Our Friends, the Russians

Three years ago the blondes wouldn't wink at you ... Today all Russians call you friend . . . The change is significant — Cassidy

HENRY C. CASSIDY April 1 1944

Our Friends, the Russians

Three years ago the blondes wouldn't wink at you ... Today all Russians call you friend . . . The change is significant — Cassidy

HENRY C. CASSIDY April 1 1944

Our Friends, the Russians


Three years ago the blondes wouldn't wink at you ... Today all Russians call you friend . . . The change is significant — Cassidy


MOSCOW—(By Cable): The Russian Riviera

gives a man ideas. It may be because of the soft southern sun, the gentle Black Sea and the rich semitropical foliage rising toward the snowcapped Caucasus mountains. Whatever it is I thought a pretty blonde walking up the hotel steps winked at me. I stopped to say hello and found that if she did wink it must have been because of a speck of dust in her eye, not because of me. She passed haughtily, without speaking.

In fact I spent two weeks at the Riviera resort town of Sochi without once being spoken to by anyone except on business. The only ones I did speak to were hotel servants, beach attendants and militiamen who arrested me for taking pictures I should not have been taking. They were pleasant enough but absolutely businesslike. Not a word did I hear in friendship.

That was in the spring of 1941.

Now, three years later, one can walk up to a Russian in the presence of witnesses, call him friend, and he won’t mind. In fact if he likes you he is likely to say friend right back at you. He won’t mind telephoning you or coming to your home or having you at his own home.

That, for what it is worth, and I think it is worth a lot, is one of the wartime changes in the Soviet Union. I think it is worth a lot because it means more foreigners can know Russians and more Russians can know foreigners. And the more we know each other the more we will understand and be patient with each other—the more there will be a chance after this war of keeping the peace.

What brought about this change? It is difficult to put a finger on any single cause for it. It has been more pronounced since the Moscow-Teheran con-

ferences. But it was in evidence even before then and has developed gradually since the Soviet Union became first an ally of Great Britain and then a partner of the United States in this war.

Few things happen quickly in thus huge country covering one sixth of the earth and encompassing nearly two hundred million people, especially fundamental changes of this kind. It is one of those things that develop gradually with its ups and downs but eventually comes to full growth. It has not yet reached complete maturity, but with tender care it may.

Let me tell one or two examples to show its present state of development. Lloyd Stratton, assistant general manager of the Associated Press, came to Moscow during the winter on a world tour. He had been here only a few days when Nikolai Palgunov, chief of the press department of the foreign commissariat and director of the Soviet news agency Tass, invited him to lunch in the private dining room of the Hotel National with a splendid view of the Kremlin and Red Square.

Present were General Na Talensky, editor of the

Red Army newspaper Red Star, and K. K. Omelchenko, editor of the trade union newspaper Trud, to name only two of them, together with officials of the press department, editors of Tass and members of the Moscow bureau of the Associated Press. Mixed with heaps of food and free-flowing toasts there was a lot of shoptalk, mostly about our various working hours. There was also some banter and some seriousness about the Associated Press and Tass not being new-found, fair-weather friends but allies of 20 years’ standing who hoped for many more years of co-operation. Altogether it was an enjoyable fruitful affair.

Official Friendship

THAT, of course, is official friendship. It is the kind of entertainment Stalin offers at the Kremlin for leading statesmen and soldiers of foreign nations who come to Moscow. Almost any visitor, official or otherwise, can expect the same reception from his “opposite number,” or the person in Moscow holding a position corresponding to his own at home. But personal friendships also exist between Russians and foreigners. *' While Lloyd Stratton was here we enlisted the aid of an English-speaking woman, Lydia Petrovna, to help him. Lloyd, who had heard stories abroad of hunger in Russia, painstakingly wrapped up some bread and sausage after each meal in his room and offered it to Lydia to take home for supper. With characteristic pride, although she probably could have used it, Lydia declined to accept.

“Do you think we Russians are that hungry?” she asked.

“Frankly, yes,” Lloyd replied.

“Then come to dinner at my house and see for

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yourself,” Lydia said, and to show she meant it she invited the whole lot of us.

