Churchill on Russia

WIT AND WISDOM: FINEST HOUR 150, SPRING 2011

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A frequent request from students is: “Please tell me all about Churchill and Russia, and can you let me have this to me by Friday?” That, and Martin Gilbert’s foregoing testimony to just how much Churchill risked to help Russia with secret intelligence, prompt us to offer a few of his comments on the country and its people.

It is fair to accept that Churchill never warmed to Russia. When he was a subaltern, it posed a threat to India. In World War I, trying to save the Czar’s empire by forcing the Dardanelles, he was sacked from the Admiralty, and was no sooner gone than the Czar was, too. The Germans, he wrote, smuggled Lenin into Russia like a “culture of typhoid,” and when after Hitler’s invasion he declared his support for the USSR, Stalin was already demanding to know when he would launch a Second Front. Yalta ended with Churchill thinking—or hoping—he could trust Stalin, only to be frustrated, and denounced by the Kremlin as a warmonger. Yet he spent his waning years in office (pages 20-24) trying to reach a Russian settlement. Churchill liked and admired individual Russians, such as Savinkov and Maisky (page 38), and even felt a twinge of pity for Nicholas II. But he instinctively feared the Communist ideology, and knowing him as we do, it is not hard to visualise him rejoicing at the demise of the Soviet Union, which he predicted at his M.I.T. speech in 1949.

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“If Russia is to be saved, as I pray she may be saved, she must be saved by Russians. It must be by Russian manhood and Russian courage and Russian virtue that the rescue and regeneration of this once mighty nation and famous branch of the European family can alone be achieved. Russia must be saved by Russian exertions, and it must be from the heart of the Russian people and with their strong arm that the conflict against Bolshevism in Russia must be mainly waged.” —MANSION HOUSE, LONDON, 19 FEBRUARY 1919

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“The Bolsheviks robbed Russia at one stroke of two most precious things, peace and victory—the victory that was within her grasp and the peace which was her dearest desire…her life ever since has been one long struggle of agonizing war.” —HOUSE OF COMMONS, 5 NOVEMBER 1919

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“Were they [Britain, France and America, in 1919-20] at war with Soviet Russia? Certainly not; but they shot Soviet Russians at sight. They stood as invaders on Russian soil. They armed the enemies of the Soviet Government…. But war—shocking! Interference—shame! It was, they repeated, a matter of indifference to them how Russians settled their own internal affairs. They were impartial— Bang!” —THE AFTERMATH, 1929

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“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. It cannot be in accordance with the interest or the safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea, or that it should overrun the Balkan States and subjugate the Slavonic peoples of South-Eastern Europe. That would be contrary to the historic life-interests of Russia.” —BROADCAST, LONDON, 1 OCTOBER 1939

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“I feel also that their word is their bond. I know of no Government which stands to its obligations, even in its own despite, more solidly than the Russian Soviet Government.” —HOUSE OF COMMONS, 27 FEBRUARY 1942

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“Everybody has always underrated the Russians. They keep their own secrets alike from foe and friends.” —HOUSE OF COMMONS, 23 APRIL 1942

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“Never forget that Bolsheviks are crocodiles….I cannot feel the slightest trust or confidence in them. Force and facts are their only realities.” —CIRCA 1942; PRO, 2002

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“It would be a measureless disaster if Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence of the ancient States of Europe.” —21 OCTOBER 1942, THE HINGE OF FATE, 1950

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“[After the war,] what will lie between the white snows of Russia and the white cliffs of Dover?” —CHEQUERS, 23 FEBRUARY 1945

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“From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than weakness, especially military weakness.” —FULTON, MISSOURI, 5 MARCH 1946

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“There are thirteen or fourteen very able men in the Kremlin who hold all Russia and more than a third of Europe in their control.” —HOUSE OF COMMONS, 23 OCTOBER 1946

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“The machinery of propaganda may pack their minds with falsehood and deny them truth for many generations of time. But the soul of man thus held in trance or frozen in a long night can be awakened by a spark coming from God knows where and in a moment the whole structure of lies and oppression is on trial for its life.” —MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, 31 MARCH 1949 

 

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