Archive for the ‘russia’ Category

The book I read to research this post was Rasputin The Last Word by Edvard Radzinsky which is a very good book that I bought from a car boot sale. It is around 670 pages so is a decent length. It also draws on a lot of sources with the collapse of communism in much of Eastern Europe unavailable to earlier books. It was published in 1988. Rasputin was a sort of cheif to the czarina of Russia and his bad advice is credited with helping to cause their overthrow. He did accurately predict a previous attempted revolution that was quelled. He used his position to offer various ladies favors in exchange for sex. He also saved the life of one of the czarinas children with what presumably a miracle. She should have seen thrrough him. Even the police and various members of the extended family had files on him and his activities. He was assassinated as part of overthrowing the royal family and despite being poisoned, shot several times and put in the frozen river seemed he would never die. The people thought this was a miracle and collected water from the river like holy water. Initailly when he came to court he was treated as a novelty peasant. They rarely saw those. He was crafty though and tried to make himself indispensible. This is an interesting book that I do recommend.

The book I read to research this post was Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century In His Life by DM Thomas which is an excellent book that I bought from a car boot sale. This book is around 530 pages so is a pretty decent length. Solzhenitsyn was a dissident author who is on a par with authors like Tolstoy and Pasternak. He was expelled from Russia in 1974 but did later go back there to live. He was born a month after the Russian Revolution and has seen first hand many of the problems with implementing communism. One problem was God to them officially didn’t exist which basically meant they could do as they liked. Particularly under Stalin people were regularly tortured and killed often with methods like being boiled alive or having there heads twisted off. In the revolution the white and red Russians were as bad as each other and often whether someone took one side or the other was simply a matter of survival. Alexander was sent to a Gulag under Stalin and later released under the presidency of Kruschev. He served in the army in World War 2 when Germany launched a surprise invasion and the Russian soldiers couldn’t get confirmation to fire back. In fact they were so taken by surprise they were trains still taking and laden with supplies for the German soldiers. Whilst in Gulag Solzhenitsyn got a job studying the phonetics in the Russian language and it might sound boring to us but he really got into it with relish and did such a good job they released him. He did have novels like The First Circle  & August, 1914 published in the west in secret. The fact that he had fans in the west probably saved him later from being killed. He wasn’t particularly outspoken against communism probably like a lot of Russian authors it was just the themes he wrote about in his books upset them. It’s worth noting when Terry Waite was kidnapped in the Lebanon the kidnappers gave him The First Circle to read and it became his all time favorite book. With the situation he was in he identified with the themes in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book which is extremely well written and would definitely recommend it.


The book I read to research this post was A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book which is a kind of controversial recent history is about Kim Philby but is also about the spy ring for the Russians and is in particular about Anthony Burgess and the game of cat and mouse the British spy services played with the KGB around the 40’s and 50’s. Funnily enough when Philby fled to Russia despite being a double agent and a communist he was far from happy even slashing his wrists on occasions. Philby was head of the British spy service at the time of World War 2 and one thing it says is he wasn’t concerned about the consequences of the information he passed on to the KGB. At one stage MI6 produced a list of staunch anti communists in Germany who might resist the Russians and he passed this list on. To their dismay MI6 later found out every person on the list had been shot. We don’t know how many names were on the list as that is classified. On another occasion a Soviet spy offered information including identities of more or less the entire network of Kim Philby and his fellow double agents in exchange for money and political asylum for him and his family. He was eliminated and it was obvious a person of the rank of one of the spies he had mentioned had messed the case up namely Philby. The people who worked with Philby were so inept they didn’t realise this and he had had the spy assassinated. This is an amasing story and I must admit Ben does write absolutely fantastic history books and his consistency astounds me. It reads almost like a novel and is absolutely enthralling. I did thoroughly enjoy this book and would enthusiastically recommend anything by Ben Macintyre.

