When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Soviet Union

Blue With Cold

1924: Nguyen Ai Quoc was in Moscow when Lenin died in January. Nguyen had changed his name from Nguyen Tat Thanh; later he would change it again, to Ho Chi Minh. Nguyen still hadn’t fully adapted to European winters. He went to pay homage to the dead Soviet leader dressed only in light clothing. When he returned to his room after hours in the bitter Moscow cold, his “face was blue, and the ears, nose, and fingers on the hands were blue, too”.

Source: William J. Duiker, Ho Chi Minh: A Life (2000), pp. 96–7

Propitious Moment For Signing

Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and American President Ronald Reagan sign a missile treaty in the East Room of the White House on 8 December 1987

1987: The high point of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to Washington was the signing, with his American counterpart, Ronald Reagan, of a treaty on intermediate-range missiles. The ceremony took place on 8 December, at quarter to two in the afternoon. The White House was strangely insistent about the timing; it transpired that a Californian astrologer had advised Nancy Reagan (star sign Cancer) of the precise time that her husband (Aquarius) and Gorbachev (Pisces) should sign the agreement.

Source: Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush (1995), p. 498

Self-Mutilation

1959: During the three years he was incarcerated in Soviet prisons, Felix Yaroshevsky worked as a surgeon. He came across many cases of self-mutilation among his fellow inmates: veins slashed; fingers and toes lopped off; buttons sewn on bodies; and one instance of a youth who urinated on his feet and put them through a broken window to expose them to the freezing January air, resulting in severe frostbite.

Source: Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, October 1975

Genuine Applause

Anna Akhmatova, from a 1922 portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

1944: Stalin loved applause, as long as it was directed at him. Applause for others made him jealous and suspicious. After the entire audience at the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow had spontaneously stood up to acclaim the poet Anna Akhmatova, Stalin reputedly asked, “Who organized this standing ovation?”

Source: Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Abandoned: A Memoir (1974), pp. 375–6

Cockroach Whiskers

NKVD mugshot of Osip Mandelstam

1933: The poets Osip Mandelstam and Demian Bedny landed themselves in trouble for injudicious comments about Stalin. Mandelstam described how
His cockroach whiskers leer
and
His fingers are fat as grubs
and Bedny wrote in his diary that books he lent to the Soviet leader came back with greasy fingermarks on the pages.

Source: Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope: A Memoir (1971), pp. 13, 26

Lenin The Sportsman

1904: Nikolai Valentinov got to know Vladimir Lenin in Geneva, where the Bolshevik leader was living with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya. Valentinov’s Encounters with Lenin gives glimpses of Lenin’s domestic life. He liked to walk in the country and enjoyed picnics. He swam well and skated well. He exercised on the trapeze and on rings. He was very good at billiards. Before starting work each morning, he dusted his books and put them in order. He cleaned his shoes until they shone. If he lost a button, he would sew on another himself, and this he did “better than Nadya”.

Source: Nikolay Valentinov, Encounters with Lenin (1968), pp. 79–80

Disorientated

NASA photo of cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev

1991: The Soviet cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome for the Mir space station on 18 May. During the 312 days he spent in orbit, communist hardliners staged a short-lived coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics officially ceased to exist. When Krikalev returned to Earth on 25 March 1992, he landed in the newly independent state of Kazakhstan.

Source: Brian Harvey, Russia in Space: The Failed Frontier? (2001), pp. 29–32

Shorter Queues

1990: “I don’t believe all our propaganda about you starving in the West.” The quote, near the end of Robert Carver’s travel book The Accursed Mountains, came from “an intellectual in Leningrad”. “I think you have queues at your shops, like us,” the man said, but “not as long as ours.”

Source: Robert Carver, The Accursed Mountains: Journeys in Albania (1998), p. 330

Easy Peasy

1986: A year after CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames began betraying secrets to the Soviets, the American spy agency scheduled a lie detector test for him. Although it was only a routine test, it put the wind up Ames.

He got in contact with the KGB and asked them to suggest ways to foil the polygraph. Their advice: “Get a good night’s sleep, and rest, and go into the test rested and relaxed. Be nice to the polygraph examiner, develop a rapport, and be cooperative and try to maintain your calm.”

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Moscow Calling

U.S. President Ronald Reagan

1985: When his hearing aid started playing up during a White House briefing on the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan turned to intelligence official Robert Gates, smiled, and said, “My KGB handler must be trying to reach me.”

Source: Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (1996), p. 344

Underwater Activity

1981: Animals can sometimes make humans look really stupid.

In October, a Soviet submarine ran aground on rocks close to the naval base at Karlskrona in southern Sweden. This was undeniable evidence of foreign intrusion into Swedish territorial waters, and it made Swedes jumpy.

For the next decade, unidentified submarines were frequently reported along the country’s coastline.

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Surgeon And Patient

1961: When Leonid Rogozov, a member of the Soviet team at the Novolazarevskaya base in Antarctica, fell ill with nausea, a high temperature and abdominal pains, the diagnosis was straightforward: acute appendicitis. Evacuation by sea or air, in the middle of the polar winter, was out of the question; Rogozov would have to be operated on at the base. And since Rogozov was the team doctor, that meant he would have to operate on himself.

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Papal Divisions

1935: During a visit to Moscow, the French foreign minister, Pierre Laval, urged Joseph Stalin to improve the lot of Catholics in the Soviet Union. Stalin was utterly contemptuous of Catholics and the Vatican. “The Pope!” he snorted. “How many divisions has he got?” (To which the perfect riposte would have been: “The same number that Karl Marx had.”)

