September 20, 2004,
Vladimir Putin looks more and more like a heavy-handed imitation of Yuri Andropov does anyone still remember him? Andropov was that other KGB chairman who rose all the way up to the Kremlin throne, and who was also once my de facto boss. Considering that Putin has inherited upwards of 6,000 suspected strategic nuclear weapons, this is frightening news.
Former KGB officers are now running Russia's government, just as they did during Andropov's reign, and the Kremlin's image another Andropov specialty continues to be more important than people's real lives in that still-inscrutable country. The government's recent catastrophic Beslan operation was a reenactment of the effort to "rescue" 2,000 people from Moscow's Dubrovka Theater, where the "new" KGB flooded the hall with fentanyl gas and caused the death of 129 hostages. No wonder Putin ordered Andropov's statue which had been removed after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 reinstalled at the Lubyanka.
In the West, if Andropov is remembered at all, it is for his brutal suppression of political dissidence at home and for his role in planning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. By contrast, the leaders of the former Warsaw Pact intelligence community, when I was one of them, looked up to Andropov as the man who substituted the KGB for the Communist party in governing the Soviet Union, and who was the godfather of Russia's new era of deception operations aimed at improving the badly damaged image of Soviet rulers in the West.
In early 2000, President Putin divided Russia into seven "super" districts, each headed by a "presidential representative," and he gave five of these seven new posts to former KGB officers. Soon, his KGB colleagues occupied nearly 50 percent of the top government positions in Moscow. In a brief interview with Ted Koppel on Nightline, Putin admitted that he had stuffed the Kremlin with former KGB officers, but he said it was because he wanted to root out graft. "I have known them for many years and I trust them. It has nothing to do with ideology. It's simply a matter of their professional qualities and personal relationship."
THE NATIONAL POLITICAL PASTIMEIn reality, it's an old Russian tradition to fill the most important governmental positions with undercover intelligence officers. The czarist Okhrana security service planted its agents everywhere: in the central and local government, and in political parties, labor unions, churches, and newspapers. Until 1913, Pravda itself was edited by one of them, Roman Malinovsky, who rose to become Lenin's deputy for Russia and the chairman of the Bolshevik faction in the Duma.
Andropov Sovietized that Russian tradition and extended its application nationwide. It was something similar to militarizing the government in wartime, but it was accomplished by the KGB. In 1972, when he launched this new offensive, KGB Chairman Andropov told me that this would help eliminate the current plague of theft and bureaucratic chaos and would combat the growing sympathy for American jazz, films, and blue jeans obsessing the younger Soviet generation. Andropov's new undercover officers were secretly remunerated with tax-free salary supplements and job promotions. In exchange, Andropov explained, they would secretly have to obey "our" military regulations, practice "our" military discipline and carry out "our" tasks, if they wanted to keep their jobs. Of course, the KGB had long been using diplomatic cover slots for its officers assigned abroad, but Andropov's new approach was designed to influence the Soviet Union itself.
The lines separating the leadership of the country from the intelligence apparatus had blurred in the Soviet satellites as well. After I was granted political asylum in the United States in July 1978, the Western media reported that my defection had unleashed the greatest political purge in the history of Communist Romania. Ceausescu had demoted politburo members, fired one-third of his cabinet, and replaced ambassadors. All were undercover intelligence officers whose military documents and pay vouchers I had regularly signed off on.
THE MAKING OF A DICTATORGeneral Aleksandr Sakharovsky, the Soviet gauleiter of Romania who rose to head the Soviet foreign intelligence service for an unprecedented 15 years, used to predict to me that KGB Chairman Andropov would soon have the whole Soviet bloc in his vest pocket, and that he would surely end up in the Kremlin. Andropov would have to wait ten years until Brezhnev died, but on November 12, 1982, he did take up the country's reins. Once settled in the Kremlin, Andropov surrounded himself with KGB officers, who immediately went on a propaganda offensive to introduce him to the West as a "moderate" Communist and a sensitive, warm, Western-oriented man who allegedly enjoyed an occasional drink of Scotch, liked to read English novels, and loved listening to American jazz and the music of Beethoven. In actual fact, Andropov did not drink, as he was already terminally ill from a kidney disorder, and the rest of the portrayal was equally false.
In 1999, when Putin became prime minister, he also surrounded himself with KGB officers, who began describing him as a "Europeanized" leader capitalizing, ironically, on the fact that he had been a KGB spy abroad. Yet Putin's only foreign experience had been in East Germany, on Moscow's side of the Berlin Wall. Soon after that I visited the Stasi headquarters in Leipzig and Dresden to see where Putin had spent his "Europeanizing" years. Local representatives of the Gauck Commission a special post-Communism German panel researching the Stasi files said that the "Soviet-German 'friendship house'" Putin headed for six years was actually a KGB front with operational offices at the Leipzig and Dresden Stasi headquarters. Putin's real task was to recruit East German engineers as KGB agents and send them to the West to steal American technologies.
