By the autumn of 1940, the entirety of Western Europe except Spain and Portugal lay under Nazi control, as did much of the Centre and parts of the East: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France had all fallen without serious resistance, and Britain’s refusal to take the German offer of leaving the Continent to the Nazis and the Nazis would leave the British with India had incurred the wrath of the Luftwaffe with night after night of air-raids.
It was in this context that a meeting was held, on 23 October 1940, between Adolf Hitler and Spain’s ruler, Francisco Franco. The meeting, taking place at the railway station in Hendaye, within conquered France, on the western-most point of the Franco-Spanish border, was also attended by the foreign ministers, Ramón Serrano Súñer (Spain) and Joachim von Ribbentrop (Germany). The Germans arranged the meeting to try to get Spain into the war, and General Franco attended the meeting intent on refusing—politely. Continue reading →
The Idea of Central Europe: Geopolitics, Culture and Regional Identity (2018), by Otilia Dhand, is an engaging and rather ambitious book, a work of intellectual history. Dhand’s core argument is that from the introduction of the term “Central Europe” in the nineteenth century, it did not describe a set geographical zone and the definition was always contested since the term was an attempt to construct local identities, a self separate from some other, as an instrument in the pursuit of geopolitical interests, always revisionist: these were attempts to will something into existence by influencing political behaviour. Continue reading →
Chile’s ruler Augusto Pinochet meeting U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Santiago, 8 June 1976
The first time U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met Chile’s ruler, General Augusto Pinochet, was at a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Santiago on 8 June 1976. Kissinger had deliberately kept a public distance from Pinochet because of the myth—which will never die—that he and President Richard Nixon orchestrated the coup d’état that brought Pinochet to power in September 1973. But with the OAS meeting in Pinochet’s capital city, Kissinger finally had to meet Pinochet. Kissinger’s sent two very distinct messages to Pinochet, one public, one private. Continue reading →
The world has been captivated this week by the scenes of an insurrectionary mob overrunning the United States Capitol at the behest of President Donald Trump. It is unlikely that many people remember or even know that nearly forty years ago, this building—the meeting place of the U.S. Congress, the place where laws are made—was bombed by a Communist terrorist group, a group remarkable for its all-female membership. A new book, Tonight We Bombed the Capitol: The Explosive Story of M19, America’s First Female Terrorist Group, by William Rosenau, a senior policy historian at CNA and a fellow in the International Security program at New America, examines this forgotten episode. Continue reading →
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) announced earlier this week that one of its senior commanders, Ismail Nazlikul (who used the codename “Kasim Engin”) had been killed on 27 May in a Turkish airstrike in Iraqi Kurdistan. Continue reading →
Thus, when it was revealed, two years ago this month, that Corbyn supplied political and other intelligence to the secret police of Communist Czechoslovakia, it was unsurprising. Corbyn was known to have supported the Soviet side in the Cold War, from Castro’s Cuba to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua; had he known of Soviet support to PIRA, it would not have turned him against them. So, it was all taken very much in stride. Putting aside the lament that it should have been a bigger scandal that the Leader of the Opposition was once an “operational contact” for the Soviet Bloc, it was an interesting look at how the Soviet Union, through its satellite states, sought to cultivate sympathisers and exert influence in Britain—and how little is known, even now, about the scale and success of such things.
Somebody who could have shed more light on this was Reuben Falber, a senior official of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and its key liaison with the KGB. When he died on 29 April 2006, he took most of his secrets with him. Still, what is known of Falber’s career gives some insight and such insights are by no means all retrospective. Continue reading →
President Barack Obama meeting President-elect Donald Trump, 10 November 2016 [image source]
October 2019 may well remain in the popular memory as the inflection point marking the collapse of America’s — and by extension, the West’s — position in at least the northern Middle East. Having been thwarted twice before in efforts to leave Syria, in March and December 2018, President Donald Trump made one more try. For many, ‘Trump betrayed the Kurds’ will be the summary of the events that followed as Turkey made a swift move into the vacuum. The reality is a lot more complicated, and in truth the amount of blame that Trump can take for the events of the last month is rather limited. This catastrophe was baked into the policy of Barack Obama, and Trump’s main fault is to have followed the policy track laid down by his predecessor. Continue reading →
“SDF commander “General Mazlum Kobani” (the PKK executive official Ferhat Abdi Shahin) being interviewed by AFP in Hasaka city, 24 January 2019 [image source]
Even by the standards of Syria’s complicated war, October 2019 was a tumultuous month. The contradictions inherent in the U.S. effort to conduct a counter-terrorism war against the Islamic State (IS) divorced from the realities of the underlying conflict erupted into view. Continue reading →
PKK at a terrorist training camp in the Asad regime-held Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, 1991 [source]
My friend Oved Lobel, a researcher focused on Russia’s role in the Middle East (among other things), found several interviews the Russian media did with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leaders, one with the leader himself Abdullah Ocalan, talking about, inter alia, the group’s relationship with Moscow. He very helpfully translated them and with his permission they are published below.
The broad outline of the PKK’s relationship with the Soviet Union—and then the Russian Federation—is fairly clear. After the PKK was founded in Turkey in the late 1970s by Ocalan, it was evicted from the country during the 1980 military coup. The PKK moved to Syria, where Ocalan was already based, having fled Turkey in June 1979. From there, the PKK moved into the Bekaa area of Lebanon, at that time controlled by the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Asad, and the Soviets acted through Asad, as they so often did in dealing with terrorist groups, to build the PKK into a fighting force that was then unleashed in 1984 on Turkey, a frontline NATO state in the Cold War. Continue reading →
Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a speech, “Don’t Forget Kashmir”, which as the title suggests focused on that conflict on the Subcontinent. Al-Zawahiri was insistent on fighting India, but he also wanted to “liberate” the Kashmiri jihad from the oversight of the Pakistani secret police and military, who have used these Islamist paramilitary forces as instruments of state policy against the Indian Union since the time of partition. In Al-Zawahiri’s telling the Pakistani state, such as it is, is too close to the Americans and the West. A transcript of the speech, released in English by Al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab Media, is reproduced below. Continue reading →