Ivan Maisky

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

Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky (also spelled 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] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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 while pressuring Britain to open a "second front" against the Germans in Northern France.[5] He maintained close contact with Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden and personally visited the Foreign Office every day to get the latest news.[7]

In 1943, he was recalled to Moscow, where he was promoted to Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs. He 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 labor), 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.[8] Consequently, he 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 onwards he was a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1953, shortly before Stalin's death, he was arrested[9] 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.[10]


  1. ^ Turtola, Martti (1999). "Kansainvälinen kehitys Euroopassa ja Suomessa 1930-luvulla". In Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti. 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 Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953 Yale University Press, 2006
  6. ^ Ivan Maisky Memoirs of a Soviet Ambassador: The War 1939-43 trans. Andrew Rothstem London: Hutchison & Co. Publishers Inc. 1967, pg. 174.
  7. ^ Fraser Harbutt, Yalta 1945: Europe and America at the Crossroads, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 109
  8. ^ Fraser Harbutt, Yalta 1945: Europe and America at the Crossroads, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 110-111.
  9. ^ Conquest, Robert (2000). Stalin: Breaker of Nations. London: Phoenix Press. p. 310. ISBN 1-84212-439-0.
  10. ^ Письмо деятелей науки и культуры против реабилитации Сталина

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]