Ivan Maisky

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Maisky in the 1920s
The signing of the Soviet–Finnish Non-Aggression Pact in Helsinki on 21 January 1932. On the left the Finnish foreign minister Aarno Yrjö-Koskinen; on the right the Envoy of the Soviet Union in Helsinki Ivan Maisky.[1]

Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky (also transliterated as "Maysky"; Russian: Ива́н Миха́йлович Ма́йский) (19 January 1884 – 3 September 1975) was a Soviet diplomat, historian and politician, notable as the Soviet Union's Ambassador to the United Kingdom[2][3] during much of the Second World War.

Life and career[edit]

Ivan Maisky was born Jan Lachowiecki in Kirillov to a Polish-Jewish family living in Imperial Russia. His early revolutionary activities led to his expulsion from St. Petersburg University in 1902. After internal exile in Siberia, he travelled in Western Europe, where he learned English and French. In 1912, he settled in London until 1917. There, he met and befriended Georgii Chicherin and Maxim Litvinov; as his English improved his circle of friends expanded to include George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Beatrice Webb.

At the outbreak of the Russian Civil War and the revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion in Siberia, Maisky returned to Russia and settled in Samara, where he joined the local Komuch government, for which he was banished by the Mensheviks.

In 1921, he officially joined the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) which started his career within the communist system of power in Russia. In 1922 he started working as a diplomat at various posts including London, Tokyo and Helsinki, but in 1924, he also served as the first editor of the Petrograd literary magazine Zvezda.

In 1929, he became the Soviet Envoy to Finland. A close collaborator of Maxim Litvinov, Maisky was an active member and the Soviet envoy to the Committee of Non-Intervention during the Spanish Civil War.

In 1932 he returned to London as the official Soviet ambassador to the Court of St James, as the post was and is titled, he held it until 1943.[4]

While Ambassador, Maisky addressed as many British audiences as possible in order to break through the air of hostility towards the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 30's, a task which Litvinov “encouraged Maisky to undertake in every way possible.”[5] Once Litvinov was dismissed this all changed. Maisky stated: “Far from all the leading comrades' (including presumably Molotov) “realised the value of such speeches.”[6]

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Maisky dealt with a number of crises including intense British hostility towards the Soviets as a result of the Winter War with Finland.[7]

In 1941, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Maisky was responsible for the normalisation of relations with the Western Allies. Among other pacts, he signed the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement of 1941, which declared the Treaty of Non-Aggression Between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics null and void,[5] it also normalised relations between the Soviet Union and the Polish government-in-exile and allowed for hundreds of thousands of Poles to be released from Soviet prisoner of war camps.

During these years in London, he reassured Joseph Stalin that Britain had no interest in signing a separate peace with Germany.[7]

Maisky must have been heartened when he visited one of his favourite restaurants in London at the time of the British withdrawal from Dunkirk; the proprietor's wife was in charge of the restaurant rather than the proprietor. When Maisky enquired about the proprietor she said he was at Dunkirk having sailed in one of the small ships for which the UK Government had appealed in extremely dangerous conditions to go to Northern France to evacuate the troops. Maisky was amazed at the answer which was he had gone to save the boys from the Germans. Maisky's reaction was 'It would not be easy to conquer such a people'.[8]

Maisky was also pressuring Britain to open a second front against the Germans in Northern France,[7] he maintained close contact with Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden and personally visited the Foreign Office every day to get the latest news.[9]

In 1943, he was recalled to Moscow, where he was promoted to Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs. Maxim Litvinov was recalled to Moscow at the same time. Nobody is certain why Stalin recalled them. Various theories are set out in J Holroyd-Doveton's biography of Maxim Litvinov;[10] the official reason was Molotov, in making the announcement of the recall of Maisky and Litvinov , emphasised the fact that their recall was necessitated by the need for their advice in Moscow. There was a dearth in the Soviet Headquarters of men who would have the breadth of knowledge and experience which would qualify them to advise President Stalin on his relations with the USA and Britain.[11] Maisly did not believe that was the reason but it was Churchill's letter of 5 May 1943 informing Stalin of the postponement of the Second Front until the Spring of 1944.[12] Maisky's wife agreed, as she told Jock Balfour's wife that her husband was recalled because Maisky failed to obtain a Second Front.[13]

Maisky led a number of commissions planning possible Soviet strategies for ending the war and for the immediate post-war world. Maisky's commission focused particularly on the dismemberment of Germany, heavy reparations (including forced labour), severe punishment of war criminals, and long-term Soviet occupation, he also recommended maintaining a "viable Poland," albeit with significantly modified borders. In terms of post-war planning, Maisky envisioned a Europe with "one strong land power, the USSR, and only one strong sea power, Britain." His concerns about what he perceived as American ideological hostility led him to see Britain as a more viable long-term partner because he believed they would be more conservative going into the post-war world. He anticipated a struggle between the two, which would push Britain closer to the Soviet Union.[14]

