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ON 25 AUGUST 1952, Stalin received French Ambassador Louis Joxe for a working meeting at which the ambassador in reply to Stalin's question about the nature of NATO from Charles de Gaulle's perspective hinted that the bloc was an absolutely peaceful structure strictly within the UN Charter. "Stalin laughed and asked Vyshinsky, who was present during the conversation, whether the U.S.S.R. should join it then." Nikolai Kochkin who had spent some time in the Russian Foreign Ministry's archives pointed out: "From every indication, it was simply irony, but it cannot be ruled out that Stalin had some latent intentions" {Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn, No. 1-2, 2009, www.interaffairs.ru). In 1951, Andrei Gromyko repeatedly stated: "If this pact was aimed against the restoration of German aggression, the U.S.S.R. would join NATO."

In March 1954, twelve months after Stalin's death, the Soviet Union sent a note to the governments of the United States, France and Great Britain which said that the North Atlantic Alliance created a closed group of states and ignored the task of preventing another German aggression. The U.S.S.R., the only of the great powers — members of the anti-Hitler coalition left outside the Alliance, could not but treat it as an aggressive structure aimed against the Soviet Union. Under certain conditions, namely, if it united all great powers — members of the anti-Hitler coalition, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would have lost its aggressive nature. In view of this the Soviet government was prepared "to consider jointly with the interested governments the question of the participation of the U.S.S.R. in the North Atlantic Treaty."

THERE ARE TIMES when the human soul is filled from within with such an overbearing and unassailable feeling of evil and gloom that it requires inhuman power, some extraordinary exploit to overcome it ... This is when the person prone to suicide shouts faint-heartedly: "I don't want to live, and I'm not going to live," while the long sufferer beseeches: "I can't live, but I yearn for Life." This is akin to the Agony in the Garden, when Jesus prayed in such earnest that it was as if great drops of blood were falling to the ground, when he prayed for this cup to pass him by.. .so that the light would not be engulfed by darkness. And not somewhere remote, in far-off galaxies, but right here in the heart, and only then in the galaxies, which, compared with the human heart, are nothing but dust and ashes... "All around me I see treason, cowardice and deceit" are not only the words Emperor Nicholas II used to reproach his contemporaries for forsaking him, they express the agony he felt for them, "for they know not what they do." Had he not felt this agony, the Sovereign's daughter would not have written, "He forgave everyone...," which was the message of reconciliation he asked her to give everyone who had remained faithful to him. He also forgave us, only do we really "not know what [we] do..."? After the toxic gas of the revolutionary propaganda evaporated, after the whole of Soviet historiography had insulted and spit in the face of the royal family, after the archives were opened for public perusal, after the letters, diaries, memoirs, and eye-witness accounts were published, and after we became free to take sober account of the tragedy of the royal family's murder, we suddenly hear from the television screens and from the incompetent historian: "The empress was a idiot." While another philosophizing TV anchorman, primping and preening, would say sneeringly: "I am not one of those who believes Nicholas II was a man of strong will." These people cannot "not to know"; they simply do not want to know. 

"The elephant in the boa hat," was drawn by a little prince and resembled an ordinary hat, touching in its naivety the correctness of the child's drawing. "The man in the boa hat" is a scary, but prophetic dream of today’s world. Today Gogol would more likely to have exclaimed: "it is stuffy to live in this world, gentlemen!" However, one can get used to the stuffy atmosphere ... And therefore of particular interest to us are the people, or rather, those of their thoughts, which were born in the unclouded atmosphere that failed to absorb the miasma of the stuffiness of the mind.

Among the other freedoms, the spirit of our age has been and remains largely defined by freedom of enterprise. Of course, it was not always so. Why an era makes a preferred choice in favor of one freedom or another, fighting for it, suffering for it and shedding blood for it, is a special question. Let us remember for how many centuries the struggle for religious freedom served as a dramatic and sometimes tragic leitmotif in European history.

"It seems that Moscow, will never forgive NATO for being the alliance that survived the Cold War," so wrote one influential European newspaper a few days ago. This is not so at all, but try to agree with me that it is difficult to forgive those who, having survived the Cold War, have not learned their lessons. Down to the 60th anniversary of NATO, a lot has been said about the fact that it saved the world from a Third World War, consolidated Europe and provided a peaceful conclusion to the Cold War. These words are similar to the views and opinions once expressed by Margaret Thatcher, that nuclear weapons saved us from a Third World War.

