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74 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Gusev

[LONDON], 10 March 1944

I went to see the Soviet Ambassador [1] at 7.0 p.m. and had a very interesting conversation lasting an hour.

It began rather on the basis of a formal call, but soon developed, and, although we also covered many specific points, it took the form of a general discussion of the attitude of the British people towards the Russians.

I began by telling Gusev that my Counsellor [2], who had just returned from Australia, had reported to me that the Soviet Minister, M. Vlasov, and his large staff had rapidly established themselves in Australia and were very well known and liked there.

They had all made swift progress with the English language, had established wide contacts and were getting about the country.

There was no doubt about the deep interest taken in the U.S.S.R.

by the people of Australia, and it seemed clear that the Russians in Australia were getting on well with the Australian people. I deliberately used the phrase 'our strange Australian people' and was interested in the Ambassador's reaction to it. He immediately raised the point of my use of the word 'strange'.

I then went on to explain that we were 'different' from the British of these islands. We in Australia had long been a kind of laboratory for social experiment, and we had succeeded in pulling off, on a somewhat smaller scale, the same triumphs as the Russians had done with their revolution. As a result of the Australian Government's social experiments with the mass of the people, we had succeeded, I thought, in breeding an intelligent, thinking animal with much initiative. We believed that this was the result of our social system.

I linked this up with the gratification which the Russians must no doubt feel at the type of citizen they had evolved, citizens who had saved their country by their resistance and fighting prowess.

I assured the Ambassador that he would soon begin to see, if he had not already seen, reports from the Soviet Legation at Canberra demonstrating a sympathetic understanding by the Australians of the Russian people.

I then said to the Ambassador: 'I still have a feeling that you Russians are looking at the English people with grave suspicion'.

Gusev protested that this was not the case, citing the constant letters, cheques, etc. which he was receiving from sympathizers in this country.

To this I replied that he probably attributed this to feelings of gratitude rather than to any real understanding. To this Gusev dissented. I therefore went on to say that while he, Gusev, and other of his fellow countrymen who had had contacts with the British might realise there was something deeper than gratitude, I felt that in the minds of the general body of the people of Russia there was a feeling of suspicion towards the British and because I felt it was so essential that our two countries should work together I proposed to tell him in the frankest terms how I saw the position.

I pointed out that he must constantly bear in mind that the English were the most quiet, orderly and peace-loving people in the world, with generations of orderly and peace-loving people behind them. One must not forget that they had the urge for better conditions for the masses, but that they had always wanted to achieve these in their own way, that is to say by evolution. It was no use disputing the fact that the Russian revolution of 1917 had horrified the people of Great Britain. They had not realised the extent of the evil conditions under Czars, or the cleansing that was needed. All they saw of the revolution was the killing, and it had shocked them. I believed that this reaction had been the basis for the twenty years misunderstanding which had prevailed between the two countries. But all this was now a thing of the past-the U.S.S.R. had become an orderly nation, run on orderly lines like the people of this island. The present wave of enthusiasm for the Soviet Union was not merely inspired by the gallant fight which the Russian people had put up. The people of England had now begun to realise that the U.S.S.R. had achieved what they themselves had been trying for.

I then went on to stress to him that why I had been so frank was because of my deep conviction that it was necessary that if anything was to be made of the post-war world, the British and the Russian peoples must work together with sympathy and understanding. I added that it was also necessary that Americans should work with both of us. I pointed out to him that just as some Russians were suspicious of British and American intentions so were there elements in Britain and America that were suspicious of the other country and some who were suspicious of Russia. I then expressed the view, which I indicated was a personal one, that I was convinced Russia wanted to play in the comity of Nations in establishing a better world. In support of this personal view I referred to the Russian record at the League of Nations in some detail.

I then said that what had been achieved by the leaders in Russia over the last 20 years showed that they were extremely intelligent and able. I added that I was convinced those same leaders realised deeply how preferable it would be for Russia to play her part as one of the leading Nations in creating a new world rather than revert to the position of almost outlawry which had existed prior to the present war. I even touched on such dangerous topics as the restoration of a cordon sanitaire.

The burden of my story was that acting together we could create a good world. With misunderstanding the world would be a bad place for all of us to live in. Gusev took all this very well and was clearly interested and also a little surprised at my complete frankness.

I then went on to ask him how significant he thought the developments in the Dnieper Bend and the Ukraine were. After a pause he said they were most important. He added, however, that they must be followed up. He said the weather this winter had been very unfavourable but notwithstanding these adverse conditions they had made great progress and they must not give the Germans any let up now. He stressed that if there was any pause the Germans would have an opportunity of reorganising their forces behind the Bug and at the worst behind the Dniester and this would give them an opportunity to prolong the war.

I then expressed to him my admiration for what the Russians had achieved. I told him that no one had been surprised at the great fighting qualities of the Russian soldiers. These qualities the Russians had shown throughout history. What had surprised the world was the amazing competence shown by the Russian Staff. I said quite frankly that it was on the failure of the staff that there had been grave apprehensions in all countries and I added that I had little doubt that was the factor in respect to which Hitler had made his miscalculation.

I asked Gusev how this miracle had been achieved. His reply was that it was because young men were being given positions of authority and he instanced the case of a Marshal in Russia who is only 42. This led us on to a discussion of the whole system of education that they have been trying to develop in Russia during the past 20 years and I told Gusev the story Benes had told me of the young General who took Benes [3] round the War Trophies Exhibition in Moscow.

It was quite clear that this part of the conversation was very agreeable to Gusev.

We then went on to the present United Kingdom and U.S.A. Bombing offensive against Germany and Gusev was quite forthcoming as to the tremendous effect it was having.

We next went on to the question of the contribution on land that Britain and America could make. We did not directly refer to the Second Front but it was not very far below the surface. I put in some good propaganda on the difficulties of amphibious operations and of how little they were recognised by great Continental countries.

Gusev then asked me about developments in the Pacific and I was able to give him a quite encouraging story showing what had been achieved in New Britain, New Ireland and the Solomons, and how something between 80,000 and 90,000 Japanese were now cut off from any hope of relief or supply.

I then asked him whether he knew anything of the present position of Japan and Germany-their relations-referring him to recent developments in Tokyo. He said he knew nothing of them and had heard nothing.

We then went on to Finland-I said that the Russian terms had created a very good impression in the world, that they were regarded as reasonable and that the Finns would be well advised to accept them. Gusev said he did not think the Finns wanted peace.

This I challenged and pointed out that I thought the present position was due in considerable measure to the Finns' notorious slowness in taking a decision and how history had shown that when they did take a decision it was generally too late. I expressed the hope that this would not be the case on the present occasion.

Gusev said that it would be fatal for the Finns if they did not respond to the present Russian offer as the terms they would get in any subsequent negotiations would be very much stiffer.

I then asked Gusev why he thought the Finns did not want peace and added that I could see no possible advantage, they could gain by not endeavouring to come to an arrangement with the Russians now.

I asked Gusev if he could see any possible advantage to them in delay. To this at first he advanced no suggestions but eventually said with rather a cynical look that he assumed they were relying on the Americans to come to their assistance. I replied I could hardly credit this. It was perfectly clear that Gusev's observation was by way of being a gibe at the Americans.

The conversation was extremely interesting and on the whole I think possibly useful. It may have sown some seeds that will bear fruit later.

S. M. B.

1 F. T. Gusev.

2 i.e. J. S. Duncan, Deputy High Commissioner.

3 President of the Czechoslovak Provisional Govt (in London).

[AA:M100, MARCH 1944]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History