Book Review: Oleg Kalugin, The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West (St. Martin’s Press, 1994)

In The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West, published in 1994, Oleg Kalugin, a former major general in the erstwhile Soviet Union’s KGB details the realities about the KGB foreign intelligence service and to a great degree provides a good framework for understanding what Russian Federation intelligence services are doing right now. It also provides a framework by which readers are enabled to peer into the future, with all of its mysteries, and better conceptualize what those intelligence services might do under the present leadership in Moscow. Most of all, First Directorate provides a look into the art that moved the mind of one of the most capable spymasters of the 20th century. Kalugin’s work surely earned him a place among the era-defining geniuses of the intelligence industry of the Eastern Bloc.

The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West is the memoir of Oleg Danilovich Kalugin, a former major general in the erstwhile Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. The KGB was responsible for Soviet internal security, foreign intelligence, and counterintelligence during the greater part of the Cold War era. It is fairly well-understood now that the KGB was the embodiment of the Soviet systems intimidating, inhumane, authoritarian order. The book’s title First Directorate referred to Pervoye Glavnoye Upravieniye (First Chief Directorate) or PGU of the KGB which was the element responsible for foreign operations and intelligence activities. The manner in which Kalugin details the realities about the KGB foreign intelligence service in First Directorate provides a good framework for understanding what Russian Federation intelligence services are doing right now. To that extent, First Directorate better enables readers to peer into the future, with all of its mysteries, to better conceptualize what those intelligence services might do under the present leadership in Moscow. Most of all, the book provides a good look into the art that moved the mind of both a superlative foreign intelligence officer and a foreign counterintelligence officer. Kalugin was one among of a number of era-defining geniuses within the intelligence industry of the Eastern Bloc. Surely, he could be rated alongside luminaries such his mentor, former Chairman of the KGB and eventual Soviet Premier, Yuri Andropov, and the chief of the German Democratic Republic’s Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (Main Directorate for Reconnaissance) or foreign intelligence service, Colonel General Markus Wolf. Based on information that has been made public from US intelligence services and law enforcement records since the end of the Cold War, Kalugin was viewed by them as an extremely clever antagonist. While Kalugin was on the beat, the US tried to play down the degree of damage Kalugin’s success had inflicted but it could hardly be denied that his efforts left US intelligence services limping back to the barn a bit. One would be completely off the mark if one expected a diatribe from Kalugin in First Directorate about his former US adversaries of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The US not only became the host of Kalugin and his family, but granted them US citizenship.

In First Directorate, Kalugin does not engage in an esoteric discussion of the strong-arm security apparatus of the Soviet Union, what 20th century US philosopher and political theorist, Hannah Arendt, best described as a totalitarian and authoritarian Communist regime in The Origins of Totalitarianism. Indeed, he discusses it in a manner easily perceived from a KGB-officers-eye-view, from junior worm up to the top of the heap, effectively illustrating how completely alien the KGB culture was to Western attitudes and inclinations. At the same time, Kalugin offers readers a reality a bit different from what are very common perceptions of the activities and inner workings of the KGB foreign intelligence service and to a large extent, present-day foreign intelligence service of the Russian Federation. He achieved much in terms of recruiting spies who were already well-placed in the US national security apparatus and collecting some the most secret information concerning the defense of the US and Western Europe. Although Kalugin considers fair the assessment notion among many Western experts of an ultra-labyrinthine structure and system that existed within the KGB that thwarted even officers’ understanding of how the organization worked, he knocks it down describing how it’s system worked with a certain simplicity and consistency, once one became accustomed to it. Condensed, everyone had a particular job, and knew their responsibilities. However, he notes that the manner in which some KGB officers performed their jobs would vary from what was expected. Therein lies the rub. Indeed, the peculiar behavior of some officers ignited a near catastrophic end to Kalugin’s career. It became an inflection point in his life story. While narrating a story, Kalugin explores such situations with readers and provides edifying answers. One might go as far as to state that he takes on the role of instructor, introducing nuanced details about certain matters in his lecture as if he were trying to impart the full benefit of his experience to nescient, young KGB officers at the erstwhile Yuri Andropov Training Center housed at Leningrad State University or Red Star in the Yasenevo District of Moscow, preparing them for what they might face on the beat overseas. Of course, he certainly is not part of that anymore.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a deluge of information put out about the KGB. Numerous books were written by the organization’s former intelligence officers. Given the quantity and quality of a big portion of what has been made available about Soviet and Russian Federation foreign intelligence services, it was surprising how many self-declared and presumptive experts on this subject, ignored or were blissfully unaware of the realities about such work that rather casually accused US President Donald Trump of being an agent for Moscow. (If the basis was his four visits to Moscow over a 25 year period, once for a beauty pageant, then potentially any US citizen could be vacuously accused of spying for any country they may have visited more than once for tourism, business, or any other Innocuous reason. All countries have intelligence services and all are interested in the US at all levels.) Surely, Trump’s accusers believed that they fully understood as much as they needed about the Russian Federation intelligence services to reach that conclusion. Surely, in all seriousness, that purported knowledge was augmented with what they may have extrapolated from James Bond and Jason Bourne films, as well as streaming television programs about spying. They are all banal amusements, mere jumped up versions of 19th century penny dreadfuls and “adventure stories for boys.” Even Members of both chambers of the US Congress among Trump’s political adversaries, who actually receive briefings from the US intelligence community, hold hearings in committees in order to get questions about any information answered, and are allowed access to intelligence, appear more influenced by such “data” from Hollywood. Such is the state of national politics and political discourse in the US today. A problem arising from it all is that many US citizens have been bewildered by such absurd propositions from supposedly reliable sources as Members of Congress. Argumentum ad veracundiam. (Argument from authority.)

In The Second Book of his work, The History of Britain, That Part Especially Now Called England, (1670), the great 17th century English poet and intellectual, John Milton, explains: “Worthy deeds are not often destitute of worthy relators; as for a certain fate, great acts and great eloquence have most commonly gone hand in hand, equalling and honoring each other in the same age.” As is the case with his memoir, Kalugin is a worthy relator of his own actions. Surely, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to enumerate all of the mistakes, the poor choices, Kalugin made. With regard to that, Kalugin clearly was willing in the text to consider the propriety of his choices and actions or at least at that point he seems to have begun that sort of post-mortem self-evaluation. That process takes place on paper as he candidly conveys his personal experience within the system that turned against him. As one learns about Kalugin through First Directorate, not creating his own record of what he did in the KGB, what KGB had done, and what the Soviet system was really all about, would have been tantamount to admitting to never having had a spark of dignity or decency.

In First Directorate, Kalugin creates a sense of immediateness to what he writes. He would often build tension on the book’s pages while doing that. Indeed, many anecdotes he relates, great and small, are truly edge of seat, nail-biting stuff. Of the cases that he selected to detail, each had its own set of intriguing complications, stirring and engaging the interests of the reader. As for what he shares, his style of presentation, his pace, Kalugin’s efforts are nothing less than brilliant, and greatcharlie has come across nothing better. He beautifully provides the mise en scène using crisp descriptions of surroundings. He marvellously constructs in the mind’s eye of readers a certain atmosphere and desired theatrical effect.

About the Author

Kalugin was born in Leningrad on September 6, 1934. He is of medium height, and for his age, which as of this writing is 85. He has maintained an excellent build, and was at least at one time, quite athletic. Even into his 60s and 70s was known to go on long distance ocean swims. In public, he keeps himself well-groomed, well-attired. Apparently, he is appreciative of a good suit. He has been also blessed with being handsome for a lifetime, possessing what would be popularly described as “manly good looks.” Indeed, it is hard to imagine how anyone would hire Kalugin as an intelligence officer, believing he would be able to avoid notice in public or fade into the background. However, by his countenance, one could immediately recognize his was not just “a pretty face.” Beyond his becoming smile, there has always been a discernable depth to Kalugin even during his earliest years. Nearly everyone who has met Kalugin has called him a charming man with a big and ready laugh and an attractive wit. In conversation, he is talkative, but does not dwell long on unpleasantries. In the US, Kalugin lived in a suburb north of Washington in Silver Spring, Maryland. His wife Ludmila was part of that life for 47 years. They fell in love in 1951, the same year that he made the firm decision to join the intelligence service. She saw Kalugin through all of the rough days of his career, particularly the false allegations, his demotion, the transfer to Leningrad, his stand against the KGB after retirement, his difficulties with Putin’s regime, and the self-imposed exile. His wife was also at his side in the US when she died of cancer in 2001. Doubtlessly, at least at some point, it was difficult for Kalugin to keep it together over her loss. Kalugin is known to entertain visitors to his home by showing off mementos of his intelligence career. When Kalugin first arrived in the US, he served as a lecturer at Catholic University. Since then, Kalugin has become a much sought out speaker, and has lectured at a multitude of venues, traveling his new homeland, from state to state “without papers,” enlightening audiences primarily on Putin’s Russia and the often stunning actions of his intelligence services. Currently, he is a professor at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies.

Kalugin’s connection with Soviet intelligence began at an early age. After graduating from high school in Leningrad in 1952, and completing his mandatory military service, Kalugin was admitted to study at the Institute of Foreign Languages in Leningrad run by the Ministerstvh Gosudarstvennoe Bezopasnosti (Ministry for State Security) or MGB, the precursor of the KGB foreign intelligence service. After graduation from there in 1956, with honors, he was sent as a young officer to study at the Higher Intelligence School No. 101 of the KGB in Moscow which actually fell under the USSR Council of Ministers. The KGB leadership selected Kalugin for assignment to the First Department of First Chief Directorate which concerned foreign intelligence operations in and against the US and Canada. In 1958, Kalugin, who was considered a graduate of the faculty of journalism, was deployed to New York to undertake journalism studies at Columbia University. After briefly returning home, he was deployed again to New York, working in the early 1960s as a journalist for Moscow Radio at the UN. Kalugin was very competent as a reporter. He was not just a spy, but a successful one. One might say that spying seemed to be Kalugin’s metier. His working habits as a KGB officer, as he describes in First Directorate, were to be envied. He was always honorable and discreet, using mental agility and memory, acting gradually and with a certain gentleness. Kalugin let nothing escape his examination. In 1964, due to the threat of being arrested, he was recalled to the Soviet Union, and assigned as press officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, he was not in Moscow long. He was soon sent back to the US, on that occasion to Washington. There, Kalugin would serve as the equivalent of the deputy KGB station chief under the guise of a deputy press attaché of the Soviet Embassy. In 1971, according to Kalugin, he was suspected of treason, but the Chairman of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, knocked the matter down deciding the case in his favor. Andropov, as elaborated upon further later in this review, was a mentor for Kalugin and took an interest in his career trajectory. He was transferred to the external counterintelligence service. By 1974, at the age of 40, Kalugin received the rank of KGB Major General. It was at this stage that the Kalugin’s activities were more reflective of Soviet behavior that caused most to deem the country as an immoral, worldwide menace, and threat to global peace and security.

For Kalugin, there was unlikely any real opportunity, in the midst of his work against the West, to view matters from a broader or humane perspective. Comparing Kalugin’s efforts side-by-side versus his opposite numbers in the West boil down to efforts to apportion wickedness. There was a balance of terror in the Cold War. Deception, subversion, and countersubversion was what it was all about. The 18th and 19th century French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was quoted as saying: “In war, as in politics, no evil–even if it is permissible under the rules–is excusable unless it is absolutely necessary. Everything beyond that is a crime.” It was easy enough in the West to understand that during the Cold War, intelligence services fought under the conundrum of knowing how much could be done to defend a free and decent society while remaining a free and decent society worth defending. The Soviet Union was governed under an authoritarian, Socialist and Marxist-Leninist system directed under the auspices of the de facto one-party rule of the Communist Party. As aforementioned, instrumental in maintaining order to allow for the implementation of revolutionary precepts was the KGB, which often in the performance of its domestic security mission showed little regard for the human rights of Soviet citizens. To that extent, its behavior observed domestically would be reflected in its foreign intelligence activities overseas. Yet, despite what may have been the concept and intent of KGB headquarters concerning the conduct of its officers, not all, but many performed, without ethics, without any moral creed. Certainly, Kalugin had well-served the Soviet Union and the Communist Movement. There was never any indication in First Directorate that Kalugin had a sense that he had sacrificed his own humanity during his career. In Kalugin’s mind, whatever he did for the service, even if it skirted what was morally questionable by his own ethics, was for the greater good, not to soothe his own ego. If Kalugin caused anyone any suffering through this process, he most likely would say it was regrettable but the best option at the time.