Brainstorming is a remarkable American invention, but the practice may be untimely amidst serious fighting. At the moment the war against the Talibs in Afghanistan is raging while, according to European expert estimates, the extremist groups are at the peak of power and therefore unreceptive to negotiation offers. With the Talibs entrenched in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq and Somalia, even seemingly sober plans for political reform in Afghanistan stand no chance.

Unlike Great Britain and France, the US has no colonial experience, but it must be credited with learning fast. At present Washington is demonstrating an unprecedented level of tolerance to local customs and traditions in Afghanistan. Aware of the Afghan population's adherence to tribal independence and of its resulting allergy to hypercentralization of governance, Washington is increasingly leaning towards the model of distributed administration for the country. Currently the US is looking into the possibility of considerable autonomy for Afghanistan's provinces. 

Receiving the Nobel Prize in Oslo, US president B. Obama painted a grim picture of the problems the world would have to face if — not getting the due assistance from other countries — the US lost the war in Afghanistan. At the moment, it would be unfair to complain that the NATO allies, Russia, and several other countries did not help the US in the Afghan campaign. While the Talib forces in Afghanistan are no match to those of the Western coalition with the US at the helm, the key objective behind the mission — to make launching new terrorist attacks against the US or other countries from the Afghan territory impossible - remains out of reach after nine years of efforts. History routinely dispels triumphalist illusions of those who tend to rely excessively on military might.

The natural comparison between the 1979-1989 Soviet and the current US-led campaigns in Afghanistan highlights the fact that, confronted by the Mujahidins who were backed by the US and other countries, the Soviet forces in Afghanistan never enjoyed the vast superiority over their enemy such as the one the Western coalition maintains in the country nowadays. The budget of the Soviet war in Afghanistan was also fairly modest compared to the amounts of money poured by the US into the Afghan campaign. In this light, it may seem surprising that the US control over the Afghan territory is chronically patchy and that the Talib leaders are not serially standing trials in the Hague yet.

Looking through the documents of the Yalta Conference of the "Big Three" in 1945, one could not help but wonder, what great material it would be for a play in the theater! Against the backdrop of still grand and terrible pictures of the war, with the participation of such vibrant and diverse characters, hidden, but constantly forcing their way out of conflicts of interest. Here even curiosities and humor are electrified by special drama. Just Stalin's introduction of Beria to his Anglo-American counterparts saying: "This is our Himmler!" Or, for example, Stalin's reaction to the fact that in their correspondence, Churchill and Roosevelt called him "Uncle Joe", as Roosevelt had said loudly, after Churchill had encouraged him the day before. Stalin immediately said: "When can I get up from the table and walk away?" And then some member of the U.S. delegation, defusing the situation, said," You call America Uncle Sam."  So Stalin calmed down.

The "Passionarity theory of ethnicity" has some flaws when we begin to apply it to modern life. The presence of the "heroic layer," ready to sacrifice themselves for the sake of historical purpose, is not a necessary attribute today of a passionist civilization, nation, or ethnic group. Neither the United States nor China, who are the most passionarist members of the international process do not themselves represent anything heroic, except, perhaps, the possibility to challenge the "mainstream" of Obama. The circumstance that a year ago caused delight in Americans yearning for a political hero. Otherwise, we are dealing with the passionarity of an anthill, the hyperactivity in which, let aside excess production, there is nothing heroic. In fact, what can be heroic about an anthill?

Since the time the famous dispute between the "physicists" and "lyricists" first took place, the "economists" won, and the lyricists finally had to take a back seat. But for what good reason! Firstly, they should be inspired that thanks to the vanguard of economists nearly all of the physicists moved to the lyricists’ camp. Secondly, the determined attempt by world-class economists to hoist the victory banner over the carcass of modern civilization with the inscription: "The End of History" was not as strongly swept away by the harsh reality. In addition, the same fate changed the thesis of Bill Clinton to "It's the economy, stupid!" Face to face with the economists, who by conviction the lyricists had always lacked an understanding of the economy, as the humanities are not an exact science. As for the physicists, the "scientific minds strictly raised on the natural sciences ... allow themselves to doubt the scientific political economy", in which pragmatism "not only prevails, but is clearly rampant" (Sergey Bulgakov). Yet neither the one nor the other is the answer to the question, "Where shall we sail to from here?" How do we overcome the crisis of the modern ideology of development?