Oh, those evil Russians! Soviet-era 'plot' advances hawks' agenda

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
Sukhoi Su-30SM jet fighters of the Sokoly Rossii (Falcons of Russia) aerobatic team. © Maxim Shemetov
Not only are the Russians bombing nice, cuddly ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria - and by doing so strengthening the cause of ISIS - who had been all but defeated due to US air strikes over the past year - but they also planned to destroy London in the 1950s!

In an article subtitled ‘Shock Cold War Plot,’ Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper - of ‘Putin’s Missile’ fame - tells us that "Russia planned to nuke London suburbs and wipe out the capital in the Cold War."

Now if you just read the headlines you’d think that those dastardly Russkies were going to deliberately target civilians sitting in their semi-detached homes in London suburbs, but in fact, the story - which has been widely reported in other outlets too - is not as it first appears.

It’s based on the British National Archives’ release of a 1954 letter written by William Penney - an atomic expert who helped develop Britain’s first atomic bomb, in which Penney warns of a possible Russian 'plot.'

“Instead of using, say, 32 bombs on London, they would probably use three, four or five very powerful ones which would give the same total damage but need not be aimed accurately," Penney wrote to Edwin Plowden, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Authority.

News Corp Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch speaks at the start of the Wall Street Journal Digital Live (WSJDLive) conference at the Montage hotline Laguna Beach, California October 19, 2015. © Mike Blake

All we’ve got here is conjecture - there is no evidence that Russia was planning an attack in 1954. In fact, it was the US’s detonation of the world’s first hydrogen bomb in November 1952 - and the way it upset the balance of power that was behind British fears, rather than any actual intelligence that the Kremlin was planning to nuke Romford.

The British feared that they would be the likeliest target of any reprisal enemy attack, and not the Americans. In 1954, Penney was keen for Britain to develop its own hydrogen bomb - so he had a clear interest in warning of a 'Russian threat’.

But of course, such a nuanced explanation of Penney’s letter, putting his allegations into some form of context, wouldn’t really go well in the current climate, certainly not in Rupert Murdoch‘s neocon newspapers. Everything, including past history, must be spun to show Russia in the worst possible light. A theory - put forward by one man- that Russia MIGHT attack is presented as ‘Russia planned to nuke London and wipe out the capital in the Cold War’.

It’s not only the Murdoch press which has been up to mischief here.

The Independent newspaper ran a piece on the story which was very keen to show a continuum between the alleged ‘Russian’ plot of 1954, with the policies of Russia in 2015.

The article informs us: "The Russian head of state from 1924 to 1953 was Joseph Stalin, and from 1954 to 1963 it was Nikita Khrushchev."

A man carries a portrait of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at the Independence Square in Minsk November 7, 2014. © Vasily Fedosenko

It then goes on to say:’

'The alleged bombings would have caused "complete destruction" for three miles in every direction because they would have been more powerful than the one used by the US on Nagasaki citizens in 1945, he claimed.’

And then - presto! - the link to today’s events.

"Current Russian President Vladimir Putin has begun bombing Syrian opponents to President Bashar al-Assad, who is believed by the US to have used chemical weapons on his own citizens."

So there you have it. Stalin. Khrushchev. Putin. Three rotten apples in the same barrel (and let’s bung in Assad and alleged chemical weapons attacks, while we're at it!). It’s very important to note how the country that Stalin and Khrushchev ruled is called "Russia" even though it was actually the Soviet Union. This in the past few years has become standard fare - with the Soviet Union/USSR being literally airbrushed out of history to be replaced with "Russia."

There are two main reasons why this is being done. The first is that elites in the West don’t want to remind people those successful multinational federations - and in particular successful socialist multinational federations, once existed. It’s not just the Soviet Union which gets this treatment.

Yugoslavia was ‘abolished’ by the West even when it still legally existed - during the NATO bombing of 1999 the country targeted by NATO was routinely referred to as Serbia, even though the official name was still the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

And let’s face it: How many articles do you read today about the Middle East reference the United Arab Republic which existed between 1958-71 and under which Egypt and Syria were unified from 1958-61?

Remind people of the UAR and they might get the idea that a new union of Egypt and Syria - including other Arab nations too - would be the best way to protect those countries from aggression from the West and its regional allies - and that would never do, would it?

The other reason why the name ‘Soviet Union/USSR’ has been dropped is that using the name ‘Russia’ makes it easier to score geopolitical points in 2015. Russia: Stalin, Khrushchev, Putin - same country, same policies, same kind of leaders. Got the message?

In fact, when it comes to accusing other countries of wanting to launch preemptive nuclear attacks Britain is not really on strong ground.

Nikita Khrushchev [1894-1971], First Secretary of the Moscow Region and City Committees of the Soviet Communist Party. Reproduction of 1935 photo.

