is well worth hearing:-

The Ice Has Broken
by Mikhail Gorbachev
First published : April 22, 2010 by The New York Times

A remarkable sequence of events in April has turned the spotlight on the subject of nuclear disarmament and global security. I am referring to the signing by Presidents Obama and Medvedev of the New START treaty, the presentation of the Obama administration’s nuclear doctrine and the nuclear security summit meeting in Washington attended by leaders of several dozen countries.

The ice has broken. The situation today is dramatically different from just two years ago. But has it changed enough to say that the process now under way is irreversible?

Let’s first look at the New START treaty. It has been deemed irrelevant and the reductions it calls for described as “creative accounting.” Though the cuts are indeed modest compared to those made under the treaty the first President Bush and I signed in 1991, the treaty is a major breakthrough.

First, it resumes the process initiated in the second half of the 1980s, which made it possible to rid the world of thousands of nuclear warheads and hundreds of launchers.

Second, the strategic arsenals of the United States and Russia have once again been placed under a regime of mutual verification and inspections.

Third, the United States and Russia have demonstrated that they can solve the most complex problems of mutual security, which offers hope that they will work together more successfully to address global and regional issues.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty the two biggest nuclear powers say to the world that they are serious about their Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to move toward eliminating nuclear weapons.

By reviving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, the treaty is a powerful tool for political pressure on those countries, particularly Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear programs have caused legitimate concern within the international community. It also reminds other nuclear weapon powers that they, too, must join in the process of nuclear disarmament. I have often been asked, in Russia and elsewhere, whether the process of nuclear disarmament could be scuttled by a build-up in the arsenals of other countries — for example China, Pakistan and India. This is a legitimate question. The least that the other members of the “nuclear club” must do now is freeze their arsenals.

Further progress along the path of disarmament and nonproliferation would be facilitated by a statement from nuclear powers saying that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to prevent their use. Unfortunately, the new U.S. nuclear doctrine does not go that far. Nevertheless, this document, as well as Russia’s military doctrine, signals a tendency toward reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.

The new U.S. doctrine emphasizes that Russia is no longer an adversary. It declares the Obama administration’s intent to secure ratification of the treaty banning all nuclear testing and states that the United States will not develop new nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration has proposed bilateral dialogues on strategic stability with Russia and China. Such a dialogue must include missile defense issues. After all, the interrelationship of strategic offensive arms and missile defense is recognized in the New START.

The dialogue on strategic stability is certainly in Russia’s interest. To conduct it with confidence, we in Russia need a serious debate on the problem of missile defense, involving experts, members of Parliament and the military. What kind of missile defense does Russia need? Should it be linked with the U.S. missile defense system? These are political rather than “agency” issues. Decisions on such issues will be with us for decades to come.

Yet, the proposed dialogue should not be limited to strategic weapons. More general problems must also be addressed if we are to build a relationship of partnership and trust. Foremost is the problem of military superiority.

The U.S. national security strategy, adopted in 2002 and still in effect, clearly proclaims the need for U.S. global military superiority. This principle has in effect become an integral part of America’s creed. It finds specific expression in the vast arsenals of conventional weapons, the colossal defense budget and the plans for weaponizing outer space. The proposed strategic dialogue must include all these issues. Reaching mutual understanding will take a sense of realism and long-term vision”.


What is one to make of this vision of things from an elder statesman? He is of course widely detested in Russia itself as the moving spirit behind the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989 and of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. It is not that all Russians were fervent communists – very few were. But they nearly all were pleased that Russia was so dominant in its own part of the world, a balance they felt, to the USA. Moreover, the Soviet economy was in a downspin under Gorbachev, involving appalling suffering for millions of people.