Source: Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, I: The Gathering Storm (1950), p. 121

Lethal Cocktails

1970: “Drink more, eat less,” advised the Russian writer Venedikt Yerofeev. Moscow Stations, his account of a drunken rail trip across the Soviet Union, included recipes for his favourite and most lethal cocktails. Spirit of Geneva: a mixture of Zhiguli beer, spirit varnish, White Lilac toilet water and sock deodorizer. The Tear of a Komsomol Girl: lemonade and mouthwash with smaller quantities of Forest Water eau de Cologne, lavender water, verbena and nail varnish, stirred for 20 minutes with a sprig of honeysuckle. And, “last and best”, Dog’s Giblets: Zhiguli beer and anti-dandruff solution combined with Sadko the Wealthy Guest shampoo, brake fluid, insecticide and superglue.

Source: Venedikt Yerofeev, Moscow Stations (1997), pp. 46–51

Cold War Nadir

1961: From an American perspective, the middle of April was one of the lowest points of the Cold War. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space on 12 April, and this Soviet technological and propaganda triumph was followed, five days later, by the military fiasco of the American-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

Source: Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (1998), p. 142

Realpolitik

1924: Norway’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union was impelled, in part, by the need to find markets for the Norwegian herring catch. Twelve years later, herrings again played an unexpected role in bilateral relations. The Norwegian government, fearful that the Soviets would halt purchases of the fish, gagged the political exile Leon Trotsky, and then put him on board a ship to Mexico.

Source: Donald Rayfield, Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him (2004), pp. 259–60, 261, 271

Clinging To Life

1921: Famine killed an estimated 5 million people in the Volga region of Soviet Russia. Among the starving refugees at Samara, the British journalist Arthur Ransome came upon “a silently weeping little girl” with a “wizened dead face, pale green”, and on the east bank of the Volga, “an old woman cooking horsedung in a broken saucepan”.

Source: www.theguardian.com/century/
1920-1929/Story/0,,126591,00.html

Knock-On Effect

White stork, photographed by Dick Daniels

1986: The meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, released a cloud of radioactivity that affected not only the nearby human population, but also, indirectly, the stork population. Storks hunted for beetles, grasshoppers, frogs and other small prey in cultivated fields and meadows. When the Soviet authorities ordered the evacuation of residents from a wide area around the power plant, the abandoned fields and meadows became overgrown with tall grass, bushes and saplings. These made it difficult for the storks to forage for food, which in turn led to a decline in their numbers.

Source: Bird Census News (2000)

Nuclear Annihilation Averted

1983: American President Ronald Reagan didn’t mince his words. The previous year, he had predicted that the West would consign Marxism and Leninism to the “ash heap of history”. In March 1983, he labelled the Soviet Union “an evil empire”.

Also in March, Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, intended to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. In April, the United States Navy conducted a large fleet exercise in the northern Pacific. An important NATO exercise was planned for Europe in November, around the same time that Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles were to be deployed in West Germany.

Viewed from Moscow, all this bellicose rhetoric and activity was highly alarming. Was it the prelude to a sneak attack on the Soviet Union?

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“Yellow Rain”

1981: Alexander Haig announced that the United States was in possession of “physical evidence” that the Soviet Union was supplying its Southeast Asian allies with biological warfare agents for military use against their opponents. According to the Secretary of State, the Soviet Union was providing Laos and Vietnam with mycotoxins – poisonous compounds synthesized by fungi.

The “physical evidence”? Hmong villagers, refugees from fighting in Laos, had seen low-flying aircraft spraying what the Hmong called “yellow rain”, an oily liquid that left a residue of yellow spots on leaves, rocks and rooftops. Villagers caught in these chemical showers exhibited symptoms that included blurred vision, breathing difficulties and skin burns. Between 10 and 20 per cent of victims died.

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Big Bang

1961: The most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated was the Soviet Union’s Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb. The device was tested on 30 October, producing an estimated yield of 50 megatons, roughly 3,000 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War.

Source: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/
Russia/TsarBomba.html

Women In Space

Edward Teller, advocate of female astronauts

1957: In Edward Teller’s opinion, “All astronauts should be women because they weigh less and have more sense.” The United States ignored the nuclear physicist’s trenchant views and it was the Soviet Union that first sent a woman into space. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova orbited Earth for three days in June 1963; the first American female astronaut didn’t blast off until 1983.

Source: Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles, Almost Heaven: The Story of Women in Space (2003), p. 7

Direct Hit

1945: “Command post moved to Potsdamer Platz station,” a German officer noted on 27 April as Soviet troops fought their way into the centre of Berlin. “Direct hit through the roof. Heavy losses among wounded and civilians. . . . Terrible sight at the station entrance, one flight of stairs down where a heavy shell has penetrated and people, soldiers, women and children are literally stuck to the walls.”

Source: Tony Le Tissier, Berlin Then and Now (1992), p. 226

Cats On A Hot Tin Roof

Hawaiian lava flow, National Park Service/L. Konrad

1938: The eruption of Bilyukai, on the Kamchatka peninsula in eastern Siberia, produced huge amounts of lava. Rivers of it, which, as it flowed away from the volcano, cooled and formed a crust on its surface.

The volcanologists V.F. Popkov and I.Z. Ivanov, showing scant regard for their personal safety, decided that the only way to properly study the lava was to go out on to it.

They tossed rocks on to the crust to strengthen it, and then Popkov gingerly stepped on to the band of lava that separated the riverbank from the crust. “Without letting go of Ivanov’s hand, I put . . . one asbestos-shod foot on the incandescent lava,” he wrote. “I released Ivanov’s hand and made another step by resting my body on the iron rod which I used as a walking stick and which sank slowly into the plastic mass.”

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