Facilis descensus Averni: Noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis; Sed revocare gradium superasque evadere ad auras, Hoc opus, hic labor est. (The gates of hell are open night and day; Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: But to return, and view the cheerful skies, In this the task and mighty labor lies.) While there was a tacit understanding that a recruit could find a home with all the care and comfort imaginable during and after active service in the KGB, the Soviet government made no real promises that the link would be permanent through thick and thin. When things were going well, there was a duplicity between Kalugin and the KGB that he loved. That meant that he, as with others, would support and tolerate what he knew was wrong. When things were not going well, especially between managers and a staff or field officer, Kalugin demonstrates that the KGB could become a very brutal place internally for that officer. By the time Kalugin had been demoted and sent to Leningrad, long since renamed St. Petersburg following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he had become jaded by what he experienced on the front line of the Cold War. Alas, all of his efforts may have felt futile to him. Indeed, in the end, his struggles with the West, his extertions over the years, proved to be Sisyphean. Kalugin metaphorically was left standing alone on a dark and stormy night, apparently feeling abandoned by the Soviet government that he loved so dearly, to which he was loyal to the core. Due to all of this, Kalugin had to face the painful reality of many loyal Soviet citizens, which was that the hand of the Soviet state that they were taught early on, was benign, caring, comforting, encouraging, and infallible, as not always extended open palmed toward them and their needs. Kalugin had to lift his head above those of his adversaries. He would eventually recognize the need to make up for quite a sin of promoting such an organization. Kalugin retired from the KGB on February 26, 1990, and became a vocal independent critic of the Communist system. When one who lacks political power is unable to implement change, one can still voice opposition. Levels of success and failure will vary due to circumstances. It was Kalugin’s inability to stand by quietly that brought down upon him the full weight of the intelligence industry, the oppressive reputation of which he helped to build. Kalugin’s continuous attacks on the KGB garnered him notoriety and a political following. In 1990, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was rash enough to sign a decree stripping Kalugin of his rank, decorations, and pension. If Gorbachev only had a hint of what was coming his way from the same KGB management that his decision supported, perhaps he most likely would have made another choice. Gorbachev would restore all that was taken from Kalugin in August 1991, after the coup attempt. Kalugin loved his homeland, Mother Russia and the Soviet Union, and presumably still does today. Certainly, he does not love the regime that controls it. After retirement, Kalugin served as a deputy in the Supreme Soviet, representing the Krasnodar region from September 1990 to December 1991. Kalugin ventured into politics to change the security apparatus, reform it. That was simply not in the cards. Doubtlessly, Kalugin never planned to become an expat, or more accurately, live in a self-imposed exile. He had little choice otherwise for existential reasons. He could not change his circumstances, so he had to change his perspective. Kalugin conquered the uncertainties of his life in Russia by leaving his homeland and embarking on a new journey in the US. It is from the US that he produced his memoir.

Nullius addictus lurare in verba magistri. (No master can make me swear blind obedience.) Vladimir Putin came on the scene ostensibly as a reformer, hand picked by Yeltsin. Apparently, Putin came highly recommended by other self-declared reformists and he managed to curry favor with President Boris Yeltsin of the nascent Russian Federation. Yeltsin, known for being earnest, was a bit too trusting. Putin ostensibly embraced the idea of a new beginning for Russia. At that point, it would have been counterintuitive for Putin to bemoan the Soviet Union’s collapse. What lurked beneath the surface would eventually set the path upon which he placed his country. Kalugin was able to see Putin straight. Alarm bells started to ring in his head, and he could see what was coming. By the time he wrote First Directorate, he was already feeling terribly apprehensive. Little was done directly by Kalugin to set himself up for what became a near David and Goliath schema of independent, capable man taking on the monstrous Evil Empire as well as its second-self, Putin’s Russia. Indeed, left in control of the Russian Federation by Yeltsin after 1999, Putin, rather than reform the system, gradually made it look more and more as the old Soviet one, particularly with regard to the intelligence services. Putin wanted all of the former KGB men, many of whom had become extremely popular among the Western think tanks, academia, the news media and law enforcement and intelligence services, to become Lotus Eaters. Much milk had been spilled concerning Eastern intelligence operations after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dutiful Kalugin had been tasked one more time by his “former” masters in Moscow, to get some of it back into the bottle. Putin felt that there was a threat posed by revelations by KGB officers eager to please book publishers, magazine editors, and television producers than an effort to establish power over the intelligence service left over from Soviet times, including the old boy network of retirees. If any talking had to be done, Putin likely would have preferred pushing out a message strictly controlled by the Kremlin amounting to a curious sort of ventriloquism. Active measures had come home. Kalugin came to the personal attention of Putin himself. Kalugin from what was presented was the very soul of discretion. There was presumably nothing to fear from him. He was not snooping round corridors. However, there was an apparent sense of anger toward Kalugin in the Kremlin not only because he ostensibly traded in on his knowledge of the service, but that he told enough to stir a sense of betrayal. Among Kalugin’s former KGB colleagues who would eventually people Putin’s government, were the same adversaries from the organization who could not hold a candle to him in the industry. They did not have his stature, only reputations for wrongdoing, oppression. Thus, envy and jealousy were also the likely culprits for their odium toward Kalugin as much as anything else. Kalugin would be solely portrayed in a negative light by Putin and his senior aides and advisors. To hear Kalugin speak of Putin, it is clear that he became a perfect monster in his eyes. While Kalugin was lecturing in the US in 2002, he was put on trial for treason in absentia in Moscow, in part for certain revelations placed in First Directorate, and consequently sentenced to 15 years in prison. Kalugin now appears relatively serene. Through his words, one recognizes that he has come to terms with his role in an extremely dangerous and dynamic organization. Kalugin became a US citizen on August 4, 2003. Kalugin would insist that Putin would love to send a message to the US by harming him. At the present, with Donald Trump as US President, the harsh consequences of Moscow doing such would with assurity far outmatch any possible gain, psychic or otherwise.

Critiquing First Directorate

Perhaps it may be revealing too much, but without pretension, greatcharlie must admit initially feeling somewhat ambivalent about reviewing First Directorate, unsure of being knowledgeable enough to judge the written work of such an extraordinary professional as Kalugin. Suffice it to say that it must be left to readers of this review, who will hopefully also read First Directorate, to determine whether greatcharlie got it right. Seeking out Kalugin’s memoir, one might discover as greatcharlie did that his1994 book was published in English under two titles: First under First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West published by St. Martin’s Press, as it is reviewed here; and, Spymaster: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West published by Smith Gryphon Publishers. In a 2009 revised edition of Spymaster: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West, rev. ed. (Basic Books, 2009), in which the text is enhanced with greater details about his cases. In a new Epilogue, discusses developments in his personal life since the book’s first publication. Upon examining the text of each edition, one cannot help but be impressed by the care invested in the creation of this work. As indicated on the cover of both titles, Kalugin completed the book with the assistance of the journalist and former head of theMoscow Bureau of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fen Montaigne. Surely Montaigne’s contribution was useful and important. Still, anyone fortunate enough to have heard Kalugin speak publicly or review recordings of his many news media interviews and presentations at colleges, universities, think tanks, foreign policy associations and societies on YouTube, could attest that his command of the English language is superb. Indeed, he writes First Directorate in a way that is clear, concise, and flawless grammatically. Surely, Kalugin would have had little difficulty actually establishing himself as a novelist or nonfiction writer in the West if he had chosen to do so. Kalugin initially developed his proficiency in English to serve as an element of his tradecraft overseas. It did, as he used the unofficial cover in the US of Soviet journalist. He had to comfortably communicate with others and fully comprehend the world in which he was immersed. Kalugin was also proficient in German and Arabic.

Kalugin hangs what he provides In First Directorate’s 374 pages on two chronologies: the chronology of his career; and a historical chronology, neatly pairing events of his times and experiences he had which were directly connected to them. The titles of books chapters mark milestones of a life lived. They include: “A Stalinist Boyhood”; “Washington Station”; “The Spy Game”; and, “Exile”. Kalugin jumps into his story as early as the Prologue with an anecdote from his formative years as a KGB officer, working in the US under non-official cover. Indeed, Kalugin offers readers bits and pieces on the Cook case, which involved a US scientist from the US defense contractor, Thiokol, who became his and the KGB’s prize recruit. It proved to be a particularly important episode for Kalugin. He later discusses how the echoes of that case ultimately shaped the outcome of his career. Having set the reader off on that track, Kalugin then formally begins the memoir, allowing the reader to learn about his formative years. Readers are provided an understanding of how he came to accept Communism from top to toe in the traditional sense, how that shaped his worldview, his choice for a career, and how he got into the KGB. As he retraces his steps, he begins skillfully peopling the world in which he allows his readers. For instance, readers learned about his father and the psychic influence that he had on Kalugin due to his position in the the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) or NKVD, a forerunner of the KGB. He provides enough about each personage, allowing for the creation of a full image of the individual in the reader’s mind. Having shared memories from his early years, Kalugin begins discussing his career in Soviet foreign intelligence. Interestingly, his connection to the intelligence service began as early as the years of his formal education. It all neatly blends together.

First Directorate is far from dull, plodding, or pedantic. As for the mechanics of his method, once Kalugin decided what he is going to offer, he did so with a pace that could be called a very smooth and normalized ejection fraction–stealing a term from the medical industry concerning the measure of blood pumped out with each heartbeat. The anecdotes told are the blood which keeps makes Kalugin’s story lively, informative, edifying, and satisfying. Kalugin does not simply unload ideas and hope the reader does not get lost in the weeds when they encounter what seems to be abstraction, due perhaps to a lack of in-depth knowledge about the spy business. One will discover that as the situations he describes evolve, characters evolve, and Kalugin evolves. Kalugin makes no assumptions about the reader’s ability to grasp all that is going on in the text in terms of tradecraft and the spy business. He does not take for granted how much the reader can absorb from what he teaches. Rather, he takes control of that process, apportioning how much of the story he feels would be appropriate. When he feels the reader should be ready for more, Kalugin increases quantity and complexity in his anecdotes. To that extent that he does all of this, Kalugin uses what could be best described as a pedagogy for developing the reader’s understanding of the world he is moving them through.

Kalugin creates a sense of immediateness to what he writes. He would often build tension on the book’s pages while doing that. Indeed, many anecdotes he relates, great and small, are truly edge of seat, nail-biting stuff. Of the cases that he selected to detail, each had its own set of intriguing complications, stirring and engaging the interests of the reader. As for what he shares, his style of presentation, his pace, Kalugin’s efforts are nothing less than brilliant, and greatcharlie has come across nothing better. He beautifully provides the mise en scène using crisp description of surroundings. He marvellously constructs in the mind’s eye of readers a certain atmosphere and desired theatrical effect. Unless greatcharlie is extremely mistaken, he paints with words in a way that will cause First Directorate’s readers to find themselves, at the same time while fortunately sitting in at some safe spot, feeling as if they are actually present on the scene that he describes, watching everything transpire perfectly through the mind’s eye.