Unlike Litvinov and Gromyko, who also participated in the commission, Maisky foresaw the greatest danger to the Soviet Union would be US technology plus Chinese human numbers spearheaded against the USSR; the possibility of a war between Communist China and the Soviet Union might have seemed an attractive proposition to the USA and her allies. However, Nixon realised that such an eventuality would, in Kissinger's words, 'upset the global equilibrium.' Nixon took the most daring step of his presidency and told the Soviet Union that the USA would not stand idle if the Soviet Union attacked China.[15]

Maisky joined Soviet delegations to the conferences in Yalta and Potsdam.

In 1945, he retired from active service in Soviet diplomacy and devoted himself to history. From 1946 onward he was a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1953, shortly before Stalin's death, he was arrested[16] and sentenced to six years in prison for alleged espionage. In 1955, however, he was released, cleared of all charges and fully rehabilitated. In 1966 Maisky signed the so-called "Letter of 25" Soviet writers, scientists and cultural figures, addressed to Leonid Brezhnev and expressing opposition to a possible rehabilitation of Stalin.[17]

However he remained loyal to Leonid Brezhnev and refused to have any sympathy with the dissidents of the late Soviet period. When, in 1968, Maxim Litvinov's nephew with fellow students demonstrated against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Maisky telephoned Maxim Litvinov's daughter Tanya who confirmed that it was true. Maisky was so shocked that he refused to have any further contact with the Litvinovs.[18]


  1. ^ Turtola, Martti (1999). "Kansainvälinen kehitys Euroopassa ja Suomessa 1930-luvulla". In Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti (eds.). Talvisodan pikkujättiläinen (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö. pp. 13–46. ISBN 951-0-23536-9.
  2. ^ Hope, Michael (1998). Polish Deportees in the Soviet Union. London: Veritas Foundation Publication Centre. p. 39. ISBN 0-948202-76-9.
  3. ^ Mikolajczyk, Stanislaw (1948). The Pattern of Soviet Domination. Sampson Low, Marston & Co. p. 17.
  4. ^ Grey, Ian (1982). Stalin: Man of History. London: Abacus. p. 305. ISBN 0-349-11548-6.
  5. ^ a b Ivan Maisky Memoirs of a Soviet Ambassador: The War 1939-43 trans. Andrew Rothstem London: Hutchison & Co. Publishers Inc. 1967, pg. 174.
  6. ^ Holroyd-Doveton, John (2013). Maxim Litvinov: A Biography. Woodland Publications. p. 479.
  7. ^ a b c Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953 Yale University Press, 2006
  8. ^ Ivan Maisky Memoirs of a Soviet Ambassador: The War 1939-43 trans. Andrew Rothstem London: Hutchison & Co. Publishers Inc. 1967, pg. 90
  9. ^ Fraser Harbutt, Yalta 1945: Europe and America at the Crossroads, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 109
  10. ^ Holroyd-Doveton, John (2013). Maxim Litvinov: A Biography. Woodland Publications. p. 445.
  11. ^ Holroyd-Doveton, John (2013). Maxim Litvinov: A Biography. Woodland Publications. p. 448.
  12. ^ Ivan Maisky Memoirs of a Soviet Ambassador: The War 1939-43 trans. Andrew Rothstem London: Hutchison & Co. Publishers Inc. 1967, pg. 362
  13. ^ Foreign Office Document FO/954/26
  14. ^ Fraser Harbutt, Yalta 1945: Europe and America at the Crossroads, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 110-111.
  15. ^ Holroyd-Doveton, John (2013). Maxim Litvinov: A Biography. Woodland Publications. p. 368.
  16. ^ Conquest, Robert (2000). Stalin: Breaker of Nations. London: Phoenix Press. p. 310. ISBN 1-84212-439-0.
  17. ^ Письмо деятелей науки и культуры против реабилитации Сталина
  18. ^ Conversation between J Holroyd-Doveton and Tanya, Maxim Litvinov's daughter.

Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

  • Maisky, Ivan. The Maisky Diaries: The Wartime Revelations of Stalin's Ambassador in London edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky, (Yale UP, 2016); highly revealing commentary 1934-43; excerpts; abridged from 3 volume Yale edition; online review
  • The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, 1932-1943 edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky, translated by Tatiana Sorokina and Oliver Ready, (3 vol, Yale University Press 2015).

External links[edit]