Last year, it was revealed how Winston Churchill had urged the US to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union in 1947 when he was leader of the opposition. A memorandum from the FBI archives revealed that Churchill wanted a right-wing US Senator Styles Bridges, a fierce anti-communist and defender of Senator Joe McCarthy, to persuade President Truman to launch a strike which would "wipe out" the Kremlin.

"The FBI document shows Churchill’s belligerence towards Britain’s former wartime ally ran so deep that he was prepared to tolerate the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Soviet civilians in a nuclear strike," reported the Daily Mail.

Thankfully, Truman did not take Churchill’s advice.

Now, if Russian media were to link Churchill’s note in 1947 to Britain’s invasion of Iraq in 2003; its bombing of Libya in 2011; and it’s current threat of air strikes in Syria, the British establishment would I’m sure cry foul and accuse the Russians of going back over old history to score points today.

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But in Britain, we‘re doing much the same thing with the alleged plot to bomb London in 1954.

In truth, there was no Soviet threat to Britain - or indeed to the West generally during the Cold War, as the late Andrew Alexander (a conservative writer and no fan of communism) detailed in his book ’America and the Imperialism of Ignorance’.

"As I researched the diaries and memoirs of the key figures involved, it dawned on me that my orthodox view of the Cold War as a struggle to the death between Good (Britain and America) and Evil (the Soviet Union) was seriously mistaken. In fact, as history will almost certainly judge, it was one of the most unnecessary conflicts of all time, and certainly the most perilous," Alexander wrote in 2002.

The ’Shock Cold War Plot’ story presented in such dramatic fashion now by the Sun, clearly serves two purposes for those trying to spin it for political advantage. First, it’s a way of getting the public, who might be in danger (heaven forbid!) of seeing Vladimir Putin as a ‘good guy’ for firmly dealing with terrorists in Syria, to regard Russian actions with more suspicion. "Why they planned to destroy London- the swines!"

It’s not just in Britain where this story has been reported in a way to damn current Russian actions.

Ukraine Today reported it under the dramatic headline 'Russia planned to blow up London in 1954.’

"The revelation of the Moscow's 20th century plan comes as tensions between Russia and the West are at their highest since the Cold War following Russia's annexation and invasion of eastern Ukraine, and more recently the Kremlin's military involvement in the Syrian civil war." UT informed its readers.

Planning to blow up London. Annexing Eastern Ukraine. Military involvement in a civil war. That‘s the sort of thing those evil Russians do!

Of course, Ukraine Today used the name ‘Russia’ in their story, for reasons I’ve outlined above. They couldn’t use 'Soviet Union' because Ukraine was of course part of the Soviet Union in 1954 and so they’d be accusing themselves of planning to blow up London - as the first commenter on the piece pointed out!

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The other way the story has been spun is to help push the case for Trident, Britain‘s hugely expensive and far from ’independent’ nuclear ‘deterrent,' which is up for renewal.

Britain’s ultra-hawkish Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, in full Cold War warrior mode, warned only last week of "an expansionist Russia" and the "danger that the long-standing consensus will be broken now that Labour has elected a leader who wants to scrap Trident and is not prepared to use it."

A Parliamentary vote on Trident renewal expected around the middle of 2016. Fallon and his fellow hawks will be worried that public opinion is against renewal - and is on the same side as Jeremy Corbyn on this issue.

The anti-Trident momentum is certainly growing: a big Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament march against Trident is planned for 20th February in London. Ian Chamberlain of CND says: "This could be one of the largest mobilizations against nuclear weapons this country has seen since the 1980s.”

So how convenient- given how the pro-Trident hawks are losing the arguments- that there’s a new story about a ‘Russian’ plan to nuke London! As the Daily Mail puts it: "The emergence of the Cold War plot comes as the UK’s nuclear policy returns to the focus of national debate."

Russian President Vladimir Putin © Alexei Druzhinin

Even the Daily Mirror, a Labour supporting paper - but one which supported the pro-Trident Andy Burnham for the Labour leadership, was keen to make the link between the ‘Russian’ plot and Trident renewal, posting, underneath the story an aggressive radio interview with Jeremy Corbyn on Trident, in which he said - to his credit - that there were no circumstances in which he would use nuclear weapons.

But will an allegation that Russia planned to nuke London in 1954 be enough for the hawks? What greatly weakens the pro-Trident case- are the lies told to justify the Iraq war. We were told that Iraq was attacked because our leaders genuinely thought it had WMDs - but we‘re also expected to believe- in the case of Britain that WMDs deter an attack.

And it doesn’t help that the most raucous voices in the pro-Trident faction are those who tell us that Iran has no need for nuclear weapons. If Iran doesn’t need nukes, then why does Britain need them?

The inconsistencies are there for all to see- and it’s clear that the pro-Trident Russophobes don’t want us to think too deeply about these issues. Better for them if we focus instead on a dastardly (but unproven) ‘Russian’ plot of sixty-one years ago, and remember, Russia: Stalin, Khrushchev, Putin- same country, same policies, same kind of leaders.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.