Vladimir Kornilov: The Prequel to the Skripal Affair – Britain Investigates the “Great Forgery”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



The publication of the book of the famous British archivist and historian Gill Bennett “The Zinoviev Letter: The Conspiracy That Never Dies” became a noticeable event in the West. Practically all major newspapers responded with reviews. And this is understandable: firstly, Bennett is a world-wide recognised specialist on the investigation into one of the most loud scandals in the history of Britain; secondly, in the current conditions of anti-Russian sanctions and noise apropos “fake news”, a reminder about a similar plot from the 1920’s is more than actual.

In October, 1924 the so-called Zinoviev Letter (or “red letter”, as it was christened back then in the English press) indeed shook the foundations of British society and directly affected the results of parliamentary elections, as a result of which the first government of Labourists was disbanded.

The letter represented an instruction to British communists from the head of Comintern Grigory Zinoviev, the Scottish communist Arthur McManus, and the leader of the Finnish labor movement Otto Kuusinen. The letter speaks about the need to “hype up the inert mass of the British proletariat”, organise sabotage in England, and start preparation for the creation of the “red army” for the purpose of beginning a “class war” both in Britain and in its colonies. And all of this for the sake of “exposing the foreign policy” of the Labour government of Ramsey McDonald and forcing him to ratify the trade agreements that were already signed by Moscow and London.

The letter looked absolutely deprived of sense from the point of view of the interests of the USSR. It is dated September 15th, 1924 — by this time Labourists had already received a vote of no confidence in parliament, early parliamentary elections has been appointed for October 29th, and McDonald’s party could quite win them again, which frightened the British establishment.

Now we are used to Labourists being in power. But in 1924 their victory shook the establishment to its foundations and was perceived with approximately the same horror as Donald Trump’s victory in the US in 2016. The short reign of the first government of McDonald passed under the sign of anti-Soviet hysteria in the conservative press and continuous accusations of Labourists serving Moscow.

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McDonald established diplomatic ties with the USSR and signed trade agreements that were favorable to both countries in the hope of intercepting from Germany contracts for equipment supplies. In these conditions Moscow and Comintern were the least of all interested in overthrowing McDonald and his government.

But we know from modern experience: when the anti-Russian hysteria is being inflated in the West, all sensible arguments fade into the background. The frank forgery that is the “Zinoviev’s letter” came to London from the Riga department of the Secret Intelligence Service of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of Britain (or SIS, nowadays better known as MI-6) with an assurance that the authenticity of the document “does not raise doubts” (the most ancient form of highly likely). Needless to say, the government wasn’t in a hurry to publish this letter before elections.

However, on October 25th, just four days prior to voting, the right-wing conservative “Daily Mail” newspaper published a forgery with the loud headline “Civil war plot by socialists’ masters” and the no less loud announcement: “Moscow orders to our reds. Great plot disclosed yesterday. ‘Paralyse the army and navy’. And Mr. McDonald would lend Russia our money!

The Labour government was doomed. Rectifying the situation in such a short period of time before elections didn’t seem to be possible. Already on November 1st the owner of the “Daily Mail” Lord Rothermere (the newspaper still belongs to his descendants) bragged that the publication of the letter cost the labourists about 100 parliamentary places. Conservatives won a clear victory and first of all terminated all agreements with the USSR, and soon after – diplomatic relations.

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Since then practically every government of Labourists has resumed the investigation into the origin of “Zinoviev’s letter” and the source of the information leak in the “Daily Mail”, and Conservatives, returning power, slyly close it. Gill Bennett was the leading expert of the Foreign Office archive in the late 90’s, when Labourists led by Tony Blair came to power. And it is back then that she dragged a mass of still classified documents to the surface and even worked in the Moscow archives, studying the materials of this scandal. That’s why her book – based on these documents – is so valuable.

Bennett’s conclusions confirm: Moscow, which always denied the authenticity of “Zinoviev’s letter”, told the truth, and London, which trusted the forgery of its intelligence agencies, lied. It is seen from earlier classified documents that the SIS initially delivered false information about the origin of the “letter” to the Foreign Office. In particular, judging by Bennett’s conclusions, the Russian-language “original” made on sheets of a real Comintern notebook, most likely, was written after the scandal over its English-language “translation” inflamed, although the leadership of the SIS assured that the “original” is available. There are also no doubts that the leak in the newspaper was organised by the secret service and officials of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office close to the Conservatives, precisely for the purpose of discrediting the Labour government and influencing the result of elections.

Bennett still only has doubt concerning who exactly carried out the technical work for the creation of the forgery. She quite convincingly proves that almost for certain a network of White émigré led by Vladimir Orlov, the former counterspy of Denikin’s army, was behind it. He always resorted, to put it mildly, to more than disputable work methods. And in the 1920’s he was a paid agent of the SIS — he closely cooperated with the well-known Sidney Reilly, a native of Odessa and the head of the British saboteur-espionage network in the USSR. In the 1970’s the “Harvard Library Bulletin” published six negative photos with hand-written sketches of “Zinoviev’s letter”, which experts identified Reilly’s handwriting in. And this, it would seem, definitively clears up who organised the plot. Its chain from beginning to end consists of agents of the British secret service, officials of the Foreign Office, and Conservative English politicians.

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This, logically, is an object lesson for those who participate in today’s anti-Russian hysteria. After all, the technology of the current scandal differs in nothing from the events of 1924. And that’s why it is even more important to study exposures of forgeries of the last century so that there is no need to investigate decades later how the British secret service forged the Skripal affair.

And the fact of how Bennett’s book is covered in the western newspapers looks even more paradoxical as a result. For example, a review was published in the neoliberal “Economist” magazine under the headline The hand of Moscow: Russian election-meddling—the prequel. I.e., an investigation that clearly proves the absence in the case with “Zinoviev’s letter” of any “hand of Moscow” or meddling is presented not as “the prequel of the Skripal affair”, but as exactly the opposite.

We could never be able to learn such impudence from our western partners. “The similarity (between that and the present scandals) is limited,” writes this same “Economist”. “The Zinoviev letter was a forgery, whereas it is widely accepted that the Russians did meddle in America’s election” (although in 1924 the authenticity of a fake of the secret services was also “widely accepted”).

And the conservative “The Times” in its review of the book in general believes: “Zinoviev’s letter” was a fake, but the red menace was real. According to the author, the “letter” only underlined this threat.

In general, “the truth is what is necessary at the present moment”.

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