This next series of posts is based on this exciting new series starting in VZGLIAD. The reporter is, of course, Evgeny Krutikov, and the topic is World War II! Namely a discussion of recently declassified Soviet archives, and it’s the whole ball of wax! This should be like a gourmet all-you-can-eat for historians.
This first entry is entitled:
How the Soviet Ambassador Sussed Out the Conspiracy between Britain And Hitler
Krutikov first notes that he is starting this series today, on February 10, the “Day of the Diplomatic Worker” — see, in Russia every possible (legitimate) occupation has their own day. Which is great, because it encourages people to find a good job.
Krutikov begins with a Soviet diplomat named Ivan Maisky, and his work in the London Embassy in 1937.
According to his wiki, Maisky had an extremely interesting life. He was born in 1884 in the Novgorod area. He was the son of a military surgeon, and his mother was a schoolteacher. Maisky himself studied at St. Petersburg University, but was expelled, most likely for political reasons. He had joined the Russian Socialist Party in 1903, and adhered to the Menshevik faction. Participated in the 1905 Revolution, was arrested and exiled to Tobol in 1906. Later emigrated to Germany, where he studied at Munich University. Travelled to England, which explains why his English was so good. During WWI his political views were those of a Menshevik-Internationalist.
Returned to Russia in 1917 to participate in the Revolution. Worked in the Ministry of Labor of the Provisional Government. In November was elected to the Central Committee of the Menshevik faction.
In 1918 Maisky worked in the Labor Ministry of the Socialist Revolutionary-led government in Saratov Province, for which he was expelled from the Menshevik faction, and from the Russian Socialist Party as a whole. Maisky went so far as to even work for the Kolchak government; however, during the worst of the Civil War he was away on a scientific expedition to Mongolia.
Returned to Russia in 1920, and joined the Bolshevik Party in February of 1921. He headed up the Economic Planning (Gosplan) for Siberia. Starting in 1922 he was transferred into the fledging Soviet diplomatic corps. At a trial of the SR’s Maisky testified against his former comrades, and was criticized (by K.I. Chukovsky) as “one of those late-blooming Bolsheviks who wanted to out-Bolshevik the Bolsheviks”. Chukovsky also noted that Maisky knew English fairly well, and still retained many of his old ties from his stay there. (Chukovsky did not like Maisky and was clearly implying something!)
But before heading back to England, Maisky served (1927-1929) in Japan; and then (1929-1932) in Finland. And then (1932-1947) was the Soviet Ambassador to Great Britain. During the entirety of WWII and some of the aftermath. Which puts him at the front and center of Krutikov’s story gleaned from the secret archives.
Before getting to that: A quick flash-forward as to Maisky’s fate:
On 19 February 1953 Maisky was arrested and accused of treason. Later, in his memoirs, he claimed that Beria himself beat him (=Maisky) literally with whips and chains. Beria demanded that he confess to being a British agent and spy. Maisky, under this torture, confessed, as any person would. He was held in the Lubyanka prison, later freed by Beria himself, after Stalin’s death. As Maisky told the story to a certain B.M. Berezhkov:
Maisky was led out from his cell into Beria’s apartment. On the table stood a vase with fruit, a bottle of Gruzian wine, and glasses. Lavrenty Beria was all Mr. Nice Guy: “Ivan Mikhailovich,” he addressed Maisky. “Why did you say so many bad things about yourself? What kind of spy would you even make?” [Having been isolated], Maisky didn’t know about [Stalin’s death] and all the changes taking place. He just assumed this was more Jesuitical interrogation technique, on the part of Stalin’s satrap. He figured that if he denied being a spy, then he would be beaten again, so he said:
“No, no, Lavrenty Pavlovich, I am indeed a spy. I was recruited by the English, that’s a fact.”
“Oh stop this nonsense!” Beria exclaimed. “You are no kind of spy. You were framed. We figured it out. The instigators have been punished. And you can go home right now.”
Beria was true to his word. As in a fairy tale with a happy ending, Maisky was sent home, restored to his Party membership and formally rehabilitated in 1960. Later he wrote his memoirs. He died in 1975, having first penned a letter to Brezhnev begging that Stalin not be rehabilitated.
And with that biography under our belt, we can now proceed to Maisky’s wartime work, and how this sly diplomat caught the Brits collaborating with Hitler!
[to be continued]