Thursday, July 08, 2010

Russia, With My Backing, Will Soon Destroy Your Ass!

Interesting story in the Telegraph:

["Alleged" Russian spy Mikhail] Semenko - known as Misha - lived in a shabby flat in Arlington. The flat had been arranged for him by Mark Grueter, a former Peace Corps volunteer who had taught him English at Amur State University in Blagoveschensk in the Russian Far East in 2001 and 2002.

"Unlike many of the Russian students, he had a generally favourable attitude toward America," Mr Grueter recalled. "He didn't carry any of the xenophobia or anti-American baggage that many of them had. He wasn't really interested in politics.

"He was just interested in learning, in soaking up knowledge. When I saw him in America, he seemed happy and he seemed to really like it here. I was impressed by how much his English had improved."

Update: Mark's adventures in espionage are now told in full here.


Mark G said...

What sort of conspiracy theory are you cooking up here, soba?

Suhayl Saadi said...

The guy on the postage stamp looks like Joseph Cotton. I always thought it interesting and somewhat hilarious that many Soviet stamps seemed to picture 'factory-worker' men who resembled Norman Wisdom. I've always wondered about generational appearance: when one looks at some photos of the 1960s, for example, there is a certain jaw structure which differs from those taken of people of equivalent age and demographic in the 1980s. Could it be that certain mid-C20th archetypes were being drawn on in the designing of such stamps? It would be fascinating to interview a Soviet-era postage-stamp designer/ artist. Does anyone out there know any?

angrysoba said...

Hi Suhayl,

The guy on the stamp is in fact Richard Sorge who sometimes seems to be talked of as the world's greatest superspy. He was ostensibly a member of the German Embassy staff in Tokyo during the thirties and forties but was in reality a Soviet spy and he's been credited with having found out the precise date of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union. Stalin had a dim view of Sorge though and didn't believe it (and seems to have disbelieved all evidence of the impending invasion even including a German-Russian phrasebook that a German Communist managed to get to the Soviet Embassy in Berlin containing such useful tourist phrases as "Hands up!", "Surrender!" and "Take me to the head of the collective farm!"). Sorge did also, importantly, discover that the Japanese wouldn't invade the Soviet Union on the Eastern flank which freed up troops for the Western front after Operation Barbarossa was in full swing.

Regarding your point on the faces, I certainly know what you mean. I'm reading Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum right now in which he's talking about a Foreign Legion veteran:

He had a 1940s face. Judging by the old magazines I had found in the basement at home, everybody had a face like that in the forties. It must have been wartime hunger that hollowed the cheeks and made the eyes vaguely feverish. This was a face I knew from photographs of firing squads - on both sides. In those days men with the same face shot each other.


Suhayl Saadi said...

I read that book - Foucault's Pendulum' - some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

It's interesting about Sorge. Yes, from what I understand it, Stalin didn't listen to his generals, even once Germany had invaded. I think then, with Moscow burning and having finally acceeded to letting his generals fight and eventually win, his generals were then treated with contempt by Stalin. This seems typical of the man. Would that he had persisted with becoming a highly-acclaimed Georgian poet or a psychopathic village priest in the Russian Orthodox Church!

I've always thought that - this is deeply pejorative and rather silly, I know - people of my pathetic generation (the 1980s generation; crap music, garbage hairstyle and irritating world-views) have receding chins. This suggests that they would not fight power like those in the 1960s (who had more pronouned chins) did.

It is known asthe Chin theory of oppositional behaviour, as in, "Take it on the chin, there's a good man!"

angrysoba said...

Ah! A Phrenological History of the World?

It has potential but you'll have to establish which was cause and which was effect.

Actually, now that I think about it, the receding chin appears to be something of a Celtic trait (according to my haphazard research on the subject) and the Celts have been revolting throughout history so you may find there will be two competing schools of thought on this subject.