By the evening set for the dinner Lloyd had gone on to India and China liut the rest of us proceeded in force to the meal. It was worth it. It started with a crisp vegetable salad. Then came a plate of rice with ham chopped up and cooked in the style of Boeuf Stroganoff. Finally there was a plate of Russian sweetmeats with gallons of tea. After dinner we sat around a little room on the edges of three high, linen-covered beds, in which Lydia, her father, mother and sister slept, and heard her collection of American phonograph records of 1930 vintage. That will always be one of my strangest recollections, sitting in that Russian room listening to Bing Crosby sing “Home On the Range” and “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” That is personal friendship in Moscow.

There are fewer of these personal friendships between foreigners and natives in Moscow than there used to be in the capitals of western Europe like Paris, Brussels or Vienna, or than there are in London, Berne or Geneva. That is only natural, because Russia has always been isolated by geography and language and remote from the countries of the west. How many

friends would we have at home who spoke English poorly or not at all? They would hardly be amusing company for us. And Russians don’t find such persons good companions for themselves. But those who are qualified to have Russian friends can have them.

These remarks about Russians incidentally refer primarily to Muscovites. They are about the only Russians who now come into contact with foreigners. In the country, in the industrial towns, at farming villages and on the front, I have invariably found Russians are friendly folk, eager to hear about foreign things and glad to know foreigners. The Muscovites are the only ones who truly reflect the change in attitude.

Historically, perhaps, the most important result of the Moscow-Teheran conferences will prove to be their confirmation of friendship between Russia and her Allies and their projection of that friendship into the future peace. If seen from this point of view the two conferences were not the turning point in the development of world affairs or the starting point of a new era, but the climax to a long slow steady process of making friends. Friendships were formed by force of events. The Moscow-Teheran documents formalized the friendships and provided the basis for continuing them after the

wartime force of events has been eliminated.

General Security

If this point of view is correct the most important result of either conferI ence will prove to be the Moscow fourpower declaration of general security, in which China joined the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States in agreeing on the broad system of postwar international co-operation to include all peace-loving nations large and small. The Teheran declaration of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt that “we have reached complete agreement as to scope and timing of operations which we will undertake from the east, west and south” made big headlines at that time. But for long-range effect perhaps the closing paragraph of that declaration will become more significant. It said, “We came here with hope and determination. We leave here friends in fact, in spirit and in purpose.”

That phrase was not simply rhetoric.

I have been assured on good authority that the three men meant and still mean precisely what they said. For Russians the most convincing evidence of this was given by one of the most powerful, though unwritten, documents of the conference. That was the photograph of the three leaders sitting in obvious friendship on the porch of the ; Soviet Embassy. That document made j as many friendships between Russians j and foreigners as any written words { could have made.

How have other agreements reached at the conferences worked out in I practice? How, for example, is the ■ diplomatic machinery, set up in the Moscow meeting, actually functioning.

Provision was made for a three-power consultation in each capital, with the foreign minister and two ambassadors serving as a sort of cabinet. This was an unprecedented extension of the usual practice of exchanging views bilaterally through diplomatic channels. But British Ambassador Sir Archibald Clark Kerr left Moscow soon after the conference for Teheran and then proceeded home on leave, returning only recently to Moscow. At this writing he had not yet met with Molotov and Harriman. Here, at least, one part of the machinery had not yet started to work.

Provision was made for a European advisory commission, with headquarters in London, to study the various questions as they arose and make recommendations to the Soviet, British and American Governments. The necessarily private nature of its work on plans to meet future situations in Europe submerged its activities into relative obscurity. But with Sir William Strang hard at work as its head and its London headquarters completely organized it yet may emerge with all the importance attributed to it at the time of its establishment.

Finally, the Moscow conference created an advisory council for Italy. This body originally conceived as an instrument to handle day to day questions turned out to be more important, at least temporarily, than the London commission. The open nature of the problems it had to handle put it in the public spotlight. With the Fighting French, the Greeks and the Jugoslavs invited to participate in its work, together with the Big Three, it has become one of the most important organs for co-ordinating Allied policy in that vital part of the world.

Andrei Vyshinsky, first Vice - Commissar of Foreign Affairs and possessor of one of the Soviet Union’s keenest diplomatic administrative minds, worked smoothly with MacMillan Murphy in the organization of the

Yhditerranean council. I understand every decision made by that body so far, including the agreement on the delicate question of inviting the Greek and -Jugoslav Governments-in-exile to join, was made with unanimity. That part of the Moscow machinery can safely lar pronounced successful.

