Jonathan Steele

Jonathan Steele was the Guardian’s Bureau Chief in Washington in the 1970s and in Moscow from 1988 to 1994.

Wanted but Not Welcome

Jonathan Steele, 19 March 2020

Upheaval​ and displacement on the European continent are nothing new. Great movements of people took place between the two world wars and again, on a massive scale, in the aftermath of the second. The emphasis today is largely on forced migration by non-Europeans, yet the anxieties over ‘integration’ which have grown dramatically since the wave of arrivals in the Mediterranean in...

Who started it? Who started the Cold War?

Jonathan Steele, 25 January 2018

More than​ a quarter of a century has elapsed since the Cold War ended and the surprise is that few historians have yet attempted to analyse it from start to finish, even though for two generations it threatened the world with nuclear armageddon. The balance of terror between the superpowers may have seemed to offer reassurance – as if it could last for ever – but that was...

Trouble at the FCO

Jonathan Steele, 28 July 2016

‘Despite​ explicit warnings,’ Chilcot said, introducing his report, ‘the consequences of the invasion were underestimated.’ A good deal of the blame for this has to be laid at the door of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Chilcot listed four possible consequences that many people had identified before the war was launched: the risk of internal strife in Iraq,...

Putin in Syria

Jonathan Steele, 21 April 2016

Flanked​ by his ministers of defence and foreign affairs, Vladimir Putin looked characteristically stern as he went on television on 14 March to announce a significant reduction in Russia’s military presence in Syria. Putin rarely smiles in public but on this occasion he could have been forgiven some inner gloating. In less than six months he had reinvigorated the forces of his ally...

What does China want? China in the Stans

Jonathan Steele, 24 October 2013

The usual view of the ‘stans’, the five states that emerged in Central Asia after the Soviet Union’s collapse, is that they are a potential site of geostrategic rivalry: it is after all the only place in the world where three imperial powers are fighting for control of the same territory. Russia, the most recent external ruler, exploited the area for two centuries; for...

Another War Lost: In Afghanistan

Jonathan Steele, 20 December 2012

Russia’s man in Kabul, Andrey Avetisyan, has been travelling to Afghanistan since 1983, when he was a student of Pashto during the Soviet occupation. When Gorbachev took power and started negotiating the Soviet withdrawal Avetisyan was sent to Kabul for two years as a diplomat. He went back again in 1989, after the troops left, and watched Najibullah’s Soviet-backed regime survive...

Lukashenko’s Way

Jonathan Steele, 27 September 2012

The one thing most Europeans know about Belarus is that it has the most repressive political system and the most authoritarian ruler in Europe. The country’s parliamentary elections on 23 September, which most opposition parties are boycotting, will confirm that fact. It is also the only European country which still administers the death penalty. (If you widen the field to include the...

Diary: In Syria

Jonathan Steele, 22 March 2012

Roughly twice a week several carloads of people set off from middle-class areas of central Damascus for a ‘party’ in the unlikely setting of Qudsaya, an impoverished hill town about eight miles northwest of the city. As the guests drive up the steep streets to the town’s small central square, young men, some with scarves wrapped round their faces, look out for signs of danger. The ‘party’ is actually a protest against Bashar al-Assad’s regime; government security forces may appear at any moment. My first two attempts to get to Qudsaya failed when armed police and militia showed up at the last minute and the demonstrations were cancelled.

Half a Revolution: In Tunisia

Jonathan Steele, 17 March 2011

It felt like the finale of Fidelio, a crowd of prisoners staggering into the sunlight, free at last, their voices rising triumphantly in ‘Hail to the Day’. We were in a conference hall in Tunis, packed with close to 2000 people, with every seat taken and dozens standing in the aisles, singing nationalist songs to the accompaniment of an electric organ on the stage. Some members of...

