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Sam Adams

Russia Goes After Bases in Turkey

(9 July 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 28, 9 July 1945,pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Stalin’s Russia has now presented demands to Turkey whichemphasize Russian imperialist-expansionist policy. It is reported that Russia demands of Turkey:

  1. The return of the districts of Kars and Ardahan, adjoining southern Russia (the Armenian state).
  2. The granting of bases in the Bosphorus Straits and the Dardanelles.
  3. Revision of the Montreux convention on the “Straits” (Bosphorus Strait, Sea of Marmora and the Dardanelles).
  4. Acceptance by Turkey of territorial changes in the Balkans in favor of the smaller states.

Turkey’s initial reaction to these demands is to oppose the first, second and fourth, while she is willing to consider the third, which relates to international regulation of the Dardanelles.

In the earlier years of the war, when Russia was allied with Germany, her seizure of territory was represented as a defensive measure aimed at guaranteeing her sovereignty. It should not be difficult to remember that the two wars with Finland and the subsequent incorporation of Finnish territory into Russia, the incorporation of the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and the partition of Poland with Germany, were all represented as measures of defense.

“Defense” of Russia

The Russian explanations were, of course, laughable to the world at large. The invasion of Russia by Germany and the consequent ending of their alliance made it possible for the Russian diplomats to say: See, we told you that all the aggressive acts we have taken were preparatory to an attack on us by Germany.

The slightest investigation of the facts would disclose that all the propaganda put out by the Russian Foreign Office was to theeffect that the defense was against the Allied imperialists who threatened Russia because of her peaceful alliance with Hitler’s Germany. Hitler’s Germany, the world was told by these same diplomats, did not want war, but was forced into it by Anglo-French imperialism.

The defeat of Germany has changed matters considerably, but at this time the power of Russia in Eastern Europe, Asia Minor and in Asia generally, is so great, or, to put it another way, Allied power there is so weak, that little can be done about Russia’s expansion at this moment.

The demands now made on Turkey are not fundamentally different from those made on Finland, the Baltic nations, Poland, Rumania and Iran. Russia violates the sovereignty of those nations which are too weak to resist her great military power.

The warnings to Turkey by Red Star, organ of the Russian army, bear a striking resemblance to the German Nazi press when demands were made on smaller countries by Hitler preparatory to enforcement of his demands.

Self-determination and the rights of all nations to their national independence mean as little to Stalin, whom Lenin called a “great Russian nationalist,” as they do to other imperialists.

Consider the demands made by Russia on Turkey:

1. The return of the districts of Kars and Ardahan. “Return” is indeed a strange word. Kars and Ardahan were once part of Armenia when it was a part of the old Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. During the decline of this great empire, which stretched into Europe and the Middle East, Czarist Russia tried to partition it in its favor. Czarist Russia was frustrated, in its first attempts by the British and the French in the Crimean War of 1853–56.

But Czarist Russia tried again in its war with Turkey in 1877–88.It sought to take Constantinople, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. England promised the Sultan of the declining Turkish Empire to defend the country against any attempt to destroy it – providing, of course, that some dismemberment took place. This was a direct warning to Russia. But to appease Russia she was granted Bessarabia and the districts of Batum, Kars and Ardahan! The Austro-Hungarian Empire was given Bosnia-Herzegovina and the British took for themselves the island of Cyprus.

These districts were returned to Turkey in 1921 after the Russian Revolution. Now Stalin’s Russia, feeling its great power, demands their return as part of Stalin’s plan to resurrect the borders of old Czarist Russia.

What we are witnessing is a reenactment of imperialist policy where whole countries, districts and smaller areas are exchanged, taken or occupied without the peoples involved being consulted or permitted to decide their fate.

2. Russia’s demands for bases in the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles are also a restatement of the old czarist demand. In Czarist days, Turkey was threatened with invasion, for Russia then wanted Constantinople and all of European Turkey. When Stalin demands bases in these areas it is only another form of invasion and interference with the affairs of another sovereign state. As in other cases, Russia justifies her demands on Turkey on the grounds of defense. This demand is closely connected with the third.

3. Russia demands a revision of the Montreux Convention. Just exactly what revision she asks is not clear because it has not been publicly stated. The Montreux Convention was an international meeting of powers to regulate the use of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus Straits and the Sea of Marmora. It was held in Montreux, Switzerland, on July 20, 1936, and was attended by Bulgaria, France, Great Britain, Greece, Japan, Rumania, Russia, Jugoslavia and Turkey.

It would seem that any demand for revision of these decisions would be addressed to those nations participating in the convention which decided the limitation of Turkey’s powers over her own waters. But Russia’s demands on Turkey are obviously an attempt to obtain a bilateral agreement and then confront the other powers with an accomplished fact. Turkey, of course, is defenseless against such demands. The fate of her areas will be decided by foreign powers.

What a commentary on imperialist politics! Can you imagine what a howl would be raised by the big powers if Turkey demanded defensive bases at Leningrad or Odessa; if Belgium demanded defensive bases at Dover on the Channel, or if Mexico asked for defensive bases at New Orleans or Tampa. What a hue and cry would be raised by the big powers about their national sovereignty and territorial integrity! Their rights would be enforced by military power. These same rights do not apply to the smaller nations because they do not have the necessary military power to “achieve” such rights.

4. The final demand, calling for changes of European an dTurkish territories may be for bargaining purposes or to strengthen the Russian puppet states in the Balkans.

What will be the outcome of this latest dispute? It depends almost entirely on the acts of the other powers. Great Britain is greatly disturbed by these demands and because Russia has already expressed interest in the international commission at Tangiers (Gibraltar) and in the Board of Directors of the Suez Canal, claiming to be vitally concerned with an outlet to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Such an expansion of Russia would seriously affect British control of the Mediterranean Sea, which she regards us an empire lake leading to her prize possession, India.

Obviously the problem will be solved by an agreement between the big imperialist powers. The important lesson in this affair is that it shows that the war, presumably fought as a “war of liberation,” had nothing whatever to do with the lofty principles of the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms.

The real wishes and desires of the people are completely ignored as the big powers move them around like so many chess men. An imperialist war can only give rise to imperialist politics. That is what we observe daily.

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