TROUBLED U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS, FROM 1917 TO TODAY: A WOLFSONIAN REFLECTION

As the United States prepares to inaugurate a new chief executive, relations with Russia made news this week as outgoing U.S. President Barrack Obama imposed new sanctions and expelled thirty-five Russian intelligence operatives after C.I.A. and other U.S. intelligence agencies accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating cyberattacks aimed at deliberately interfering in U.S. presidential elections this past November. Even as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov recommended a retaliatory expulsion of U.S. diplomats, President Putin surprised almost everyone this morning when he decided not to pursue what he called “irresponsible diplomacy.” Instead, a statement from the Kremlin called for patience and restraint in responding to the new U.S. sanctions, placing their hopes for a “restoration of Russian-American relation” on the “policies carried out by the administration of President Trump.”

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Courtesy of Her Telden Paylasimlar

It is in this context of revived tensions in U.S.-Russian foreign relations that I thought I would reflect on past strained relations this day in history, 1922, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was officially established in the wake of the Russian revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Civil war.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Ironically, problems in U.S.-Russian relations first arose with the advent to power of another Vladimir. The abdication of the autocratic Czar in March 1917 and the establishment of the Provisional Government under Alexander Kerensky was originally viewed by most American officials as a welcomed regime change. Relations between Russian and the Western powers became strained rather quickly once Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) and his Bolshevik revolutionaries engineered a new revolution.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Steven Heller

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Having joined the Allies in the war against Germany in 1917, American officials were distressed to learn that Lenin had been deliberately sent back to his homeland by the Germans in order to destabilize Kerensky’s Provisional Government and to bring an end to the conflict on the Eastern Front.

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Cartoon by Louis Raemaekers (1869-1956)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The fact that Lenin accepted financial support from, and was sent back to Russia aboard a sealed railroad car provided by the Germans, led credence to Allied fears that Lenin was a puppet of the German High Command. On his first day in office, Lenin’s regime began truce negotiations with the Germans in which the Bolsheviks agreed to surrender large swaths of territory in the Ukraine, Finland, and three Baltic states—though they subsequently annulled the deal after Germany’s capitulation to the Allies in November, 1918.

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Cartoon by Louis Raemaekers (1869-1956)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

If German interference in Russia’s post-revolutionary succession prompted the first strain in U.S.-Russian relations in the 20th century, further tensions developed after the U.S. militarily intervened on behalf of the anti-Bolshevik forces fighting in the Russian Civil War that followed.

Posters and propaganda art created after the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922 reflects some of the East-West animosity that had developed.

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Poster artwork by Vlacheslav Polonskii (1886-1932)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Much as Vladimir Putin has played to fears in his country against a Western conspiracy to meddle in Russian domestic affairs as a means of building support for his own belligerent policies, the early Soviet state stressed in these patriotic appeals the need for domestic solidarity in the fight against foreign enemies and domestic saboteurs supposedly eager to bring down the Red regime.

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Poster artwork by Vlacheslav Polonskii (1886-1932)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Given the poor literacy rates in Russia in 1922, these propaganda appeals used cartoonish or Constructivist imagery on poster art to get the message out to the people.

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Poster artwork by Vlacheslav Polonskii (1886-1932)

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Placards by Vladimir Ivanovich Lebedev (1894-1966) for the show windows of ROSTA

(Russian Telegraph Agency) in St. Petersburg for agitation purposes, 1917-1922

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Today’s equivalent of these early “interference” and propaganda campaigns still occur, but now the players increasingly resort to stealth cyber hacking attacks and public cartoon commentary delivered over the internet rather than on paper posters.

danasummers

Courtesy of Dana Summers, Tribune Content Agency

~ by "The Chief" on December 30, 2016.

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