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Vladislav Zubok on: The Soviet Reaction to Hiroshima
Q: Minister of Foreign Affairs Viacheslav Molotov is quoted as saying that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was not aimed at Japan, but aimed at the Soviet Union. What did he mean by that?

VZ: I was always fascinated to find the same opinion in recollections of scientists, wise men like [physicist Iulii] Khariton, [physicist Igor] Kurchatov, people who were not politicians. They were men of ideas, men of logic. And if they considered that Hiroshima was aimed against the Soviet Union, we deal here with a very profound perception that was not simply propaganda. By the way, Western historians tended to dismiss this concept and this perception by the Russians that Hiroshima was something targeted at them. But I think we should take it more seriously. And of course you're asking me about the reasons why the wartime alliance began to degrade. It's natural. The war ended. Naturally, the Soviet Union and the United States were totally different societies without immediate reasons to clash with each other but, still, so different that some process of cooling down, some, you know, many, many small causes for tension immediately began to accumulate, while reasons for cooperation of course disappeared with the collapse of the enemy. So that was natural. I mean, cold peace was an inevitable outcome. The question is why cold peace degraded so fast into outright confrontation, into the Cold War. And that happened really fast. And I think the bomb played a role in this.

Q: David Holloway says that Stalin knew of the Manhattan Project well before Hiroshima. But it wasn't until Hiroshima that he fully grasped the bomb's significance. Do you agree?

VZ: Well, right -- first of all I know all the sources that David knows. I read them all very carefully. Unfortunately these sources are mostly indirect. Actually, they are all indirect. We don't have any evidence of -- we don't have any voice of Stalin. We have recollections of Marshall Zhukov, we have recollections of [Mikhail] Pervukhin, some other ministers of Stalin about what he told them. Of course, what he told them does not necessarily mean that he couldn't have thought other things that he withheld. So I'm very cautious.

But I tend to agree with David in one sense. That after all, there were only a few weeks between the announcement of Alamogordo [the first American test of an atomic device] and Hiroshima. Those weeks were extremely intense weeks for Stalin. You know, if we all can put ourselves in Stalin's shoes. He had the Potsdam meeting with Truman and Churchill, had this enormous task of bargaining with the Allies about the future of the world, about the configuration of peace. And there was a strong belief that that was the moment for the Soviet Union to get all the benefits and to consolidate them, to lock them in, because it would be more difficult later. And of course Stalin gave the word that the Soviets would join the war in the Pacific. And Stalin was the guy who monitored all those preparations. He was the Commander in Chief. So those weeks were extremely busy weeks. So for him to give proper thinking to how this bomb could be, could affect the future, he had constraints in time. And also he was not sure of American intentions. For instance, would they use the bomb?

The fact that the Americans used the bomb meant a lot. That meant that they were ready to use it again, perhaps against another enemy, against another target. And also that meant that Americans wanted not only to test this weapon, but they wanted to end the war quickly to show to the whole world that they won the war. So why this, why then they discussed with Stalin that deal about Soviet intervention? What about Soviet role? So for him, the fact that the bomb affected the end of the war was much more important at that particular time than the fact that the bomb existed. It existed as a political potential. But Hiroshima made it a real potential and changed in his eyes the correlation of forces.

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