Diary: Neo-Taliban

Jonathan Steele, 9 September 2010

The road from Kabul to Kandahar was once known as the Eisenhower highway. Built in the 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed peacefully for Afghan friendship, this US-funded 300-mile ribbon of tarmac was plied for two decades by lorries and garishly painted buses with no concern for security. Among the passengers were half-stoned Western hippies on the overland trail through Asia. Then came civil war and in 1979 the Soviet invasion. Ambushes turned the highway into a death trap until the victorious Taliban swept into Kabul in September 1996, eliminating all security problems once again. The only threat when I travelled the highway a few weeks later was colossal discomfort. After years of neglect, the road was close to collapse. Long stretches rippled like a corrugated roof, making travel in our hired minivan unbearable even at five miles an hour. What should have been a six-hour journey took 23.

At the height of the Brezhnev period, when the Soviet system seemed politically secure and economically stable, a new theory emerged to excite the hopes of Kremlinologists: that Islam would be the force that undermined the evil empire. The impetus came from two French academics, Alexandre Bennigsen and Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, archetypal representatives of a...

Diary: in Transdniestria

Jonathan Steele, 14 May 2009

I have lived in and reported from Communist countries for many years, but until this spring I had never been to one where the Communists had won power in a nationwide multi-party poll that international observers judged broadly free and fair. Moldova is unique.

The old nomenklatura still rules half the former Soviet republics, from Central Asia to Azerbaijan and Belarus, not to mention Russia...

Doing Well out of War: Chechnya

Jonathan Steele, 21 October 2004

The Beslan school siege would seem to have closed the door on a political resolution of the war in Chechnya. Vladimir Putin was still palpitating with anger three days after the dénouement when he met a group of Western academics and journalists who had been invited before the siege on an expenses-paid trip to meet him. ‘Why should we talk to child-killers?’ Putin asked me....


Jonathan Steele, 19 December 1985

Like all revolutions, the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua is about the present and the future – idealistic dreams of a new society built on impatience and anger with the dark reality of today. Like all colonial revolutions, it is also about the past. There is a half-remembered sense of a past which has to be restored: a more glorious time which must have preceded the arrival of the occupying invaders, a past when the people had their own sovereignty, their own dignity, their own freedom to make mistakes. The very name ‘Sandinista’, from Augusto Sandino who in 1934 was murdered by the National Guard with the complicity of the then US Ambassador in Managua, invokes the restorationist content of a movement whose leaders were, without exception, too young to have known Sandino as anything but a legend. Yet it is this basic element which the power-brokers of the Reagan Administration cannot understand. The core of Sandinismo is not an ‘imported’ ideology, but its exact opposite: resistance to ‘exported’ foreign domination. Omar Cabezas’s vigorous, funny and self-deprecating account of his four-year odyssey in the mountains of northern Nicaragua as a young guerrilla volunteer expresses the spirit of Sandinismo more fully than any other available work in English.’

The reporter who got it right

Jonathan Steele, 4 April 1985

On 14 January 1981 the pack of Western journalists in San Salvador ‘scurried across town to the Presidential Palace’, as Raymond Bonner puts it in this important book. Alerted that the United States Ambassador, Robert White, would make a significant statement, they crowded round the entrance. ‘I believe reports that a group of approximately a hundred men landed from Nicaragua about 4 p.m. yesterday,’ Mr White told them as he emerged from a meeting with the ruling junta. ‘This changes the nature of the insurgency movement here, and makes it clear that it is dependent on outside sources … We cannot stand idly by and watch the guerrillas receive outside assistance.’ The Ambassador’s statement was the first ‘indication’ of outside support for the Salvadorean guerrillas, and it received enormous play on US television and on the front pages of American newspapers.

How to Make a Market

John Lloyd, 10 November 1994

A growing school of thought, especially on but not confined to the Left, holds that the reform of Russia and other post-Communist states is being carried out in such a way as to destroy rather...

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After Andropov

John Barber, 19 April 1984

If success in predicting the future is any criterion of analytical accuracy, Sovietology must be among the least exact of social science disciplines. The record of Western specialists on Soviet...

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