I visited those offices and found that they looked just like the offices of my own midlevel case officers in regional Securitate directorates in Romania. Yet Moscow claims Putin had held an important job in East Germany and was decorated by the East German government. The Gauck Commission confirmed that Putin was decorated in 1988 "for his KGB work in the East German cities of Dresden and Leipzig." According to the West German magazine Der Spiegel, he received a bronze medal from the East German Stasi as a "typical representative of second-rank agents." There, in those prison-like buildings, cut off even from real East German life by Stasi guards with machine guns and police dogs, Lieutenant Colonel Putin could not possibly have become the modern-day, Western-oriented Peter the Great that the Kremlin's propaganda machine is so energetically spinning.
Indeed, on December 20, 1999, Russia's newly appointed prime minister visited the Lubyanka to deliver a speech on this "memorable day," commemorating Lenin's founding of the first Soviet political police, the Cheka. "Several years ago we fell prey to the illusion that we have no enemies," Putin told a meeting of top security officials. "We have paid dearly for this. Russia has its own national interests, and we have to defend them." The following day, December 21, 1999, another "memorable day" in Soviet history Stalin's 120th birthday Putin organized a closed-door reception in his Kremlin office reported as being for the politicians who had won seats in the Duma. There he raised a glass to good old Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Stalin, meaning "man of steel," was the dictator's nom de guerre).
Days later, in a 14-page article entitled "Russia on the Threshold of a New Millennium," Putin defined Russia's new "democratic" future: "The state must be where and as needed; freedom must be where and as required." The Chechens' effort to regain their independence was mere "terrorism," and he pledged to eradicate it: "We'll get them anywhere if we find terrorists sitting in the outhouse, then we will piss on them there. The matter is settled." It is not.
SCAPEGOATING AND CONSOLIDATINGOn September 9, 2004, Chechen nationalists announced a $20 million prize on the head of the "war criminal" Vladimir Putin, whom they accuse of "murdering hundreds of thousands of peaceful civilians on the territory of Chechnya, including tens of thousands of children."
For his part, President Putin tried to divert the outrage over the horrific Breslan catastrophe away from his KGB colleagues who had caused it, and to direct public anger toward the KGB's archenemy, the U.S. Citing meetings of mid-level U.S. officials with Chechen leaders, Putin accused Washington of having a double standard when dealing with terrorism. "Why don't you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace?" Putin told reporters in Moscow.
Then Putin blamed the collapse of the Soviet Union for what he called a "full scale" terrorist war against Russia and started taking Soviet-style steps to strengthen the Kremlin's power. On September 13, he announced measures to eliminate the election of the country's governors, who should now be appointed by the Kremlin, and to allow only "certified" people that is, former KGB officers to run for the parliament.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, its people had a unique opportunity to cast out their political police, a peculiarly Russian instrument of power that has for centuries isolated their country from the real world and in the end left them ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of modern society. Unfortunately, up until then most Russians had never owned property, had never experienced a free-market economy, and had never made decisions for themselves. Under Communism they were taught to despise Western democracy and everything they believed to be connected with capitalism, e.g., free enterprise, decision-making, hard work, risk-taking, and social inequality. Moreover, the Russians had also had minimal experience with real political parties, since their country has been a police state since the 16th century. To them, it seemed easier to continue the tradition of the political police state than to take the risk of starting everything anew.
But the times have changed dramatically. My native country, which borders Russia, is a good example. At first, Romania's post-Communism rulers, for whom managing the country with the help of the political police was the only form of government they had ever known, bent over backwards to preserve the KGB-created Securitate, a criminal organization that became the symbol of Communist tyranny in the West. Article 27 of Romania's 1990 law for organizing the new intelligence services stated that only former Securitate officers "who have been found guilty of crimes against fundamental human rights and against freedom" could not be employed in the "new" intelligence services. In other words, only Ceausescu would not have been eligible for employment there. Today, Romania still has the same president as in 1990, but his country is now a member of NATO and is helping the U.S. to rid the world of Cold War-style dictators and the terrorism they generated.
Russia can also break with its Communist past and join our fight against despots and terrorists. We can help them do it, but first we should have a clear understanding of what is now going on behind the veil of secrecy that still surrounds the Kremlin.
Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former two-star general, is the highest-ranking intelligence officer to have defected from the Soviet bloc. His book Red Horizons has been republished in 27 countries.