Elsey, George

Kane, Jim


Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank


Continuation of Interview with Sir Frank Roberts

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: And in a country like the Soviet Union what happens internally is much more important in a way than their attitude on foreign affairs. Now of course during the war Stalin had very much relaxed what you might call the ideological rigours of a Marxist/Leninist society, and had very much encouraged the general sort of Russian patriotic feelings because that was the kind of thing he wanted. I mean they had to fight a war feeling here we're defending Russian soil and all this kind of thing. And again the army had had to be encouraged and the marshals had been, you know, given special facilities and all this kind of thing. And there was a feeling in Russian that, you know, maybe after the war things would change for the better, in the direction of what eventually became, let's say the Khrushchev reforms or even more ambitiously the Gorbachev ones. But on the contrary when the war was over Stalin began to feel he must get back the ideological controls again, and discourage these ideas that nationalism and Russian nationalism was what really mattered. And this was happening in many different fields as we found. And – and Zhandov who was one of Stalin's main colleagues was being set up above all to get a return to Marxist, Leninist, ideological correctness as it were in various things. And this applied to the arts, the musicians and the writers who thought they were going to be freer and not a bit of it, the ice came down again. A man like Eisenstein who had been producing very good films - he suddenly found that his films were not being approved any more, they were not sufficiently ideologically right. So all this, the Soviet behaviour internally above all, and foreign affairs, made it fairly clear to – anyway to George Kennan and to me, and to most other people in Moscow that the Russians were not going to be given an easier life after the war. And for example, a major thing, (name) would be the great victory of the war disappeared completely. I mean nobody knew where he was, nobody could find out. Later on we discovered he'd been demoted to command the garrison on Odessa, but at that time he might have been shot, I mean you just didn't know. People- the people who ran the Jewish theatre in Moscow suddenly died in a motor crash organised, by the KGB because Stalin didn't like Jews. And you know, everything was going back to the bad old days, and this was going to be the Soviet Union with whom Roosevelt had hoped to build up the future world on a basis of agreed democracy and everything else. And so that was when – and then of course things began to go wrong in Germany and towards the end of 1946, about a year or so after the war ended, it got more and more difficult to agree on how to run Germany as a single state, because the Russians were conducting quite different policies in those days, and we in ours.

Q: You mentioned George Kennan, for people who are not familiar with history can you describe what…

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, George Kennan, of course, was the – was the American minister in Moscow, I was the British minister in Moscow. And George became very famous indeed because he wrote a great dispatch back from Moscow. Our ambassadors were away a great deal and he and I were in charge of our Embassies. Warning in Washington that it was going to become increasingly difficult and was already becoming increasingly difficult to carry out what had been Roosevelt's hope, you see, of a really genuine co-operations with the Russians post war. And of course – and George afterwards became very famous because this got published and he became Mr X, great article in the Foreign Affairs magazine. Even today, George is now 90, but he's still regarded as the greatest authority on Russia, he was at that time. George, of course, was very worried because in America, of course, it was interpreted as almost we must go to war with Russia which hadn't been his intention at all. And then I was asked to do the same thing, you see, for London, and neither of us regarded Russia as we did Hitler's Germany, as a country which we could not avoid going to war with. We felt we could live with Russian provided we were realistic about it, and realised what were the limits to Russian co-operation, which at that time, you see, there were no limits in the West, we thought it was going to get better and better. In fact it was getting worse and worse.

Q: It started off as the long telegram and you've said…

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Yes, that was the long telegram…

Q: It's one of the most important.

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: I – I had my free long dispatches.

Q: Why was it one of the most important documents ever…

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, it completely changed American policy.

Q: How?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, because Truman had inherited the Roosevelt policy which is we must work with the Russians, that is our overriding, our overriding aim. And George Kennan was saying a lot of obviously – with a great deal of detail to information to prove his case that it wasn't going to be possible to work with the Russians in the sense that Roosevelt had hoped for.

Q: When you were in the Embassy in Moscow how much were you aware of chilling relationships between the Embassy and Russians who might come in as guests?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, they were never chilly in that sense, because we'd worked together during the war we knew the people we knew, and Russians were very pleasant to meet and all this kind of thing, but we found, of course, all kinds of things were arising which were difficult. And some of them might seem small things, but take the question of the Soviet wives. Now here we had a thing that – altogether on the British side there were under 40 cases of Americans probably had about twice as many and the French…