Saturday, April 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Paper Recalls US Aid to Soviet Russia Before Washington Recognized the USSR

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – The worsening of relations between the US and the Russian Federation because of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine has led some in the Russian Federation to demonize Americans and all things American, including calls to boycott McDonald’s restaurants and to not drink Coca-Cola.

            There have been some exceptions to this trend but none more interesting than an article in the Moscow newspaper “Bolshoy Gorod” describing the massive assistance the American Relief Administration provided to the people of Soviet Russia even before Washington recognized the USSR (

            Given that this story has not appeared on a “round” anniversary, either its author Pavel Gnilorybov or his editors or those behind them have decided that it is important to tell ordinary Muscovites, the readers of this paper, about the enormous contribution the ARA and its leader, Herbert Hoover, made to the Russian population.

            As the article points out, the ARA saved hundreds of thousands of Russian lives from famine.  It was created by Herbert Hoover, who had headed US assistance programs during World War I, was at the time US commerce secretary, and later became president of the United States.

            Hoover had had extensive experience in Russia. Before World War I, he had worked as an engineer in Siberia.  And, as Gnilorybov points out, he was no friend of the Bolsheviks who he said had engaged in terror and “murders on an order” far exceeding “the most reactionary tyrants” of the past.

            But those attitudes and the fact that Washington did not at the time have diplomatic relations with the Soviet government, the “Bolshoy Gorod” journalist says, did not mean that he could not distinguish between “the political system and the impoverished position of simple people.”

            “Twenty million people are starving,” Hoover said at the time. “Independent of politics, they need to eat.”

            The article describes the food and medical assistance the American people provided between 1920 and 1923, the extraordinary gratitude of the peoples of that country whose lives were saved as a result, and the subsequent efforts of the Soviet authorities to “minimize” the American contribution.

            The article then goes on to describe the growth of American-Soviet trade in the succeeding decade prior to US recognition of the USSR in 1933.  And then it concludes with these words: “Even under conditions of the absence of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the US large-scale economic cooperation was carried out.”

            Consequently, “Bolshoy Gorod” says, “all current calls for a total mutual boycott do not have any serious basis.”

            It would be easy to dismiss this article as simply another Russian argument that Western sanctions won’t work because economic interests will lead to continued trade regardless of what happens.  But the praise the article gives to the ARA and Hoover suggests another conclusion that may be more important.

            This article suggests that there is real resistance among ordinary Russians to the Kremlin’s current demonization of all things American, a resistance that is based on memories that the American people have been willing to help the Russian people even as Americans opposed the government in Moscow.

            And the appearance of this article now suggests that many Russians hope that the United States and the West more generally will be able to maintain that distinction even if Vladimir Putin does everything he can to undermine any distinction between the peoples and the governments of the West.

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