Putin thought he could get away with the invasion of Ukraine

Giles Milton (source: Macmillan)

Giles Milton is one of my favorite authors. And it’s always a real pleasure to be in touch with him. Even before I wrote my review of his last book, he agreed to answer some questions for this blog. If you haven’t read his book yet, run to the bookstore or get it online. This is a must, in the context of the aggression war conducted against Ukraine. For the time being, I trust you will enjoy this interview.

Mr. Milton, Checkmate in Berlin is a brilliant lecture about American and British innovation in adversity, mainly in organizing the Berlin airlift. Do you see the same attitude these days towards Ukraine?

Nothing on the scale of the Berlin Airlift had ever been attempted before. True, the Americans had airlifted vast quantities of weapons to the Chinese during the Second World War, but the Berlin Airlift was supporting (and keeping alive) several million Berliners.

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Putin’s Soviet Playbook

As I grow older, I realize that history is one of the surest guides to navigate the present. While many adhered to Francis Fukuyama’s theory that the demise of Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, represented the end of history, others lamented what they perceived as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”.

Old habits die hard and Giles Milton’s Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown That Shaped the Modern World is an excellent representation of that idiom. “”America is now the primary enemy,” said one of Marshal’s Zhukov’s general at the time of the capture of Berlin. “We have destroyed the base of Fascism. Now we must destroy the base of Capitalism – America.”” Things haven’t changed much in the last 77 years.

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Will Kyiv be another Stalingrad?

Adam Zamoyski (source: History Extra)

Few years ago, around the time I visited Poland for the first time, I devoured the insightful book Warsaw 1920 by acclaimed biographer and historian Adam Zamoyski. He is also the author of a masterful book about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. I therefore reached out to him, asking if he saw any parallel between history and the current invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. He generously accepted to share some thoughts with me and I’m extremely grateful for that.

Here is what the acclaimed biographer of Napoleon generously shared with me:  

The parallel that struck me, weeks ago, is that with 1811-1812, when Tsar Alexander I set as his condition for maintaining his alliance with Napoleon that the French Emperor issue a formal public declaration that he would never allow the re-creation of a Polish state. This was something that Napoleon would and could not do (any more than NATO could bind itself to refusing Ukraine membership if that country wished to join).

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When Khrushchev Helped JFK

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and US President John F. Kennedy (source: Foreign Policy)

I recently read and reviewed an excellent biography of former Soviet leader Leonid Brejnev by Andreï Kozovoï. Even if I found it to be tragic, I was fascinated to read about Brejnev’s role in the toppling of his predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev, in October 1964. Khrushchev’s persona was light years away from the character portrayed in The Death of Stalin – it is a satire, after all – and his bombastic temper certainly played a role in his downfall.

Khrushchev always fascinated me, whether it is regarding his role during World War II, his succeeding Stalin in 1953 or his role with President John F. Kennedy (of whom we commemorate the assassination today) during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. I recently came upon a very insightful article, “Nikita Khrushchev and the Compromise of Soviet Secret Intelligence Sources” in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence by David Easter. In his research, the academic exposes several instances where the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union might have compromised Moscow’s intelligence work and capabilities.

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FDR: The Fearless President

3DaysAtTheBrink_BretBaierI have always loved to read about FDR, one of my favorite Presidents. Being a fan of presidential libraries and having done some research in a few in the past, I have vivid memories of the time I spent at his inspiring Presidential Library at Hyde Park. I was therefore very interested in Bret Baier’s latest book, not only because it covers a period of contemporary history – World War II – for which I have an unquenchable intellectual thirst, but also because he dove into the presidential archives, a real treasure trove for anyone eager to fully understand the magnitude of the accomplishments of those larger than life Commanders in chief who lead America at crucial times.

The title of Bret Baier’s book Three Days at the Brink: FDR’s Daring Gamble to Win World War II refers to the Tehran Conference (1943), where the Big Three (FDR, Churchill and Stalin) agreed on the necessity to open a second front on the West – with Operation Overlord – to relieve some pressure on the Soviet troops, which occurred on June 6, 1944. But only a quarter of the book is devoted to the historic conference.

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