“At the bottom of the Kremlin’s view of world affairs is a traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity,” ran the report of a senior US official reporting back to Washington. The leadership in Moscow, it continued, was driven by the “necessities of their own past and present position” to present the “outside world as evil, hostile and menacing”.
Decision-making, the report concluded, lay in the hands of “a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken… This political force has complete power of disposition over energies of one of the world’s greatest peoples and resources of the world’s richest national territory, and is borne along by deep and powerful currents of Russian nationalism”.
The official’s name was George Kennan, the US chargé d’affaires in Moscow in 1946. His report, which came to be known as the Long Telegram, marked a key moment in the crystallisation of the Cold War. Although the Soviet Union had sided with Adolf Hitler’s Germany at the start of the Second World War, it had worked closely with the US and Britain after the launch of Operation Barbarossa on June 22 1941, when German forces flooded over the border and advanced on Kyiv, Leningrad and Moscow.
That sparked four years of close co-operation, as British fighter planes and American tanks were shipped into the Soviet Union through the White Sea and through the Gulf. Regular summits between Sir Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin built up a close working relationship as discussions turned not only to the war, but to the world that would emerge afterwards.