It would be an understatement to say First Directorate did not have paeans written about in 1994 when published in the US. Indeed, Kalugin’s book was not really appreciated or welcomed. Through book reviews, one can pick up on a reviewer’s disposition generally, and can gain a good insight about a reviewer’s perceptiveness and thinking. (In that vein, readers can perhaps gain some degree of insight into how greatcharlie thinks given what is noted here as important about First Directorate.) Perhaps 1994 reactions were due to the proximity of the book’s publishing to the so-called end of the Cold War, marked with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Feelings within journalistic and literary circles about the Soviet Union and all connected to it were still decidedly negative, even hostile. It was likely those sensibilities that influenced the thinking of reviewers of First Directorate. The following is a sample of the reviews it received. In a October 13, 1994 review in the Washington Post, Amy Knight did little to conceal her disdain for Kalugin. Knight wrote: “Though he proclaimed himself a democrat in 1990 and denounced the KGB, Kalugin had spent more than three decades determinedly trying to undermine Western democracies. His book tells us a great deal about the KGB’s operations during the Cold War, but it also raises anew the question of how we should react to the confessions of erstwhile enemies.” Distrustful of his intentions in the foregoing statement, she evinced her concern over Kalugin’s integrity with the words: “Kalugin can hardly be criticized if he wrote this book simply to make money. After all, we in the West have been encouraging Russians to become entrepreneurs. But did he have another, darker purpose? Is it possible that Kalugin’s much-publicized denunciation of the KGB was stage-managed to give him credibility in the West, so that he would be believed when he told people that he knew of no KGB moles in the CIA?” In a December 25, 1994 review in the Baltimore Sun, entitled, “The Spy Who Loved It: Tales from a KGB Life”, Scott Shane begins by stating: “In ‘The First Directorate,’ written with the assistance of former Philadelphia Inquirer Moscow correspondent Fen Montaigne, Mr. Kalugin tells his engrossing story and tells it well. Focusing on Kalugin as KGB intelligence officer, he notes: “A spy lives by his powers of observation and memory, and they equally serve the autobiographer.” Shane reveals his suspicions of Kalugin, writing: “Mr. Kalugin, whose perpetually raised eyebrows give him a look that is at once untrusting and untrustworthy, nicely illustrates the habit of lying spies naturally develop. Indeed, Mr. Kalugin is so candid about the cheerful Iagoan malice with which he did his dirty work that his occasional, self-described twinges of conscience come across as unconvincing. As his story almost unconsciously makes clear, it was not the KGB’s brutality that turned him against the agency.” Having stated that, Shane completes his review somewhat positively, saying: “One need not wholeheartedly admire Mr. Kalugin, however, to enjoy his story. It is a reminder that in the wake of the Soviet collapse, we have learned a good deal more about the KGB than we have learned about the CIA and its sister agencies on the other side of the Cold War.” On November 9, 1994 in composite review of post-cold-war scholarship on Lenin, the atomic bomb, and KGB espionage in the Christian Science Monitor, Leonard Bushkoff stated about First Directorate: “After the beautifully crafted books by Holloway and Kapuscinski, there is a letdown in The First Directorate: My 32 Years In Intelligence and Espionage Against the West, the bureaucratic memoirs of Oleg Kalugin, a retired KGB major-general whose authoritative visage has graced American television. His book–written with Fen Montaigne–is filled with lively tidbits about operating in the United States, recruiting agents, roaming the world on this or that mission – and enjoying the perks. Bushkoff goes on the say: “The ideological disillusionment that Kalugin insists began in the 1980s is unconvincing in this ambitious career-minded official, who now presents himself as a liberal, democratic political figure.” Among professional reviewers, there seemed to be more of a willingness to beg off on uncoated expressions of suspicion over Kalugin’s intentions and actions, and even more, his character as with the foregoing. In Booklist, a book-review magazine that has been published by the American Library Association for more than 100 years, Gilbert Taylor wrote in August 1994: “After he had been cashiered from the KGB in 1990, Kalugin blazed into prominence as a critic of the pervasive spy empire. But oddly enough, he remains a professional loyal to the spook’s ethos: tell no tales out of school. Although frank about generalities, he ventures few blockbusting specifics that haven’t popped up elsewhere in the post-cold war wave of espionage books, but this memoir of a stellar career in the secret service is, nonetheless, engrossing for aficionados.” Taylor finishes his review noting: “Filled with anecdotes linked by personal journey from Stalinist true believer to champion democrat, Kalugin’s account of life in the secret world will haul in all spy buffs–a number to be augmented by a full-press publicity push.”

Given Kalugin’s former profession, spying, it would be fair to ponder whether the book relates truth, fiction, or something in between. Indeed, some readers may wonder whether one of the main elements of spying, promoting fraud, influenced his writing of First Directorate. As aforementioned, Kalugin has the skills to provide a colorful description of a man, and ascribing vibrant characteristics, impressive associations, and intriguing experiences to him. It also cannot be stated with absolute certainty by greatcharlie Kalugin actually loosed-off a full-frontal on himself as well as the KGB. However, greatcharlie is convinced that while there may very likely be certain omissions from his anecdotes, Kalugin presents the truth about himself in First Directorate. That truth about himself is rich enough, and would hardly require any embellishment. Although Kalugin’s intelligence career was amazing and his superb work in the KGB that made him more desirable to his new country’s government, there was more to Kalugin than his work. Some might feel Kaligin does quite a bit of preening in First Directorate. However, perhaps a second thought might be given to that idea backed by the consideration that among specialists, masters of a particular craft, there is typically a desire to look over their shoulders, to detail what has transpired, and to scrutinize themselves and their actions technically and tactically. Chronicling the past on paper, the convivial Kalugin also seemed to recount it all in his soul and spirit. As Kalugin dredges around himself, to discuss his contacts with people and memories of events, he willingly opens the kimono on his conscience. In the Preface of The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts, the 18th century English romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, wrote: ”The highest moral purpose aimed at in the highest species of drama is the teaching the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself.”

The symbol of the KGB (above). It should not be overlooked that all that Kalugin discusses in First Directorate is actually couched in an overarching discussion of the operations of the giant Soviet state security service, the KGB. The KGB was gloriously called the Soviet Union’s ”Sword and Shield” and the “Vanguard of Communism.” Its  primary responsibilities of the KGB were: foreign intelligence; counterintelligence; operatives investigatory activities, protecting the Soviet border, protecting the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Soviet Government; organization and security of government communications; and combatting nationalism, dissent, and anti-Soviet activities.

What Was the KGB?

It should not be overlooked that all that Kalugin discusses in First Directorate is actually couched in an overarching discussion of the operations of the giant Soviet state security service, the KGB. At the risk of being perceived as tiresome to those who already know much on the subject, some of the basics about the behemoth Soviet security organization are laid out here by greatcharlie for those less-familiar with it. The KGB was gloriously called the Soviet Union’s ”sword and shield” and the “Vanguard of Communism.” Its  primary responsibilities of the KGB were: foreign intelligence; counterintelligence; operatives investigatory activities, protecting the Soviet border, protecting the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Soviet Government; organization and security of government communications; and combatting nationalism, dissent, and anti-Soviet activities. Headquartered at Lubyanka Square, 2 Moscow, the KGB was well-situated, well-equipped, to cope with external, foreign threats to the system, counterrevolutionaries and reactionaries internally, as well as organized criminals and the black market. Its manpower would steadily grow in parallel with its activities and influence, reaching a total of 496,000. A large portion of that number included the Pogranichnyie Voiska KGB CCCP (Border Troops of the KGB USSR), a defense against threats from land, air, sea to Soviet territory. In 1989, the organization’s strength was estimated at 230,000 covering 63,000 kilometers of the Soviet border. There were additional smaller formations and independent units. Its land air and maritime troops and sailors functioned under the Main Directorate of the Border Troops which was subordinated to the First Deputy Chairman of the KGB. The Vtoroye Glavnoye Upravleniye (Second Chief Directorate) or VGU was the Internal Security Service of the KGB. Among Soviet citizens at home and abroad, it was the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate in a paranoid search for Soviet enemies and never ending quest to maintain total control over the Soviet Union’s population that unnerved and struck terror in their hearts as they tried innocently going about their daily business. In Hollywood, a sure-shot way to create a dark, mystifying picture of life in the Soviet Union was to depict scenes in which ordinary Soviet citizens would occasionally be taken aside by the KGB and asked: “Show me your identity card” or, make the more polite request, “Identity card please.” It would capture the flavor of Soviet rule and have the chilling effect on audiences, accurately illustrating how alien and atrocious life was in the Soviet Union and under Communism in general. The KGB was to be avoided by the ordinary Soviet citizen as best as possible. During Kalugin’s time, the KGB truly had a grip on everything except the Communist Party organization. Even then, the KGB was also known to play an important part in the allocation of power and authority by Soviet leaders after Stalin’s death, being drawn into the arena of internecine conflict among them. Perhaps it could be said that all Soviet citizens sailed the same sea but KGB members did so in different boats. The nomenklatura in the Soviet Union, or high ranking management of government bureaucracies and Communist Party functionaries, reigned as the main authorities in the country, ironically becoming the de facto aristocracy in its society, and entitled themselves to opportunities and privileges unavailable to ordinary citizens. The apparatchiks, or government bureaucrats, who actually oversaw the KGB’s abhorrent work of keeping the Soviet people under the thumb of their government, saw themselves as being indispensable members of an indispensable Soviet instrumentality. Most generally believed that as a benefit of being a member of the KGB, there was little chance that the conditions which beset ordinary Soviet citizens would impact their circumstances until discovering otherwise. Nimia illæc licentia profecto evadet in aliquod magnum malum. (This excessive license will most certainly eventuate in some great evil.)

The history and organization of the KGB’s foreign intelligence service, which directly concerns Kalugin’s career, well reflected the nature of its global mission and how that mission was performed. In 1917, the post-Bolshevik Revolution Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) secret police was founded and designated Vserossiyskaya Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya Po Borbe S Kontrrevolyutsiyey I Sabotazhem Pri Sovete Narodnykh Komisarov RSFSR (All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution, Speculation and Sabotage under the Council of People’s Commissary of the RSFSR) better known as the Cheka. It was Soviet Premier Vladimir Lenin, himself, who characterized the Cheka as the sword and shield of Communism. In those postwar years, Soviet internal security, foreign intelligence, and counterintelligence organizations went through a period of transformation donning an alphabet soup of titles. As outlined in Henry S. A. Becket, The Dictionary of Espionage: Spookspeak into English (Stein & Day, 1986), its various iterations included: 1922-1923, Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie (State Political Administration) or GPU; 1923-1934, Obedinennoe Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenye (Unified State Political Administration) or OGPU; 1934-1938, Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) or NKVD; 1938-1946, Narodnyi Komissariat Gosudarstvennoe Bezopasnosti (People’s Commissariat for State Security) and Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) or NKGB-NKVD, placing police and security functions under one chief; and, 1946-1953, Ministerstvo Vnuirennikh Del (Ministry for Internal Affairs) and Ministerstvh Gosudarstvennoe Bezopasnosti (Ministry for State Security) or MVD-MGB. Eventually all of the non-military security functions were organized in what was dubbed the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or the KGB. Founded upon the experiences of other iterations of Soviet state security, the new KGB had no need to shed baby fat as it were. It was populated by men and women made of the same solid stuff of those who around 20 years before defended Leningrad and Stalingrad and drove Germany and its allies eastward until they reached Berlin. However, things are seldom perfect in any organization.

KGB’s leadership included its Chairman, the First Deputy Chairman (there could be more than one), Deputy Chairman (as many as 4 to 6), a policy Collegium, which included a chairman, a deputy chairman, the directorate chiefs, and the KGB chairmen of the Soviet republics. As aforementioned, Pervoye Glavnoye Upravieniye (First Chief Directorate) or PGU of the KGB which was the element responsible for foreign operations and intelligence activities and concerned Kalugin’s work. As such, the First Chief Directorate would provide for the training and management of covert agents, intelligence collection administration, and the acquisition of foreign and domestic political, scientific and technical intelligence. According to Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations, 1975-1985 (Stanford University Press, 1993), the KGB included the following directorates, services and departments during Kalugin’s years there. Included among the directorates and services were: Directorate R: Operational Planning and Analyses; Directorate S: Illegals (agents inserted into societies, blending in, but carrying out orders from Moscow.

Forged documents, establishes themselves as citizens of the host country.); Directorate T: Scientific and Technical Intelligence (collected scientific, technological, and military information through espionage. Targets were in the Western industrial sector.); Directorate K: Counter-Intelligence: (infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence, counter-intelligence, police forces worldwide); Directorate OT: Operational and Technical Support; Directorate I: Computers; Directorate RT: Operations in USSR; Directorate V: “Wet affairs” (track down traitors, sabotage, assist international revolution, terrorism, and act in time of war.); Service A: Active Measures (disinformation, propaganda, forgery; support of front organizations, underground movements, revolutionary insurgencies, criminal and terrorist groups; Service R: radio communications; and, Service A of the 8th Chief Directorate at the First Chief Directorate (the code section).

Operations broke down regionally and functionally in the following departments: First Department: US and Canada; Second Department: Latin America; Third Department: United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Malta; Fourth Department: East Germany, West Germany, Austria; Fifth Department: Benelux countries, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania; Sixth Department: China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea; Seventh Department: Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines; Eighth Department: non-Arab Near Eastern countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Israel; Ninth Department: English-speaking Africa; Tenth Department: French-speaking Africa; Eleventh Department: liaison with Socialist states; Thirteenth Department: direct action, “assassination,” of enemies abroad and at home; Fifteenth Department: registry and archives, security of government installations; Sixteenth Department: signals intelligence and operations against Western code clerks; Seventeenth Department: India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma; Eighteenth Department: Arab Near Eastern Countries and Egypt; Nineteenth Department: Soviet Union Emigres; and, Twentieth Department: liaison with Third World states. It must be noted that special attention was given to the UN by the First Chief Directorate. The UN provided a peaceful, respectful, diplomatic forum for international dialogue, yet it was the site of extensive Soviet activities inside the UN during the Cold War. Impartial UN employees from Eastern Bloc also employed by KGB. Ideals and goals of the UN not followed. The orders that they would obey only came from KGB.

Beyond its own operations, the First Chief Directorate very successfully directed and controlled other Eastern Bloc intelligence services that were very often operating under the radar in many countries around the world. The officers of those aligned intelligence services certainly did not in any form akin to the Malgré-nous of the Alsace-Moselle performed for the German Waffen-SS during World War II. The product of many Eastern Bloc intelligence services actually far exceeded expectations as well as the capabilities of their Soviet task masters. Case in point was the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance), the foreign intelligence service of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic). Under the skilled leadership of Markus Wolf, its Western foes even had to acknowledge that it was probably the most efficient and effective such service on the European continent

The author as a teen (above). As a teen, Kalugin devoured the books of Arkady Gaidar, which included stories of young characters doing courageous and noble deeds for Motherland. It planted seed in Kalugin’s mind of becoming a secret service officer. Those feelings were intensified when he attended camp for children of secret police. He met with university students attending the Security Ministry’s Higher School. Kalugin saw them as confident, fun loving. Kalugin stated: “I wanted to be like those dashing officer trainees, and a career in the Intelligence Service beckoned.” At 17, he decided to join the intelligence service. With an English proficiency and strong academic capabilities, he was well qualified.