Actually Russia, due to its size and mass, its copious resources and much else, not least where it is at the heart of Eurasia, will always be a very major player on the world stage. But what singles it out as one of the top two with the US, is its possession of a colossal amount of nuclear weapons. They are never likely to give these up entirely, given the proximity along their vast borders of potentially hostile powers, coveting nuclear weapons themselves, North Korea, Iran, etc. There is indeed an argument that when the USSR acquired the nuclear weapon it was obviously assumed by the west to be their counter to the threat of NATO. However, away from the propaganda their clever intelligence analysts knew that Nato did not have an offensive profile, that it was indeed a defensive alliance. The threat that was eradicated by the nuclear acquisition was the potential threat of China, with whom they shared thousands of miles of frontier – and China had unfinished business with Moscow, dating from the unequal treaties of the 19th century when Russia acquired a million square miles of what had previously been Chinese territory in the Far East.

It is notable that Gorbachev mentions its huge nuclear arsenal as Russia's prime possession and problem in his resume of its situation in the world. It can after all blow it up.

It would of course blow itself up in the process, which is why it is never likely to attempt it. But it is an obvious source of anxiety and instability for us all.

The Bush Administration wanted to build an anti-missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland – allegedly against missiles from the said ‘rogue states’: North Korea And Iran. Moscow pointed out that this must have been a bluff – or showing a uncharacteristic lack of geography!

The anti-missile shield was of course directed against Russia. The Russians replied, let us have a common anti-nuclear shield on our borders with the rogue states. This is an option that the US, under its new more enlightened leader, Barack Obama, should surely seriously consider.

Indeed why should the Americans and the Russians not pool their nuclear weapons, in a world body, to form a common front against nuclear proliferation? The outstanding nuclear powers, puny as they may be, the UK and France, should obviously be invited to join. The preamble to what our endangered species and habitat most needs, but isn’t likely to get due to the smallness of politicians -world government.


But before dealing with the future one must still reckon with the past. Russia's leaders are at last showing great candour and courage here:-

Russia publishes Katyn massacre archives
Russia has published once-secret files on the 1940 Katyn massacre, in which some 22,000 members of the Polish elite, army officers and intelligentsia were killed by Soviet forces. The state archive said the "Packet No. 1" documents had until now only been available to specialist researchers.
The Soviet Union denied its role in the massacre for decades. Gorbachev did admit Soviet culpability, but did not hand over the relevant documentation. Yeltsin made a point of beginning to do so.

Relations between Russia and Poland have warmed since the Polish president and 95 others were killed in a plane crash on their way to a Katyn commemoration on April 10.

The documents that the state archive published were declassified in the 1990s though only specialist researchers had access to them, reports said. They were published online on the orders of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Symbolic gesture
One of the documents is a 5 March, 1940 letter from the then-head of the Soviet secret police or NKVD, Lavrenty Beria, to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, recommending the execution of Polish prisoners of war. Beria refers to them as "steadfast, incorrigible enemies of Soviet power". The letter bears Stalin's signature in blue pencil, with the comment "In favour".

Given that historians have already had access to the files for some time, correspondents say the decision to put them on the Russian state archive's website is likely to be seen as a symbolic gesture rather than changing the understanding of what happened at Katyn. Poland has repeatedly demanded that Russia open all its files on Katyn, and the issue has soured relations between the two countries for decades.

But earlier in April , the Russian and Polish prime ministers marked the massacre together for the first time. Days later, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and more than 90 others were tragically killed when their plane crashed as it was trying to land in western Russia, ahead of a separate event to mark the killings.

The April 1940 killings were carried out by the NKVD on Stalin's orders. They were shot in the back of the head and their bodies dumped in mass grave. The sheer logistics of executing -, murdering - so many thousands of members of the Polish elite, including officers, politicians and artists, meant that it could never hope to evade the judgement of history. For those, the youth of the future perhaps, who may feel some regret for the abrupt demise of communism, this is what communists meant by ‘the class enemy’ and how they proposed to deal with it The killings took place at various sites, but the western Russian forest of Katyn has become their chief symbol. 



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