The book I read to research this post was To The Edge Of The World by Christian Wolmar which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book is about the Trans-Siberian Railway and its history. Although when we think of the Trans-Siberian Railway we the railway line from Moscow to Vladivostok which is the one that is wholly in Russia & Siberia there are actually several Trans-Siberian Railways including one that was built earlier and linked up with the Chinese Eastern Railway for part of its route. The railway had to be rebuilt wholly within the Soviet Union because there were concerns the Chinese might close the stretch of line they owned stranding Vladivostok. The distance from Moscow to Vladivostok is approximately 5,750 miles although a few miles has been shaved off the original route by installing some straighter curves along with bridges and tunnels in places. When the original line was built it was considered too expensive to build any tunnels and in some cases whole mountains were dynamited and removed to make way for the railway. It’s interesting that the distance from Saint Petersburg to Kamchatka is 9,000 so the railway only stretches for 2/3 of the total stretch of the Soviet Union. Having said that in terms of railway building it’s the biggest achievement ever undertaken and was built in an amazingly short period. The Russians were determined to open up Siberia and try to populate it. Anyway sent to prison in Siberia was allowed to become a resident there after serving their sentence which normally be from 4-20 years. Of course most of these people died in captivity. Before the railway was built there existed a railway from Saint Petersburg to Moscow and then on to Chelyansk. This meant 4,500 miles of track had to be layed to Vladivostok. Vladivostok was little more than a village at that time. 1/7 of the Soviet GDP was spent on building this railway which is a huge amount. In those days Russia had very few universities which meant people like engineers and architects had to be brought in from abroad. These people also had to teach Russian people their skills so they could eventually take over although this didn’t happen until the 1850’s. They used a gauge of 5 feet although not all the railways in Russia shared this gauge which meant when the Japanese invaded in Siberia they couldn’t just travel to Moscow on the train and hampered there attempted invasion no end. A lot of the reason for building this railway was a military one to enable the rapid mobilization of troops and later on there were even train based missile launchers in the Cold War although not that many. The Russian Czar did build a railway to Warsaw before the Crimean War as he thought any war would come from that direction in Britain & France attacked and was caught out a bit when the attack came via Stevatopol in the Crimea. The British built the first military railway to get supplies to the front line. This is a great book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Christian is apparently of Russian descent although he lives in Britain and I have reviewed other books by him all of which were consistently good.


The book I read to research this post was The Berlin Wall A Very Brief History by Mark Black which is a very good book which I downloaded from kindle. The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 as part of the response to the exodus of people from Eastern Europe to Western Europe. After World War 2 Germany was initially partitioned between America, Britain & Russia & later on France was given a partition. Russia’s partition became East Germany & Britain & America’s partitions were initially joined & later France’s partition joined them to become West Germany. Berlin similialy was partitioned with Russian controlled part becoming East Berlin & the rest becoming West berlin. One problem that had to be solved before the Wall could be built was that a lot of the local railway lines went through West Berlin and had to be re routed. The wall itself which initially consisted of little more than barbed wire was built in one night. What most people think of as the wall which was a 10 foot concrete wall was built much later. Initially the American president Kennedy objected to the wall and how it hindered movement to such an extant that they almost went to war over it. Britain & France didn’t think it was serious enough to go to war and put pressure on America to resolve it peacefully. The wall had checkpoints and they allowed some West Berliners through although they needed a visa & could be turned back at the checkpoint. Later on when Gorbachev became president of Russia initially the wall between Hungary & Austria was opened leading to many East Germans asconding to the west via this route. Of course the Iron Curtain & the Berlin Wall did come down & Checkpoint Charlie was dismantled and reassembled in a museum in the reunified Berlin. I did enjoy reading this book and it is an interesting topic.

The book I read to research this post was Russian History A Very Short Introduction by Geoffrey Hosking which is a very good book which I bought from kindle. This book is part of a series on academic subjects where they get an expert in that field to write a book of around 150 pages which explains that subject and I must admit they do a decent job. There is apparently 300 titles and I am slowly but surely trying to read all of them. Russian history as defined in this book starts in the 13th century when slavs who were literally savages used to raid Russian cities although Russia as a country didn’t exist. Kiev which is nowadays the capital of the Ukraine was the powerful city in the area. Gradually Moscow grew in importance and this is where the beginnings of Russia start because the ruler of Moscow conquered much land. The teutonic knights tried to cut off their trade routes but were unsuccessful. Later Napoleon Bonaparte tried to invade Russia and he had a superior army & the Russian army wanted to retreat until they found an opportune moment to make but this moment never came. Of course they destroyed their crops and any thing else that might be useful. Napoleon thought once he reached Moscow they would surrender but this never happened. A lot of how the French army starved and were cut off from home wasn’t planned by either side.


The book I read to research this post was Operation Kronstadt by Harry Ferguson which is a very good book which I borrowed from the library. This is the true story of how Mi6 rescued one of its spies who was held prisoner at Russia’s most secure naval base in 1919 just after the Russian Revolution. It also tells of how Mi6 tried to start a counter revolution & start a war between Finland & the Russians. The author is an ex Mi6 spy so I think he’s quite equipped to tell this story. The Finn’s let Mi6 use one of their naval bases for the raid. They used a kind of giant motorised canoe which was built for speed hence it was made of plywood. This meant if a bullet even came close to it the plywood would shatter. The spies mostly used side arms as these canoes wouldn’t carry much weight. At the time of this story the spy network had been compromised to such an extent that there wasn’t a single active Mi6 agent in Russia. They were very aware of the fact that Britain wanted to start a coup & some of the Tsars supporters were still fighting. Britain knew there was a narrow window of opportunity in deposing the communists. The head of the Cheka or Soviet Secret Police was assinated & there was an attempt on Lenins life & most people thought he was going to die from his injuries. The 2 main members of the rescue team were Paul Dukes the only member of Mi6 to win a knighthood for work in the field & Gus Agar who won a Victoria Cross for his achievement. They sneaked in & out of the base & opened fire on the Finnish navy in an attempt to get them to attack the Russian Navy but that didn’t work completely. This story is probably nonetheless Mi6’s finest hour.