Kalugin’s Early Years and Career Choice

In illo viro, Tatum robur corporis et Naomi fuit, it quocunque loco Angus esset, Fortuna facturus. (In that man there was such oak-like strength of body and mind that whatever his rank by birth might have been, he gave promise of attaining the highest place in the lists of fortune.) As has been the case with previous reviews, greatcharlie most enjoys examining a memoir to understand what sort of individual develops into who the author became. In its review of First Directorate, greatcharlie explores how, from youth to his earliest years in the KGB, how Kalugin evolved into the man he is today.

At least from what he shares, his early life was entertaining, pleasurable to recall rather than filled with dissatisfaction, disappointment, and hard lessons. Indeed, Kalugin relates the days of his youth with a subtle humor, recounting the efforts of a young man trying to make his way through life. Kalugin was raised in a “sleeping district” outside of Leningrad, something akin to a French banlieue. His circumstances seemed relatively ordinary, however, his father worked for the NKVD. Kalugin’s father, Danil, was a dark haired, handsome man with facial features revealing a Tartar blood trace. He was not well educated, but by Kalugin’s description a solid man, who cared for his family. After serving In the Red Army in the 1920s, he sought work in Leningrad, and that is when he landed a job as security guard for the secret police, then known as the NKVD. When Kalugin grew up, his father was working at the Headquarters building in Smolny. (Interestingly, in the KGB, officers who were the children of officers and former officers of the security services are affectionately referred to as Chekisty (Chekists), a name derived from the first security service in Communist Russia mentioned earlier, the Cheka. Some would come from families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party as Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Children raised in the Chekist community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended.)

Kalugin’s mother Klavdia, came from a family of skilled factory workers from St Petersburg for more than a century. Based on the manner in which he described himself, Kalugin was clearly a bon garçon, born with a good soul, nourished by a fine family and appropriate associations in his youth. Unfortunately, he was born during a wave of terror in which 29 to 40 million Russians were killed, and a dark shadow hung over Russia. When Nazi Germany invaded Russia, Kalugin travelled wuth his mother to stayed in Omsk, Siberia. His father remained in Smolny, guarding Party elite. Kalugin and his mother returned to Leningrad after a 900 day siege. Only her sister survived the war. Other seven members among 27 million lost during war. This clearly had an impact on the young Kalugin. Dogma among Russians in the immediate postwar period was to say that Russia’s victory in the so-called Great Patriotic War proved Communist system was best. The defeat of the Nazis proved to Kalugin and his young compatriots that Soviet Union was invincible. Still, it went much further for Kalugin. He confirms in First Directorate that from the days of his youth he was absolutely subsumed by Communism; he was a true believer, and that perspective colored every decision he made. He yearned for the opportunity to defend his political ideals, defend his country, and fight on behalf of the Communist Movement. Kalugin’s political leanings did not make him a zealous firebrand.

Unless greatcharlie is terribly mistaken, as he grew, Kalugin appears to have been gentle in temperament, but at the same time a mature boy, not showy, but within possessing a burning ambition with an idea of where to place it. Kalugin undertook the path toward excellence as a Communist with a great sense of ritual. He joined the Young Pioneers at an early age, and in his teens, he became involved with Kommisol. These were the sort of activities that types such as Kalugin went for. One could posit that as a result of his indoctrination in the Soviet Union, Kalugin genuinely viewed Communism as a coherent ideology and provided a clear direction. For the Communist, too, hope supported imagination and drove the individual’s faith in the system. Faith supported and drove the individual’s action to achieve. Despite violent outcomes of KGB dealings with his fellow citizens, Kalugin would have likely confided that there was no reason to argue the point. In his heyday during Staliin’s era of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, Kalugin likely would have looked any Western accusers directly in the eye and declared it all as Western disinformation, compelled by their bourgeoisie sense of morality to falsely critique the “superior” Soviet system any way they can. Much of what Soviet citizens were told about their country’s government, its security apparatus, its leaders, and its place in the world was filtered out by Moscow leaving what was reasonably bad out. Given the Kremlin insistence on concealing the truth about the country, many indoctrinated adherents of the system would contribute to their misunderstanding of it by doing their own filtering. Thus, the rest of what was understood of the Soviet Union, typically shaped by the desire to create the best picture of their country as possible, was usually just conjecture. It also made reasonable sense to those as Kalugin, psychically bound to the Soviet system, that there would always be the occasional differences of opinion over how efficiently something was done or how the government might have handled a matter more effectively under the Socialist framework. Amabilis insania. (Fond illusion.)

As a teen, he devoured the books of Arkady Gaidar, which included stories of young characters doing courageous and noble deeds for Motherland. It planted seed in Kalugin’s mind of becoming a secret service officer. Those feelings were intensified when he attended camp for children of secret police. He met with university students attending the Security Ministry’s Higher School. Kalugin saw them as confident, fun loving. They sang songs in English and Russian to campers to younger students. Kalugin stated: “I wanted to be like those dashing officer trainees, and a career in the Intelligence Service beckoned.” Kalugin had never assumed that he would have an ordinary life. Kalugin saw possible work in the state security service as more than a job. For him, it was a grand opportunity to support and defend his political ideals. Kalugin and his cohorts believe they were born to be men of action. Each wanted to be a pride to his fellow countrymen. For Kalugin, as with most of his young colleagues, the KGB offered a solid basis for believing that the Soviet system could be protected and sustained. The KGB, as a central organ of the government, ostensibly had the know-how and the resources to prevent the Soviet Union, and the contiguous countries of the Eastern bloc that it led, from falling into a chaotic condition. There was a perspective once common in the Soviet Union, and perhaps holds a place today in the Russian Federation, that in an heroic way, Kalugin and his KGB comrades were making good on the sacrifices of the previous generation of Soviet citizens in the Motherland’s defense. Kalugin explained that at 17, he decided to join the intelligence service, then called the MGB. With an English proficiency and strong academic capabilities, he felt qualified. Kalugin’s father, Danil strongly objected. As he worked for the NKVD, his father knew only too well what happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and. Indeed, he witnessed first-hand–from the screams he heard as a jail guard to the countless Communist Party bosses he saw disappear during his days at Smolny–what the glorious security services were doing to the Soviet people. Danil Kalugin secretly told his son about what he had seen and heard in the security forces. He explained to Kalugin that was what the NKVD was really all about; violence, torture, death. He did not want his son involved with the dirty work of the NKVD.

Isthuc est sapere non quod ante pedes modo est videre sed etiam illa quæ futura sunt prospicere. (True wisdom consists not in seeking that which is immediately before our eyes, but in the foresight of that which may happen.) Strangely enough, Kalugin explains that his father’s stories made the life of a secret policeman seem even more intriguing. Kalugin put it this way: “After all, wasn’t the KGB on the front line of the battle against capitalism and world imperialism? The thought of dying for one’s country and the Socialist ideal stirred my blood. His talk of screaming prisoners didn’t sound nice, but I asked myself, What else can you expect in a bitter struggle with our enemies?” Kalugin was held captive by the idea and ideals of Communism and too easily overcome by the seeming prestige, the power, and the draw of it all. With his romanticized visions of a career in the state security service, he was too excited to look both ways, too young and inexperienced to intuit where it all might lead. While Kalugin’s very caring father did his level best to dissuade his son from joining the security service but  was not able to fully comprehend what he was telling him, that the security service was not something ideal, not an organization of “superheroes,” but a real place with real people, and certain unusual men worked in the state security service.  As he moved through the years at KGB, Kalugin would slowly come to realize exactly what his father told him about the security service’s horrors. Four decades later, Kalugin, more mature, more experienced, more insightful, explained to readers much as his father tried to explain to him what he unexpectedly experienced in the intelligence service. What Kalugin expresses sometimes plainly, but most often subtly, throughout in First Directorate, is that from his first days of training to the day of his retirement, some KGB personnel, not all, did not appear to be well-vetted psychologically to perform their function given the behaviors they displayed. Surely, among the KGB’s internal security elements, there were acts of undue severity and abominable cruelty committed, bordering, if not fully manifesting, sadism. Such monstrous individuals appeared absolutely unhinged from the reality that they were serving the Soviet government, not themselves, and that their authority came from the government, not themselves. Much of that was already well-known.

In the more elite KGB formations, officers were engaged in more complex and challenging tasks, were further vetted and had received extensive training However, Kalugin also gets across that problems similar to those that impacted the internal security section also existed among some employees of the more elite intelligence sections. (Examine the text very closely; such statements are really there!) Surely, this was a very important matter for Kalugin as he repeatedly makes a point of describing the many different personalities that he encountered in the KGB. His depiction of them left no doubt that they had no business being in the organization. As readers will discover late in the book, such individuals got the ball rolling in the right direction to lower the curtain on Kalugin’s career. The indications and implications of the insights Kalugin shares concerning the KGB’s organizational well-being were that a nexus existed between the decaying performance of the KGB and the eventual collapse of the Soviet system. True, KGB recruits were strenuously vetted through training, yet some who did not openly manifest any deficiencies while under the watchful eyes of instructors apparently got through. More than a few violent, overzealous, under motivated, dishonorable, and vengeful individuals, suffering from a wide range of other pathologies, would move up through its ranks. As the success of each directorate, department, and service of the KGB was dependent on the quality and consistency of the performance of individuals in their respective positions, these bad hires given their troubling actions and the ugly environment they would create, managed to have a damaging impact upon the organization over time. (The uneven thinking and anomalous behavior Kalugin reports was exhibited by some clearly misplaced KGB officers, is actually a phenomenon common to many large intelligence services. It is very possible that deep-seated emotional difficulties or disorders are stimulated and amplified in the individual working in an intelligence services due to the unique responsibilities of the job, rather broad authority one possesses, unusual and morally questionable activities required, and potent stressors that strain. The thinking and behavior noted here was recently evinced in the record of activities undertaken by members of the US Intelligence Community who vigorously sought to destroy reputations and the lives of several innocent individuals inside and outside of the Trump administration. It was an apparent venomous, mentally unbalanced quest to force the collapse of Trump’s presidency. The exact reasons for their behavior will likely be difficult to identify until facts about them and their actions are fully known. Unfortunately, honorable men and women in the intelligence services run up against such damaged individuals in their organizations more often than they should.)

After graduating from high school in Leningrad, Kalugin passed four entrance exams with high marks and qualified for service in the MGB. In 1952, Kalugin began his studies at the Institute of Foreign Languages ​​of the MGB in Leningrad. There was only one other school similar to it for MGB officer training in the Soviet Union, the Higher School in Moscow. As mentioned earlier, in the immediate postwar period, Ministerstvo Vnuirennikh Del (Ministry for Internal Affairs) and Ministerstvh Gosudarstvennoe Bezopasnosti (Ministry for State Security) were combined to form the MVD-MGB. Kalugin graduated from the Institute of Foreign Languages with honors. Kalugin notes that at time of his graduation, his father was suffering as a result of a sharp decrease in KGB wages ordered by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in an effort to reign in the heavy-handed security service and he was subsisting with partition employment offered by friends. Yet, despite his own situation and his expressed misgivings about his son’s career choice, Kalugin’s father told him that he was proud of his achievement. By then the MVD-MGB had become the KGB.  The next step for Kalugin was more specialized training at the KGB Higher Intelligence School No. 101 or Advanced Spy School in Moscow. At the Advanced Spy School–later renamed the Andropov Red Banner Institute by the KGB and now called the Academy of Foreign Intelligence–Kalugin was trained as an Arabist, and in the course of his education, he studied the Middle East in detail. Kalugin was trained in tradecraft and prepared for technical work in the field. He learned how to set up radio transmitters, to use and detect bugging devices, to make microfilm and how to conceal microfilm and microdots in household items, how to cultivate intelligence assets, coding/decoding and cryptology, location orienting when dropped into unfamiliar locations, how to use a gun, how to tail people invisibly, how to detect when being tailed, how to evade all kinds of surveillance, and how to pass a package without being noticed even when being tailed. As his training came to a close, the leadership identified him for distribution to the most complex and prestigious First Foreign Intelligence Department, which, as aforementioned, dealt with the US and Canada. He was also informed that he would be joining a group of young people to take a graduate course in the US. As he relates the early days of his career, Kalugin appears to be transported to a place of happiness. The 20th century US philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, John Dewey said: “To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.”

