Russian history and culture, from a historian in Cambridge

Coronavirus: histories of emergency powers

As the proverb goes: it’s pointless to complain about losing your hair when they’re about to cut off your head. Across the world, coronavirus, not its longer-term impact, is the … Continue reading

April 3, 2020

Stalin and Hiroshima

In Hiroshima today, President Obama avoided a politically toxic and morally doubtful apology for the atomic bombing of Japan. Instead he faced up to the dangers of war. ‘We have … Continue reading

May 28, 2016 · Leave a comment

The Nazi-Soviet pact: a moral problem

‘Historians often dislike what happened or wish that it had happened differently,’ wrote AJP Taylor, the great British historian-provocateur of the last century. He concluded: ‘There is nothing they can … Continue reading

January 19, 2016 · Leave a comment

John Steinbeck invents ‘late Stalinism’

John Steinbeck visited the Soviet Union in 1947 when it was going through its post-war purgatory. What an encounter: between the author of The Grapes of Wrath (later to win … Continue reading

January 15, 2016 · Leave a comment

1917: the revolution of multitudes

‘Make arrangements for the children,’ said Molotov to his closest friend, Alexander Arosev, shortly before Arosev’s arrest in July 1937. You can read this and have a pure connection with the … Continue reading

October 8, 2015 · Leave a comment

Stalin, the weak dictator? Or, where was Putin?

Between 1936 and 1938, the people of the Soviet Union were tortured by the Great Terror, the arrest and execution of almost seven hundred thousand innocent people on invented charges. One of the … Continue reading

March 16, 2015 · Leave a comment

September 1937: Stalin’s welfare-terror state

The core fact of Soviet history is the Great Terror, the semi-judicial murder of almost seven hundred thousand people between 1936 and 1938. It was the high point of Bolshevik … Continue reading

November 10, 2014 · Leave a comment

Two votes: 1946 and 2012

What was it like to vote for Stalin? One of the most important elections in Soviet history was the 1946 poll for the Supreme Soviet, the country’s ‘parliament’. Of course … Continue reading

June 9, 2014 · Leave a comment