Dangerous Liaisons

Der Teufelspakt: Die deutsch-russischen Beziehungen vom Ersten zum Zweiten Weltkrieg

by Sebastian Haffner
Zurich: Manesse Verlag, 153 pp., sf15.50

The Deadly Embrace: Hitler, Stalin and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939–1941

by Anthony Read, by David Fisher
Norton, 687 pp., $25.00

Between Churchill and Stalin: The Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Grand Alliance

by Steven Merritt Miner
University of North Carolina Press, 319 pp., $36.00

One of the most attractively situated restaurants in West Berlin is Nikolskoe, a Russian blockhouse that stands, together with a small church with an onion-shaped cupola, on a height above the Havel and provides its guests, as they dine on wild boar and other specialties, with a fine view of the Isle of Peacocks and the landscape of Mark Brandenburg on the other side of the water. The house, built in 1819, was the gift of the Prussian king Frederick William III to his son-in-law, the later Russian czar Nicholas I, and his wife Charlotte and was modeled after a blockhouse in St. Petersburg in which the king and the young married couple had spent happy hours. Charlotte promptly installed her coachman-in-ordinary, Ivan Bockow, in Nikolskoe, and he was soon dispensing schnapps, and later food, to the local peasantry, a practice that has continued. The church, St. Peter and Paul, was built in the Russian style by August Stüler and A.D. Schadow in 1837.

In the nineteenth century Nikolskoe was more than a symbol of royal kinship; it was in its small way a reminder of a political-military relationship, the collaboration between the Russian and Prussian monarchies in the liberation of Germany from Napoleon Bonaparte. A more concrete commemoration of that comradeship in arms was the exchange of personal adjutants between the sovereigns, a custom begun before the war was over. These officers were attached to the royal and imperial suites and served as military plenipotentiaries, reporting directly to their respective sovereigns rather than to their foreign offices or war departments. They had considerable latitude in foreign affairs, so much so that Bismarck, when he was in charge of Germany’s foreign relations, constantly complained that the military plenipotentiary in St. Petersburg was privy to information that he did not always divulge to the embassy staff and that, since he was not bound by instructions from the Foreign Ministry, there was always the possibility that he would contradict or undermine its policy. Nevertheless, the exchange continued, despite the vagaries of diplomatic relations, until the very eve of the First World War.

Between the two governments intimate relations were almost as continuous. From 1815 to 1854, Prussia, Austria, and Russia were allies in everything but a formal sense, bound together by ideological affinity and opposition to the more liberal Western powers. Although the Crimean War brought an estrangement, when Austria signed an alliance with Russia’s adversaries and Prussia remained neutral, this lasted only until 1863, when Prussia’s assistance to Russia in suppressing the insurrection in Poland effected a reconciliation between Berlin and St. Petersburg. As Bismarck subsequently plotted the course that led, by way of war with Denmark, Austria, and France, to German unification, he received valuable backing from the Russians. Thereafter, in the dangerous years that were the legacy of almost a decade of violence, Bismarck regarded the tie with Russia, renewed and formalized in 1881, as the best assurance against yet more violence, which would, he …

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