Kalugin (center right) with Soviet cohorts at Columbia University. Kalugin initially came to the US in September 1958 to attend the Columbia University School of Journalism as one of 17 ostensible students from the Soviet Union to arrive under the Fulbright exchange program. In reality, half of them, including the 24-year-old Kalugin, were officers from Soviet intelligence services. Before going to the US, Alexander Feliksov, Head of the KGB’s North American Department instructed Kalugin: “Just lay the foundation for future work. But don’t overstep the line. Now that you’ve been picked to go to America, make it your business to learn more about the country. Buy yourself good maps. Improve your English. Find out about their way of life. Communicate with people and make as many friends as possible.”

Kalugin’s First Visit to the US

Kalugin initially came to the US in September 1958 to attend the Columbia University School of Journalism as one of 17 ostensible students from the Soviet Union to arrive under the Fulbright exchange program that year, and the first Soviet citizens to study in the US since the end of World War II. In reality, half of them, including the 24 year old Kalugin, were actually representing Soviet intelligence services. He was already a lieutenant in the KGB. Before he left, Alexander Feliisov, the Head of the KGB’s North American Department instructed Kalugin: “Just lay the foundation for future work. But don’t overstep the line. Now that you’ve been picked to go to America, make it your business to learn more about the country. Buy yourself good maps. Improve your English. Find out about their way of life. Communicate with people and make as many friends as possible.” In New York, Kalugin came in contact with a culture alien to him. He tried to better understand it by experiencing as much of it as possible. Kalugin was impressed by Manhattan; the power, the beauty, the bustle. Other worldly creations, skyscrapers, the Empire State Building. He travelled throughout the city, no restrictions were placed on his movement. He would ride the subway for hours. He saw 100 films and visited clubs in Greenwich Village. Soon enough, the haunts and pleasures of the elite class became his stomping ground, too! He attended Broadway musicals, the Metropolitan Opera, and visited Manhattan’s many museums. Extremely impressive to Kalugin were giant department stores well stocked with a diversity of items and supermarkets with their abundance of fresh food, unheard of in the Soviet Union, known for shortages of everything and long breadlines. It is here, early on in the book that the reader has the opportunity to enjoy the vividness of Kalugin’s descriptions. One can imagine him taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells, the touch, the impact of the city on the young Soviet citizen. His level of thrill and enjoyment, though expressed on paper, is all made so palpable

Kalugin recognized that FBI operatives sought to make clandestine contacts with him at Columbia University, but did not experience such problems outside the school. At Columbia, he wrote for the school newspaper. He was elected to the Student Council. Kalugin curried enough curiosity by his presence in New York that the New York Times interviewed the young Fulbright Scholar for a human interest article which was given plenty of page space and garnered a lot of attention. Kalugin would venture outside of New York to Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington. He also travelled through Iowa and Wisconsin. People were mostly very friendly to him. He admitted his happiness with all that was good gave him joy, but it also created a spark of doubt about his own world back home. His prescience, however, served him well as he kept his eyes wide open. He never took any experience to its furthest extreme to consider how he would fit into such a world. He would take note that the US had visible flaws. He noticed problems of poverty in Bronx Bowery, and Harlem. Kalugin also discovered endemic racial prejudice and ethnic and social discrimination. He learned about clashes over civil rights as well as voting rights and labor laws. He kept in his head that Soviet Union had a longer way to go, given what he saw in the US, but its vitality would overcome the US which would very likely stumble over its own deficiencies.

As his experience at Columbia University evinced, counterintelligence officers of the FBI and CIA likely had eyes on Kalugin as soon as he arrived in New York. What was akin to present-day FBI SSG surveillance teams and their typically maladroit surveillance contractors, would have been assigned to watch his every move. The insistence of his superiors that he remain untangled with anything before him was presumably based on their judgments on that strong likelihood. The alert sounded over FBI counterintelligence efforts was intriguing as it indicated that somber and astute KGB officers would heavily factor in FBI surveillance and attempts at clandestine contacts in all activities in the US to include mundane tasks of daily life such commuting, shopping, exercising, visiting museums, attending the opera, going to the movies and engaging in other recreational activities. Aa Kalugin goes on to explain, the rather heavy hand of FBI counterintelligence would prove most apparent at social events, receptions, dinners, cocktail parties, and gatherings in private homes.

While Kalugin’s contact with Soviet émigré named Anatoly that he gave the pseudonym Cook, who was a scientist at Thiokol has regularly been chalked up to luck, there is the possibility that it was not so unusual. Kalugin was not the only one involved in the recruitment; Cook had a say in the matter. There was an awareness in the US, especially among educated US citizens, as Cook–who it turned out was a Stalinist–that the Soviet Union was an authoritarian, Communust regime. As such, its citizens did not move freely overseas. Those travelling abroad with the approval of the regime would very likely be tethered to it via the KGB. Contact with a Soviet citizen visiting New York and attending an event on technology at the once famous New York Coliseum, would almost guarantee creating a potential link to the KGB. Kalugin’s level of success with Cook albeit was frightfully high. To borrow from cricketing parlance, Cook was a lolly, an easy catch. However, Kalugin did not struggle afterward to duplicate that first success. Rather than focus on trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice, he focused on simply doing his job as best he could. Esse quam videri bonus malebat; ita quo minus petebat gloriam, eo magis illum sequebatur. (He chose to be good rather than to seem good; and so, the less he strove for fame, the closer it followed after him.)

His First Deployment: New York

During his first full operational deployment, Kalugin went back into the US, returning to New York. From June 1960 to March 1964, operated out of the Rezidentura at the Soviet UN Mission, using the cover of Radio Moscow UN correspondent. Kalugin’s true purpose was political intelligence work. Kalugin  would send communications with information necessary for the leadership in Moscow under the pseudonym Felix. He spent time cultivating US citizens and diplomats and citizens of other countries at the UN and in New York, who he foresaw could supply the KGB with classified or unclassified information about US foreign and domestic policy. Those in contact with Kalugin were imaginably unaware that he was a KGB officer, collecting useful information from them. Kalugin would also utilize his contacts for active measures. Indeed, active measures activities were not something apart from, but integral to the KGB officer’s day-to-day efforts in the field. Paralleling efforts to determine the political leanings and the degree of compatibility and favorability toward the Soviet viewpoint was spotting, developing, assessing, recruiting and even handling agents. While engaged in active measures, KGB officers would reflexively spout “the party line” on issues of the day with those they encountered while making their social rounds. The intention of injecting the Soviet line and disinformation into conversations in this way was to infect the opinion making process in the US. New York was fertile ground for that activity as it was the center of publishing, newsmedia, writers and “agents of influence,” that would set the US political agenda. He, indeed, had conversations with luminaries in US society from all fields. Not every KGB agent performed this work well. Kalugin did. Indeed, in First Directorate, Kalugin provides an ample idea of how that work transpired in real terms operationally, bringing him triumph and bringing grief to adversarial US counterintelligence officers. Active measures, however, included much more than exchanges of knowledge and sharing news stories. More intense activities, as Kalugin recounted, would include paying for, and helping write, ads in the New York Times signed by prominent and unsuspecting political activists protesting the US involvement in Vietnam. The KGB sent racist letters, supposedly from US citizens, to African diplomats at the UN and has operatives paint swastikas on synagogues and desecrate Jewish cemeteries. Kalugin would visit the site of the vandalism and write reports for Radio Moscow on how anti-Semitism was sweeping the US.

What is particularly interesting about active measures is the double-edged impact the work may have had ultimately. Essentially, all of the information relentlessly propagated by the KGB in the US and the rest of the world, though ostensibly the Soviet line, was false information or disinformation. It was designed not to authentically inform but to shape thinking in a pro-Soviet direction or forment dissatisfaction and social and political unrest in the target country. To that extent, most likely consciously but perhaps subconsciously in the minds of the KGB officer engaged in such work was that the Soviet line, the same one Soviet citizens were hearing at home, was full of lies. Certainly KGB officers were worldly wise enough to know that no strategy should have been necessary to present the truth, for it stands for itself. Activities such as active measures were really being used to defend against or counter the power of the truth. Perchance it was never calculated or officially considered what type of destabilizing impact requiring KGB officers to engage in active measures might have on morale, esprit de corps, honor, loyalty. The impact of KGB officers’ sensibilities may have also played a role in decisions by some to defect. While the ultimate ends of active measure may have justified the means in Moscow Center, the collateral effects of the activity on its personnel may not have. (This causes one to consider what impact former senior and mid-level US intelligence and law enforcement officials who, every ten seconds wrongfully and repeatedly argued in the news media and elsewhere in public that Trump and members of his administration, in truth all guiltless, had colluded with the Russian Federation Government, but meanwhile testified under oath in US Congressional Committees that there was no evidence that they had actually seen that indicated such. In this instance, one could genuinely ruminate on whether one of the main elements of spying, promoting fraud, influenced their perjurious behavior. Ultimately, the conscience of each may by their undoing. In Act V, scene iii of William Shakespeare’s play The Life and Death of Richard the Third, King Richard, on Bosworth Field, confesses: “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, / And every tongue brings in a several tale, / And every tale condemns me for a villain. / Perjury, perjury, in the high’st degree / Murder, stem murder, in the direst degree; / All several sins, all used in each degree, / Throng to the bar, crying all. Guilty! guilty!”)

In the ordinary sense Kalugin was not engaged in laborious toil as an foreign intelligence officer. Yet, surely, the work was strenuous, high-pressure, and anxiety-filled. The risks were never trivial. For his daily work, within the limitations of his cover assignment, Kalugin was on the street, working agents and performing technical intelligence tasks. From what can be ascertained from Kalugin’s description of his work in the US played out, generally, he, just as other officers, would handle four or five agents or targets under development. He was not expected to spread his range of intelligence activities further, although he was still encouraged to develop a large circle of casual contacts among whom he could conduct active measures and from whom a relatively small number of serious targets might be selected at some point. As Kalugin describes his work, he undoubtedly demonstrated his flexibility and adaptability, ensuring the collection of valuable information from sources reached his managers. There was a particular case in which Kalugin made the unconventional choice. He came into contact with a 25 year old Columbia University graduate student who held extreme left-wing political views. Thinking he could be motivated to work for Soviet Union to promote Socialist state. However, he could not deliver anything really of value. His parents, both of whom were Communist  told him to stop working with Kalugin because it was too dangerous. Kalugin was insistent but to no avail. Despite that breakdown, the young student’s father contacted Kalugin and asked him to leave his son alone and offered to help him instead. Kalugin, convinced he was genuine, told his manager at the UN Mission. When his manager contacted the Center, in a reply Kalugin was admonished not to deviate from procedure again but to continue with the recruitment. Further, the cable ended with the instruction: “Allowing for the initiative and courage shown by Comrade Felix–as aforementioned Kalugin’s codename, I suggest he be promoted to the rank of senior case officer.” The father turned out to be a good KGB asset, and was used on numerous occasions to run messages and deliver materials to agents outside the 25 mile city radius to which Soviet Mission staff were restricted. By Kalugin’s own admission, the Center displayed a considerable degree of patience over that move. It did not want Kalugin to be inventive. It wanted officers to strictly adhere to procedures. Yet, the Center also very much wanted good results. Ostensibly, while deviations from procedures were greatly frowned upon, apparently if no damage was done to a case and the efforts of the officer and his station were not detected or harmed in any other way, and success was achieved, nothing punitive beyond a bit of admonishment resulted. Indeed, KGB case officers were held strictly to account for the results of their actions. Yet, they were not expected to report on day-to-day developments to the Center. KGB officers were expected to be on the beat and usually did not spend much time at the desk writing reports, reading guidance from headquarters or maintaining his files. When he had a problem he took it up with his boss, but was supposed to know the difference between what he really needs consultation about and what he ought to be able to handle on his own. There was virtually no lateral distribution of communications and an extreme emphasis on compartmentation. His boss in turn has the responsibility of not only guiding the case officers that work for him, but of ensuring that vital information pertinent to the work of one case officer but acquired through another is made available. The custom that each officer prepares his own reports and kept them brief, made it possible for their reports to actually be read all the way up the chain.

Kalugin (center) on the beat in New York. During his first full operational deployment, from June 1960 to March 1964, Kalugin operated out of the Soviet UN Mission, using the cover of a Radio Moscow UN correspondent. Kalugin would send communications with information necessary for the leadership in Moscow under the pseudonym Felix. He spent time cultivating US citizens and diplomats and citizens of other countries at the UN and in New York, who he foresaw could supply the KGB with classified or unclassified information about US foreign and domestic policy. Within the limitations of his cover assignment, Kalugin was on the street, working agents and performing other intelligence tasks. Appreciation of Kalugin’s work by headquarters resulted in further promotions. From 1965 to 1970, he would be assigned to Washington as deputy rezident with the cover of deputy press officer, and then acting chief of the Rezidentura at the Soviet Embassy.

