Stalin's wartime disinformation 'a model for Putin'
Wednesday 24 May 2023
Alan Philps (photo), who served as a Reuters correspondent in Moscow, the Middle East and Paris, has just published his second book - The Red Hotel: The Untold Story of Stalin’s Disinformation War.
It relates the daily battles that the Anglo-American correspondents fought with the Soviet censor in Moscow in wartime. The censor was invariably the winner - but the experience of working in wartime Moscow changed forever the lives of the reporters and their Soviet translators.
Under Stalin, fraternisation between westerners and Soviet citizens was prohibited, but inside the walls of the Metropol Hotel it was tolerated by the secret police, even encouraged, as a way to manipulate the foreign reporters.
The faded luxury of the hotel became the scene of honey traps and lasting romances, of confidential conversations and shameful betrayals. At moments of heightened tension punch-ups broke out between the rival clans of journalists, the ‘Kremlin stooges’ who supported Stalin all the way and the ‘fascist beasts’ who were itching to tell the real story of life under Uncle Joe but were frustrated by the censor and their duty to support a wartime ally.
The book explores some of the issues that preoccupy international correspondents today, but which were writ larger in the time of Stalin: how to cover news fairly and with honour in an authoritarian regime; the vital but usually unacknowledged relationships with local translators and fixers; and how to ensure the safety of local staff who stay behind when the journalistic caravan has moved on.
Most pertinently for our times, Stalin’s success in muzzling the press has provided Vladimir Putin with a game plan to follow in his war on Ukraine. But how could a plan that was so successful in the era of print and radio function in the digital age?
“Almost faultlessly balanced between racy narrative and historical analysis” - Julian Evans, The Sunday Telegraph
“This book gives a superb flavour of the compromises, betrayals and self-delusion required to report on the USSR” - Richard Cockett, The Literary Review
“A sizzling read full of bitchiness and high jinks” - Roger Boyes, The Times
“A true gem … stands out for its humanity, scholarship and captivating prose…” - Michael Broers
The Red Hotel was published in the UK by Headline on 27 April and will be available in the United States and Canada from Pegasus Books on 4 July. ■