Regarding military decisions, whatever has passed or may pass among the Allies, i arq assured at this writing that agreements made at Teheran still stand and that no military disagreement has risen among them since that conference. The basis still exists for working together in war and peace. From one point of view the conferences may be considered to mark the end rather than the beginning of an era in international affairs

Bright Page

The period from Nov. 6 to Dec. 6, 1943, formed the brightest page in the history of Allied relationships. On Nov. 6 Stalin told his people in a national holiday address that the second front was “not behind the mountains,” that Allied relations “far from weakening have, contrary to expectations, grown stronger and more enduring,” and that “events of the past year show that the anti-Hitlerite coalition is a firm association of peoples and rests on a solid foundation.” On

Dec. 6 Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt released their Teheran declarations. Thereafter issues arose which did not affect the fundamental agreements but which did produce surface signs of considerable difficulties in the co-operation of the three great powers.

The trial and hanging of the three German soldiers at Kharkov in December for atrocities committed against the civilian population during the occupation of that city drew some criticism from abroad that the Soviet Union was acting unilaterally on the war criminal problem affecting all the United Nations. and suggesting that it would be better to delay the trials until after the war to escape reprisals. This drew a sharp rejoinder from the Soviet trade union journal, War and the Working Class, which is often used to reply to foreign press criticism. It asserted that the Russians were legally justified in proceeding to try war criminals immediately and that it was easier for those who sat quietly in unoccupied countries to await vengeance than for those w ho had experienced the enemy's whip. Hut there was no sign that the Russians intended to continue on a path radically different from that of the Allies. Further trials were promised but they were not immediately resumed.

The Polish question became acute in January. The inconclusive series of statements began Jan. 5 when the Polish Government-in-exile announced from London that the Red Army had entered old Poland and that it would not accept unilateral settlement of its territorial problem.

The Soviet Government replied Jan.

I 1 with a conciliatory declaration suggesting the Curzon line, drawn by the Allies after the first world war, asa basis of a Soviet-Polish border agreement. The Poles in a Jan. 15 statement ignored the Curzon line but asked the United States and Great Britain to arrange negotiations for a general settlement of the Soviet-Polish problem. The Russians closed the exchange on Jan. 17 with a flat refusal to deal with the present Polish Government.

On the same day Pravda published its puzzling rumor from Cairo that somewhere in the Iberian Peninsula two prominent Englishmen had conferred with Ribbentrop on terms for a separate Anglo-German peace, and that the meeting “was not without results.” The abbreviated version of the British denial of the rumor later appeared in the Soviet press.

February brought a new flurry. On the first day of the month Molotov proposed to the Supreme Soviet, holding its 10th legislative session in the great palace of the Kremlin, an act permitting each of the lfi Soviet Republics to have its own direct relations with foreign states, maintain its own Army formations, have its own commissariats of foreign affairs and national defense. His proposal was promptly made law.

Foreign reaction to that was a curious throwback to the old days of suspicion and distrust. Some commentators seemed to take it as meaning that the Soviet Union was breaking up into separate constituent republics and so could no longer be classed as one of our great world powers. Others preferred to interpret it as a bold bid for greater power and an invitation to neighboring states to join the Soviet Union.

These and many other interpretations ignored the text of Molotov’s report to the Supreme Soviet on the act. He made plain that this step was designed to strengthen, not weaken, the Soviet Union by giving individual republics the opportunity to satisfy their own needs better, but that the central Government through the newly named Union - Republican Peoples Commissariats of Foreign Affairs and Defense, replacing the former UnionPeoples Commissariats, would retain the general direction. At the same time he emphasized the domestic rather than the international effect of the measure as a further step toward the solution of the eternal problem of nationalities and minorities in the multipeopled Soviet Union.

The important thing to remember in considering cases that have arisen, are arising and will arise, is that apart from them all you can still have friends in Moscow. There are times when the Russians may not understand us any more than we understand them. But for these cases there is a basic treatment concocted at the Moscow conference and applied at Teheran. There it cured the second front trouble. When and if any more troubles arise they can he cured in the same way as long as the underlying friendship and co-operation remain as they are.

This friendship between Russia and her Allies can be compared to a small boy. He Is bound to have growing pains. Let’s hope the little fellow grows soon to full maturity.