Recruiting KGB Spies

When tested by unexpected challenges in the field, Kalugin would assess the situation, then begin to act based on his training. A big lesson gleaned from Kalugin’s anecdotes is to “Trust your training.” Still, the most devastating weapon stored in Kalugin’s figurative armoire as a KGB intelligence officer was his mind. Kalugin possessed an intellect that stood out a mile (and still does now). There were never too many moving parts in a situation. What Kalugin could not see or confirm with his own eyes, he was clearly able to conceptualize better than most. Even more, Kalugin’s intellect was continuously animated concerning his work. To be successful at running agents in the field, an intelligence officer must know a lot about humanity. One must know a lot about human relationships. There are said to be certain secrets and knowledge of human existence, human circumstance. Whether Kalugin managed to acquire that hidden bit of information is unknown to greatcharlie. However, little doubt is left that Kalugin very much wanted to better understand, to put it sort of whimsically, “what made people tick.” Clearly, he successfully acquired that knowledge and experience as evidenced by all of his interactions recounted in First Directorate. Concerning prospective recruits, Kalugin would parse out all that is made available to him about the subject at hand. The minute Kalugin observes something, he knows what can happen. Kalugin would know the answer; he knows the usual result. Kalugin could feel a good recruitment on the tips of his fingers. As aforementioned, the Center left no doubt in its instructions and communiques to Kalugin that it was not looking for immediate success, dicey efforts. It repeated that guidance often. It may appear that the Center was figuratively hanging on Kalugin’s gun arm, but it certainly was not. The Center was adverse to chasing miracles. The Soviet intelligence service possessed a great deal of patience and determination to wait for years before the source, led along the way, would join the Department of State, the CIA, or some other entity, and attain a position useful to it. According to Kalugin some US recruits were approached even before reaching college. It was the understanding of KGB that US intelligence services were unable to wait that long. There were some US citizens apparently recruited for a long-term plan. For instance, in the event of war between the US and the Soviet Union, they would be directed to sabotage Washington’s power lines or poison drinking water sources.

Earlier here, greatcharlie mentions how Kalugin takes the reader to school concerning KGB spying, particularly running agents in the field. This was particularly true of his in-depth discussion of the recruiting process. One also learns from Kalugin in First Directorate that each recruitment effort is a little different.  There are always different triggering motives leading to cooperation with an intelligence service, especially, one from another country. The psychological contact of the intelligence officer with the prospective recruit is key. In recruiting agents, speech is everything. Word choices must build confidence, create trust, console, assure, inspire, and comfort. To create compliant agents, the right word choice must be made every time. To that extent, Kalugin could not conceal his ebullience, recalling occasions when all he collected about a prospective recruit would coalesce and he formulated, once again taking from cricketing parlance, a jaffa, a particularly good pitch. Whether a recruiting target signs something at the time of being recruited (using the KGB terminology) about cooperation or not, really depends on the preceding circumstances. A written agreement was required when a recruitment was based on some compromising materials. If there was a later refusal by an operative to cooperate, the agreement could be used for blackmail. Yet, despite how well Kalugin laid out his discussion of recruitment, the process was far from a simple matter or easy to do. When the Soviet Union looked like the wave of the future, its best spies came to its  intelligence services out of ideological convictions. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, their recruitment service among such individuals was counted upon. Kalugin posited that after 1956 when Khrushchev exposed the cruelty of the Stalin regime and showed that “ ‘Soviet achievements’ had been built on the bones of our own people,” true believers in the Communist Movement began to dry up and disappear. Kalugin explained further that after Czechoslovakia was invaded in 1968, “only the most fervor ideologue could hold any illusions that the Soviet Union was striving to build a Socialist utopia.”

Both directly and delicately, Kalugin indicated that what drove recruits to spy boiled down to four primary motivations: money; ideology; conspiracy; and excitement. Concerning those recruits interested in money, spying was little more than service offered through a business transaction. There were many such cases. Perhaps the most infamous was that of the notorious US Navy traitor, John Walker, who was able to spy for the Soviet Union for 19 years. His recruitment and handling was Kalugin’s greatest achievement at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. Walker was a walk-in, came to the Soviet Embassy with a treasure-trove of secrets. He was in it for the money. The entrepreneur spy included his son, brother, and best friend in his spy ring. He tried to bring in his daughter, but she refused. Walker needed no physical contact with his Soviet handlers, pep talks, and no hand holding. He in fact operated 10 years without meeting one. Nearly everything done after the initial set of meetings was done with dead drops. His wife finally reported his activities to authorities. There were others such as a CIA officer in Washington who claimed to have been recently fired. He made it clear from the start that he was looking for money. He would eventually pass a considerable amount of material. However, the most valuable document was a long paper entitled “Detection and Approaches to Psychologically Vulnerable Subjects of the Enemy,” which cited US efforts to recruit Soviets worldwide and painted a portrait of Soviet citizens most likely to become spies.

Regarding ideology, Kalugin indicated that when a recruits motivations were ideological, they were typically pro-Soviet, adherents of Socialism and the Communist Movement, fellow travellers. At other times, they were simply left-leaning in that era of protest. The Soviets could recruit such agents in the US and provide them no remuneration. Some even refused it. An example was that of left-wing publisher, M.S. Armoni, editor of a journal Minority of One, who would do the bidding of the KGB by publishing articles allegedly written by Kalugin. They were actually written by the KGB propaganda department in Moscow. The KGB supplied money for Armoni to run several ads in the New York Times criticizing the US involvement in  Vietnam and signed by leading liberals at the time. When Armoni had financial difficulties, Kalugin provided him with nearly $10,000 in funds for being “So faithful in presenting the Soviet view of world affairs.” The money broken down into smaller sums was falsely attributed by Armoni to anonymous US donors. Kalugin also gives the example of a diplomat at a Western European embassy who furnished the KGB with diplomatic cables, top secret reports, recording with the US State Department. The same diplomat was approached without immediate result when posted to Bonn, West Germany. Kalugin met with him in Washington under orders from the Center. He convinced the diplomat to provide classified materials for very little money. His motivation was ideological because he held leftist political leanings.

Relating to conspiracy, such recruits were most often vengeful toward the government, scientific, or technological organization that employed them. An extraordinary case was that of an FBI special agent with considerable access. He first approached the KGB station chief one day and said he wanted to help the Soviets. He immediately supplied the station chief with some information about FBI activity against several Soviet citizens in New York City. The KGB was suspicious, but the FBI man proved reliable. Through personal meetings and by mail, the FBI recruit sent other portions of information about the FBI’s counterintelligence work against the KGB. the mysterious FBI recruit, as Kalugin refers to him, never asked for money.

As to excitement, there were the sensation-seekers, driven by the excitement of spying, self-gratification, or amusement. Kalugin recalls a female diplomat from what Kalugin characterized as “a major European country,” who, after being posted in Moscow for two years and becoming involved with a KGB officer, made contact with Kalugin in Washington. She would supply information to him, as Kalugin suggested, to support the work of her romantic interest still in Moscow. Kalugin would meet with her frequently in restaurants and receptions. When asked to provide cables from  her Foreign Ministry, she refused but recited what was in those she read when they met. Kalugin would also gift her with jewelry, scarves, and other presents. Kalugin deduced that the woman likely knew he was a KGB officer, but enjoyed the sensation of meeting in cozy restaurants and being treated well by him. What the woman provided was valuable political intelligence. There was also the curious case of I.F. Stone, a well-known left-leaning Washington journalist. The Center had informed Kalugin that Stone had been a useful contact who broke off after the invasion of Hungary in 1956. It wanted Kalugin to reestablish the connection. Stone would meet with Kalugin a half-dozen times a year for lunch. During those meetings, he would share insightful views on the US political scene. Kalugin referred to Stone merely as a former “fellow-traveller. However, having meetings with someone he likely suspected was a KGB officer was undoubtedly intriguing to Stone. Stone abruptly ended their acquaintance, however, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Big Promotions

Appreciation of Kalugin’s work by the Center resulted in further promotions. From 1965 to 1970, he would be assigned as deputy rezident at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, with the cover of deputy press officer, and then acting chief of the Rezidentura at the embassy. He was invited to serve in Washington initially by an eventual mentor of a sort, Boris Solomatin, who was taking over as rezident there. As defined in The Dictionary of Espionage, the KGB section of a Soviet Embassy was the Rezidentura. The ranking officer of the embassy was the rezident, who operated under diplomatic cover, and this had diplomatic immunity. The rezident’s equivalent in the US Embassy was the CIA chief of station. As the rezident would hold senior status in the KGB, his identity in the foreign intelligence service was known to Western intelligence services and law enforcement. To that extent, the rezident engaged in almost no espionage activities while deployed abroad. What is curiously noted in The Dictionary of Espionage is that some residents did roam the cocktail circuit where posted “for hard drinking seemed to be a prevalent trait.”

Interestingly, KGB officers were promoted through the service on bicameral tracks. Being essentially a military organization, an officer was promoted from junior lieutenant up to lieutenant, senior lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and then, if fortunate enough, through the general ranks, major general, lieutenant general, colonel general, and general of the army. The KGB officer’s formal rank was largely based on his time in service up to lieutenant colonel. Concurrently,  the officer receives the classification as a junior case officer, case officer, or senior case officer, and then progresses further as a deputy rezident or rezident. Those operational designations were based on the officer’s experience and performance as an operator in an assigned field. The chain of command was determined by operational positions rather than rank. Indeed, a major could be reassigned from one part of the KGB to the First Chief Directorate and be designated as a junior case officer for lack of experience and be subordinate to a senior lieutenant who was a case officer or senior case officer. Pay was determined by where the officer was ranked in both hierarchies. Kalugin’s title at the Soviet Embassy was acting rezident, and not fully the official rezident. Kalugin explains that the cause for this was sensational editorial columns aimed at exposing Kalugin as a KGB officer. It was an act completely estranged from tradition among journalists in Washington. First, there was a Washington Post article referring to a Soviet intelligence officer’s work with a Greek agent. The name of the officer published was Victor Kraknikovich, the alias Kalugin used for the Greek case. The Center was informed. Kalugin suspected the story was fed to the Washington Post by the FBI and the beginning of a campaign. Then, Jack Anderson published an article naming Kalugin as a Soviet agent. The article’s opening paragraph stated: “His name is Oleg Kalugin, second secretary at the Soviet embassy. For some time, he has been trying to place a female acquaintance of his as his agent in the State Department. He also instructed an aide to cultivate a girl who works at the FBI. Neither attempt succeeded. Both girls have been leading him under the direction of the FBI.” Anderson followed up on the Kalugin story in his “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column, headlined “Soviet Spy Allowed To Remain in U.S.”, “His [Kalugin] undercover activities in this country are known to the FBI.” Anderson included: “But only the State Department knows the reason he is still here. Other spies caught in the act have been declared persona non grata and have been given 48 hours to leave the country.” On first impression, the Center took it all very calmly, telling Kalugin “Curb your activities just a bit but do not worry.” Nevertheless, the Center was concerned that Kalugin would be deported, a headache the KGB did not need. Kalugin was not deported. An intriguing reality was that KGB operations in the US were not solely dependent on the work of the rezident at the Embassy in Washington. As noted in the aforementioned The Dictionary of Espionage, along with the official rezident, an illegal rezident was deployed who lived abroad without any official cover, usually with an assumed identity, responsible for controlling subordinate illegal agents who worked in his area. The illegal rezident would have no contact with the Soviet Embassy or any of its personnel, and he maintained his communications with the Center. In terms of authority, the illegal rezident had the rank of the official KGB rezident. If the illegal rezident was arrested, the officer could not plead diplomatic immunity and would go to prison.

On the Threat of Defections

Once operating in foreign territory, a considerable concern regarding intelligence officers and their agents was the threat of betrayal. Concerns were almost always raised among Soviet citizens when anyone with whom they may have just met or were in contact for other reasons, suddenly showed an eccentric interest in them. One had to be resolute regarding personal and collective loyalty. There had to be a defined sense of what you owed to your country, what you owed to your own sense of ethics and morality. For some KGB officers, deployed overseas, even while facing-off with their Western counterparts, it often became the same old trudge day in, day out. Some of Kalugin’s fellow KGB foreign intelligence officers would struggle mightily to develop informants, find bona fide targets with access to considerable information to recruit, and get anything started from which they could develop concrete proposals for a foreseeable recruitment at their postings. Others figuratively shuffled along, hoping to go unnoticed and evade the behests of the Center along much as the theatrical comic relief of an aged butler seeking to avoid the master and mistress of the house hoping to keep his exertions to a minimum. Causality for such difficulties often resided in those KGB officers, themselves. Personal and professional inadequacies, having gone undetected during the vetting process and training, often found their way to the surface, and would provide an open door to inappropriate indulgences and improprieties. Embezzlement was a problem. There were those who would keep hundreds of dollars of payments intended for KGB operatives for themselves. A number would outrightly make personal use of KGB funds. Some had already displayed the most deplorable carnal behavior while still in the Soviet Union. Then deployed to Western countries, they would indulge in all that had to be offered. They would set aside their defensive training. In the end, a number of them would be caught flat footed in rather fatuous, fairly obvious honey traps set by US counterintelligence. They most likely were obliged to play the double-game against their bosses at Moscow Center. Kalugin explains that there was a particularly nasty problem in Canada in which a half dozen KGB personnel were left open to blackmail by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and all were recalled and disciplined. (An individual is tracked by an intelligence or counterintelligence organization with the goal uncovering evidence for a case or investigation. To endlessly surveil an individual, or subject as one would be dubbed, using mountains of taxpayer dollars, with no real goal, is not just inept, it is malfeasance. The subject, who may not be guilty of anything, is essentially being harassed, and very likely some dishonorable individuals in the intelligence or counterintelligence organization violating their oath to the country and highly likely, in nasty surreptitious ways, attempting to build an extra pension for themselves. It happens in Intelligence services more than one might imagine.)

