David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Granny Melita


Remember Melita Norwood, known as the “granny spy” ?  She was of Latvian origins, ostensibly a nice and well assimilated lady living in the comfortable London suburbs and holding down a good job. That was cover.  She was secretary to the director of the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, the body responsible in the 1940s for the development of Britain’s secret atom bomb. Granny Melita was in fact a Communist, recruited to spy, and passing on to Moscow information that speeded up by several years the Soviet nuclear bomb program. Though aware that she was a Communist, and suspecting her of spying, officials did nothing. Their dereliction remains mind-boggling. She was unmasked only in 1999, and again nothing at all was done to bring her to account in any way. No legal proceedings, no financial deprivations, just a huge shrug of indifference. A historian, David Burke, was in touch with her at the time, and he has just written a book about the case. Simpering with the joy of it, she told him that she had been “rather a naughty girl,” but “I thought I’d gotten away with it.”  She had, she had.

Compare and contrast now the reaction to Putin and Saddam Hussein. The latter invaded and annexed an independent country recognised by the United Nation, and the former has similarly invaded another UN member, and is in the process of annexing it. If it had been left to the Europeans, Saddam would still be in Kuwait. Today European Union leaders are discussing the invasion of Georgia. It’s a foregone conclusion that they will behave like the officials who condoned Granny Melita. The French want no talk of punishing Russia. “The important thing is that Europe should talk in one voice, firmly and calmly,” says the French foreign minister, naturally not specifying the purpose of firmness and calm, or what good it will do to talk to those who refuse to listen. His German counterpart says: “We need a strong and sensible European role to return to reason and responsibility.”  It would be impossible to find a more inflected euphemism for complete and instant surrender. The British Foreign Office outdoes them all in passivity and impotence, bleating, “Russia does not like it when people get together and talk about them.”  Not even the shadow of a policy there.

When the Kremlin perceives weakness, it moves in to take advantage, sometimes with spies and sometimes with tanks. Granny Melita once contributed to the construction of the nuclear bomb, and Putin is now threatening to target Poland and Ukraine with it. No measures of defense, nothing in the arena of international law, no financial deprivations, hardly even a complaint, just another huge shrug of indifference. The continuity of the Russian advance against everyone else is impressive. Putin is entitled to think that he too is getting away with it.


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