FBI counterintelligence, Kalugin’s main opponent in the US, engaged in near endless  attempts to intercept him and perhaps neutralize and recruit him, came in the form of clandestine contacts. Those attempts confirmed that he had actually been under surveillance as the FBI would only have undertaken such an effort if counterintelligence managers believed that special agents had collected enough about him and his activities that they were convinced he was a Soviet intelligence officer, that they understood how Kalugin thought, and that he would respond favorably to an effort to make clandestine contact with him. The method used by FBI counterintelligence to reach Kalugin was its bog-standard employment of women as honey traps. As defined in The Dictionary of Espionage, a honey trap is a method of sexual entrapment for intelligence purposes, usually to put a target [such as Kalugin] into a compromising position so that he or she can be blackmailed. Perhaps it would be enough to say Kalugin displayed restraint and elegance in the face of advances by the female FBI counterintelligence operatives. Indeed, as he describes his response, he displayed a sensibility akin to what the French call “bof” (whatever) to it all. One might simply chalk that up to Kalugin’s self-discipline, his Apollonian nature. In the field, Kalugin was always dedicated to his country, the Communist Movement, and his mission. He was laser focused on his responsibilities as a KGB officer to spot potential recruits, collect information, even passively, and report observations, engage in active measures, and not fall prey to the women used against him. Beyond consideration of Kalugin’s professional response to what to him were far less than enticing honey traps, consideration should be given to his response simply as an individual. There exists a line of thinking which notes unless one has already thought, deliberated, pondered, or meditated on certain behavior, one will be hardened to it. One would not be going out on a slender thread to presume Kalugin was neither ignorant of nor surprised by attempts at such manipulations, carnal behavior among adults. Perchance, he simply never considered getting involved with such nonsense  or pondered having anything to do with such women while on the beat.

Perhaps proof and precedence of previous successes with less capable, less adroit, or simply inept KGB officers, along with some likely unsupported, doctrinaire, Cold War era preconceptions concerning the Russian male libido, convinced FBI counterintelligence of the correctness and efficaciousness of that method of clandestine contact with Kalugin. The focus was on the physical, the carnal, not the intellectual. The underdeveloped mind can rarely get beyond physical facts. Even at the most basic level of decisionmaking on the matter, some recognition that a mental attraction, some cerebral connection between Kalugin and a female operative foisted upon him might be required. That was apparently ignored or disregarded by the FBI, presumably counting upon some id-explosion that would overwhelm him. It was a considerable oversight. Based on how he described the women involved, such a connection under any circumstance, would have been near impossible. In the intelligence game, nothing about making contact with an opponent in the field can be considered too trivial to disregard. under the leadership of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, Special Agents in counterintelligence were genuinely tough. Kalugin admits to that in the book. Yet, they could hardly be judged as being socially conscious by current standards. Their record of responses on a variety of other issues, the Civil Rights Movement and Anti-War Movement for instance, indicates they were in fact quite the opposite. The use of honey traps and similar artifices by FBI Special agents, surveillance specialists or contractors, continues today.

Although as he recounts them, Kalugin indicates that he was cautiously amused by the FBI honey traps, but he also seemed to take a professional interest in why in US society in which there were far more better things to do, would a woman even entertain the idea of serving as a seductress for the FBI. Recognizing that the use of the method was a gauge, a manifestation of the thinking among serious US government intelligence and law enforcement officers, Kalugin very likely began at that time to contemplate how Soviet foreign intelligence in the US could effectively turn the ploy against them and other targets in the US. That is exactly what he did. Kalugin used his personal attributes and charm and those of other handsome males and females to further the KGB’s mission by loosening those attractive qualities as weapons against unsuspecting Western officials and especially secretaries working in key offices in the US foreign and national security policy apparatus, when he believed something considerable could be gained by doing so. The Ancient Greek comic and playwright, Aristophanes in The Birds (414 B.C.) wrote: “Men of sense often learn from their enemies. Prudence is the best safeguard. This principle cannot be learned from a friend, but an enemy exorts it immediately. It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls and ships of war. And this lesson saves their children, their homes, and their properties.”

Kalugin (right) standing with Kim Philby (left). In reaction to increasing defections by KGB officers, Yuri Andropov, the Chairman of the KGB, ordered KGB foreign counterintelligence to develop a new program that would make defection to the Soviet Union attractive. He ordered that life for existing defectors made to be envied and to make certain to let the world know about it. Kalugin was directed to handle the matter. A defector that Kalugin devoted time to was Kim Philby, the United Kingdom MI6 traitor. Philby’s life in the Soviet Union was awful and Kalugin found him in a terrible state. He had faced considerable mistreatment, particularly psychological torture. Kalugin set forth on a genuine course to rehabilitate Philby. Yet, reversing the damage to those mistreated by intelligence and counterintelligence services is extraordinarily difficult. If anything, Kalugin salvaged the best of what was left of the Soviet spy. In the photo above, relative to Kalugin, Philby appears as if he had the Hell posted out of him.

At KGB Foreign Counterintelligence

In 1971, having returned from the US, Kalugin became deputy chief of the Second Service of First Chief Directorate, which meant a two-step increase in the hierarchy of the central intelligence apparatus. However, the counterintelligence service proved to be broken, unprepared, and understaffed. The counterintelligence function was pivotal to KGB operations and its mission, but it was not given the status and attention it truly required. Even housing made available for its officers was undesirable. Kalugin had a negative immediate impression of the director of the Second Service of First Chief Directorate, Vitaly Boyarov. However, his concerns were resolved over time. Concerning the other deputies Kalugin had nothing greater good to say. One was a chain smoking, profane man who constantly berated his subordinates. Kalugin described another deputy as a fussy, indecisive man who had “no business being in the KGB let alone in relatively high position.” Kalugin depicted the third as an “utter nonentity.” All three were at least a decade older than Kalugin. The decline for KGB foreign counterintelligence operationally was also apparent. In the 1950s and 1960s, foreign counterintelligence, according to Kalugin, had managed to penetrate deeply into the French, United Kingdom, and Italian intelligence services. Concerning the US, the KGB had Walker, their superspy. However, by the 1970s, it was clear to many that the Soviet Union really was not the model society of the future, both politically and socially, and the Soviet system could do nothing to reverse that impression. As disillusionment with the Soviet Union set in, the number of KGB defectors also began to skyrocket, further damaging its operations.

When Kalugin first started working in foreign counterintelligence in 1970, the KGB was only experiencing a trickle of defections from the ranks. However, the rate steadily increased. However, the defection of Oleg Lyalin of Department V, tasked with preparing contingency plans for sabotage and assassination in time of war, defected after working for the United Kingdom’s intelligence services for six months. The story of his activities as presented by Kalugin would surely be astonishing to any readers. His revelations resulted in the expulsion of 105 Soviets from the country, personal non grata. Visas for known KGB officers were denied. In reaction to Lyalin’s defection and the many others, Yuri Andropov, the Chairman of the KGB, ordered Kalugin’s director at counterintelligence, Boyarov, to develop a new program that would make defection to the Soviet Union attractive. He suggested using large amounts of money, fancy apartments and country homes, and complete freedom of movement in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. He also ordered that life for existing defectors made to be envied and to make certain to let the world know about it. Boyarov put Kalugin on the case. That led to perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of that period of Kalugin’s career, his contact with the infamous double agent Kim Philby, formerly of the United Kingdom’s MI6, Secret Intelligence Service. While Kalugin met with a number of the defectors, to include the infamous George Blake, also from the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service, and Donald Maclean, but Philby was the most interesting case. Suffice it to say, greatcharlie sense that it is going out on a slender thread in discussing the matter of Philby, but it is critical to the process of understanding and characterising Kalugin. Philby is a delicate and painful subject in some Western intelligence services even today. Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby, was a member of “The Magnificent Five.” Others included two diplomats, Guy Burgess and the aforementioned Donald Maclean, and the former officer of MI5, the  domestic focused Security Service, and leading art historian, Anthony Blunt. The identity of the fifth member was never confirmed. The intelligence officer, John Cairncross, was suspected. All but the fifth member defected to the Soviet Union. Kalugin had heard rumors of Philby’s life in Moscow–”drinking, womanizing, hours of depression, and squalid existence.” Most of it proved to be true.

For Philby, defection to the Soviet Union did not pan out as he had hoped. It was nothing near the paradise he likely envisioned. He had a relatively decent apartment, but had few possessions in it worth having. The big problem he faced though was not so much being deprived of material things, but rather his treatment. Philby was subjected to repeated house arrests over regular suspicions of KGB as to his “activities.” His every movement, even in his home, was considered suspect. For instance, when he was heard writing over hidden microphones, it was determined that he was composing reports to pass to Western agents. The overall surveillance was ham-handed, guaranteed to harass and cause discomfort. The only element that was missing from his treatment was the rough stuff, physical torture, though there was plenty of psychological torture. The deep grief felt by Philby over the death of his image of a Soviet wonderland, coupled with his mishandling was likely made somewhat less painful by his daily practice of soaking himself in alcohol. For those in the KGB who were acting against him, that likely provided a sense of accomplishment. They were clearly the types. Philby’s behavior was rumored to have been questionable–”drinking, womanizing, hours of depression, and squalid existence,” but little was placed in official reports about his treatment. For this reason, Kalugin did expect to find what he did when he contacted him. As things were, there was no chance of showcasing Philby’s situation as reflective of that of defectors. If the truth of Philby’s actual treatment had gotten out to the rest of the world, it would have choked the Soviet voice on defections. A singer with fine pitch would notice something wrong with a note that an ordinary or amateur might not. However, everything Kalugin observed was plain as day, actually absolutely over the top. The inhumanity, illogica, and incompetence of Philby’s handling screamed out. As Kalugin described what those KGB officers involved in what had been done to Philby were further examples of how deep seated psychological issues of some officers would drive them to engage in odious acts. Kalugin set forth on a course of attempting to rehabilitate Philby. There was nothing superficial about his efforts. He essentially debriefed him again under calm, informal conditions. He began to visit him somewhat regularly. He then brought other friendly KGB officers to talk to him, ask his opinion on professional matters, tradecraft, trying to give him a sense of being useful, capable, and needed. Kalugin used the authority granted to him by Boyarov to involve Philby in KGB training. He brought him to the KGB Higher School to lecture young officers who were set to be deployed to Western countries. Philby would help with active measures by inserting sins poster passages in US State Department and CIA documents. Kalugin would genuinely ask Philby for input into programs being formulated for defectors and prospective recruits. For all in which Philby was becoming involved, Philby was amenable and did not want payment. Kalugin did what he could to remunerate him by boosting his ongoing payments. He had repairs made to his apartment and replaced the furniture. Kalugin would also arrange for Philby to travel outside of the Soviet Union to Socialist Countries in the Eastern Bloc and beyond to Cuba and Mongolia. In doing all of this, Kalugin followed his orders, but his noble and humane effort did credit to both his head and his heart.

The damage intelligence and counterintelligence services can do to an individual’s psyche is well understood to be grave and considetable. To paraphrase a recent remark by US Senator Charles Schumer of New York on the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of the US Intelligence Community, they can come at you six ways to Sunday. The soul and the spirit of the target of such efforts is typically seared. Surely, some having suffered similar harsh treatment from their own side as in Philby’s case, have been able to have renewal of mind. Yet, rehabilitating those mistreated by intelligence and counterintelligence services, reversing the damage, is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. That is a reality that is rarely understood or dismissed. Perhaps there is such a strong desire to believe otherwise by those who might engage in such efforts, that the mere notion, itself, that it can be done, becomes true. As for the individual, supposedly being rehabilitated, it is likely that when placed regularly under inhumane treatment, physical or psychological, a valiant effort is made to hold on to all of the many aspects of themselves. However, self-discernment would more likely cause them to face the reality that much has been lost after enduring such terrible experiences. Kalugin, at the time, appears unable to fully fathom that although he was interacting with someone who looked, sounded, and moved as original Philby, the zealous member of the Komintern, the Soviet spy, the proud defector, but that man was gone, no longer intact. The psychological capsule that Philby likely created to hold on to the remainder of himself, to protect himself, to survive, would never have been so easy to break open in an effort to find him. The original Philby may have had far more to offer. If anything, what Kalugin did was salvage the best of what was left. The trust that Kalugin sought to create was not really possible either. Doubtlessly, Philby noticed Kalugin, for whatever reason, was authentically trying to be congenial and helpful. Understanding that, he may likely have displayed an outward modification of attitude and behavior perhaps even to satisfy Kalugin. To that extent, he understood that Kalugin was the source of better things than before, and with the hope this does not sound indelicate, he responded to Kalugin, though not obsequiously, but much as stolid hound that recognizes its owner as the source of its nourishment and shelter. Perchance, there was much more in all of this. In an uncanny way, Philby’s situation foretold a similar future for Kalugin. Indeed, perhaps Kalugin had an extra sense, a presentiment that he might find himself in a similar boat in another country. Both men experienced somewhat similar types of betrayal by the same monstrous Soviet system and the same organization, the KGB, in which that they placed so much faith and for which were ready to surrender their lives. Luckily for Kalugin, when his day of reckoning came, he ran into individuals in the US possessing sensibilities much as his own, and not the sort that Philby dealt with upon arrival in the Soviet Union.

In March 1973 Kalugin became head of the Directorate KT, KGB Foreign Counterintelligence. In the process he became the youngest leader at that level in the KGB. In 1974, the 40-year-old Kalugin received the rank of major general, making him the youngest general in the KGB. A KGB officer was promoted from junior lieutenant up to lieutenant, senior lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and then, if for nature enough, through the general ranks, major general, lieutenant general, colonel general, and general of the army. The KGB officer’s formal rank was largely based on his time in service up to lieutenant colonel. Concurrently, the officer receives the operational designation as a junior case officer, case officer, or senior case officer, and then progresses further as a deputy rezident or rezident. Those designations were based on the officer’s experience and performance as an operator in an assigned field. The chain of command was determined by operational classification rather than rank.

In March 1973 he became head of the Directorate KT, foreign counterintelligence. In the process he became the youngest leader at that level in the KGB. In 1974, the 40-year-old Kalugin received the rank of major general, making him the youngest general in the KGB. Such career leaps, Kalugin believes, were primarily due to the personal patronage of Andropov. Kalugin refers to Andropov his “guardian angel”, and writes that “the relations of father and son” developed between them. Made aware of Kalugin’s success, as all of the most senior managers of KGB doubtlessly had, Andropov surely recognized that the KGB had a gem in their midst, a “bright red” carbuncle. Andropov was a rather intriguing player in the history of Soviet Intelligence. As it was detailed in Robert Pringle’s Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence, 2nd ed. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), from the Historical Dictionaries of Intelligence and Counterintelligence series, much as Kalugin’s career at KGB, Andropov’s career moved up rapidly in Soviet political sphere. His advancement began after being appointed Soviet ambassador to Hungary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1954. While at that post, the November 1956 Hungarian Uprising ignited. A segment of the society demanded independence from the socialist state. The upright morphed into an armed conflict. Andropov called the uprising “counter-revolutionary, an anti-social riot” and informed the Kremlin that he supported the idea of sending Soviet troops to aid the Hungarian socialist government to quell the protesters. Andropov directly coordinated the activities of pro-Soviet forces in Hungary, which managed, with the support of Soviet forces, to keep all of Hungary socialist. More than 2,500 people died during the conflict.The Hungarian Uprising shaped Andropov’s thinking, after leaving his post in 1957, he reportedly kept on speaking about it. Soviet diplomat Oleg Troyanovsky remembered: “Andropov of 1956 in Hungary. He often said: ‘You can’t imagine what it is – hundreds of thousands of people flooding the streets, completely out of control’.” Troyanovsky believed that Andropov feared to see such a scene in the USSR – and did all he could to prevent it. Still, his advisors recall that when he led the department on relations with the socialist parties within the Communist Party’s Central Committee from 1957-1967, he was a “liberal leader.” According to renowned political scientist, Georgy Arbatov, Andropov would supposedly say: “In this room, we all can speak our minds, absolutely openly. But the second you leave it–play by the rules.” During Leonid Brezhnev’s tenure as Soviet leader from 1964 to 1982, Andropov, efficient and professional, became one of the most important figures for the regime. Named Chairman of the KGB in 1967, Andropov took on several urgent and important issues, with a predictable hardline approach, to include:  international crises in the Middle East; Czechoslovakia; Afghanistan; regional conflicts in the Soviet Union; and, suppressing Soviet dissident movements, putting dozens in asylums and deporting hundreds of others. On November 12, 1982, Andropov would become General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and on June 16, 1982, he became Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. However, he died on February 9, 1984, serving just under fifteen months in power.

Kalugin reasoned that Andropov trusted him. Still, knowing Andropov’s history, Kalugin knew exactly who he was dealing with. Developed from that understanding appears to have been an invaluable intuition about his own organizations’ moves on issues and regarding personnel. Anecdotes included indicate that he was able to intuit the decisions of managers and executives allowing him to think ahead to how he could satisfy their next steps, and new requirements. The very positive impression with Andropov enabled Kalugin, at least until late in his career, to survive the danger that KGB managers would pose to him. An eventual cause of problems for Kalugin was another protégé of Andropov, Vladimir Kryuchkov.

KGB Chairman and later Soviet Premier, Yuri Andrpov (above). Kalugin believes his career leaps were primarily due to the personal patronage of Andropov. Kalugin refers to Andropov his “guardian angel.” Made aware of Kalugin’s success, as all of the most senior managers of KGB doubtlessly had, Andropov surely recognized that the KGB had a gem in their midst. Kalugin reasoned that Andropov trusted him. Still, knowing Andropov’s history, Kalugin knew exactly who he was dealing with. From that understanding, he appears to have developed an invaluable intuition about his own organizations’ moves on issues. The very positive impression left with Andropov enabled Kalugin, at least until late in his career, to survive the danger that other KGB managers would pose to him. An eventual cause of great problems for Kalugin was another protégé of Andropov, Vladimir Kryuchkov.

The primary mission of the Soviet Foreign Counterintelligence Service was infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence, counter-intelligence, police forces all over the world. The primary target was the US. Second came NATO and Western European countries. As chief of counterintelligence, Kalugin had control of the most significant cases due to the possibility that potential success was merely pretense by the FBI. What appeared interesting may merely have been dangled before KGB with the hope of entrapment of its officers and their networks. The counterintelligence unit, Directorate K of the First Chief Directorate, would take charge of a case from the regular chain of command of the foreign intelligence service whenever an agent appeared to be doubled, compromised, or on track to be compromised. The field case officer may remain the same, but in Moscow the Counterintelligence Service assumes full authority for directing the case. Deception and some types of complex political action operations often were run directly by the headquarters element, Department A, that prepares the operation in Moscow. In such cases, of course, local assets of a Rezidentura may well be employed in support, but the operations are frequently run by specialists. In the Soviet Union, foreigners, especially, US citizens, were closely investigated by the local internal KGB office. That kind of investigation was not conducted with a view to recruit immediately. It was important to identify the psychological profile of a person, his political orientation, his attitude towards his home country and towards the country he was visiting for some reason. After accumulating a sizable amount of material (based on a whole array of undertakings: plain observation, audio- and video-surveillance of the places of residence, agency-level scrutiny, including “honey traps”), on the basis of the analysis, a decision is made about a transforming the investigation into a recruitment with appropriate conditions (such as through compromising materials or a voluntary agreement) or about wrapping up the whole thing by “educating” a foreigner in order to convey a favorable image of a country that investigated him, in his home country.

As his record at counterintelligence indicated, Kalugin could hardly have been judged as being too kind-hearted in his job. In 1975, Kalugin was directly related to the operation to abduct and rendition Nikolai Artamonov, alias “Lark,” to the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, Artamonov died along the way. Kalugin claimed that the reason was an error with the dosage of the anesthetic. Kalugin was one of only three men in a meeting in which the KGB sanctioned the assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London in 1978. Kalugin explains that the KGB’s science and technology directorate had the weapon designed and constructed in Japan. It was an umbrella that fired a small dart into Markov’s leg. Kalugin would pass the orders from his KGB bosses along to subordinates to provide the poison-tipped umbrella used in the assassination. Kalugin would also organize and execute the 1981 bombing of Radio Liberty headquarters in Munich.

Kalugin indicated that his Foreign Counterintelligence Service was not organized to carry out assassinations. According to the KGB table of organization provided earlier, that dirty work was the shared responsibility of Directorate V and the Thirteenth Department. Work as a KGB foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officer, however, required an understood pledge to commit certain violent undertakings. It would be a leap to call Kalugin an ordinary cutthroat due to his obedience to facilitate that action. There is a classic expression heard in organizations: “One is either in or one is out.” Kalugin certainly was “all in.” Nonetheless, many in the KGB began to doubt that.

Reversal of Fortune

In a sudden pivot in his story, Kalugin’s luck would change at what was for so long his beloved KGB. Kalugin’s reporting of observed lawlessness and arbitrary rule and cronyism within the KGB created friction within its leadership. Shadows gathered. In response to his vocal disagreements with how the KGB was operating, the Center threw Kalugin a dip that caught him by surprise. Telling that part of his story, Kalugin positioned himself as the protagonist, and rightly so in greatcharlie’s humble opinion. Although acting with the best intentions, Kalugin incurred the worst. Soon enough, he found himself facing great difficulties. Despite his near impeccable record, Kalugin’s work was placed under “special scrutiny.” Senior executives of KGB, to whom Kalugin was loyal and obedient, loosed counterintelligence investigators, headhunters who relished ruthlessly destroying officers’ careers, even innocent ones, upon him. They were dishonorable individuals who willingly bore false witness on Kalugin and breathed out lies. Kalugin explained that at first he was a bit bemused by it all, then disgusted as his whole world seemed to come crashing down around him. Nothing would be the same again.

The 18th century French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire, wrote in a August 8, 1736 letter to the Prince Royal of Prussia who later became Frederick the Great: “Such is the destiny of great men that their superior genius always exposes them to be the butt of the enveloped darts of calumny and envy. “ Undoubtedly, there were quidnuncs in the KGB who would happily push out scuttlebutt on what was going on everywhere in it and occasionally exacerbating situations, despite all the secrecy and efforts at classification and compartmentalization. Employees within an intelligence service would surely understand the need to keep watch against efforts by adversaries to recruit spies among their organizations ranks. With the right manipulations and pressures, such breakdowns can often be forced. There is also the need to stand guard against the possibility of betrayal and defections impelled by a variety of reasons. However, stories of management’s undue suspicions of officers and internal investigations, seen and unseen, would have conceivably created apprehension within the organization as to what was actually transpiring within the KGB. Consequently, it also became more difficult for officers to know who to trust among their colleagues. Thus, in his career, Kalugin had to become expert in figuring out how to avoid garnering the negative attention of KGB managers who, due to nothing greater than their own disposition or paranoia, would occasionally see innocent officers as potential security risks. As aforementioned, due to his superb work, his good relations with KGB senior executives, he had no normal reason to feel his position was threatened. Aforementioned as well, Kalugin believed that he was close to Andropov, not only due to his official position, but simply because he trusted him. Yet, knowing all that he did about the organization’s quirky leaders, problematic officers in the ranks, doing his job right, and how to look good, it was only a matter of time before his fate would change. As long as Vladimir Kryuchkov, another Andropov protégé, was still Head of the First Chief Directorate, Kalugin had to keep his eyes open and ears pinned back. Kryuchkov had a reputation for acting against perceived rivals for power. Turning to Robert Pringle’s Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence, 2nd ed. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015) as a source on Kryuchkov, one learns that he initially began working not in the Soviet intelligence services, but rather in its justice system as a prosecutor’s assistant in Stalingrad. However, Kryuchkov began moving in the direction of foreign intelligence after graduating from the Diplomatic Academy of the Soviet Foreign Ministry and becoming a diplomat. Kryuchkov met Andropov in Budapest in 1955 while he was serving as the Soviet ambassador, and got to know him closely supporting his activities during the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. From then on, Andropov became Kryuchkov’s main patron. He joined Andropov at the Department of Liaison with Communist and Workers’ Parties of Socialist Countries in 1959. When Andropov was selected as a Secretary of Communist Party’s Central Committee in 1962, he eventually brought Kryuchkov on from 1965 to 1967 as his aide. Then, when Andropov was selected as Chairman of the KGB on May 19, 1967, he brought Kryuchkov to Moscow with him to serve as Head of the Secretariat, KGB. He allowed Kryuchkov to gain experience with intelligence operations, including covert activities by placing him in charge of foreign intelligence operations under his tutelage starting in 1971. Then, in 1974, Andropov appointed Kryuchkov as head of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, and he remained there until 1988. (In 1988, he would become Chairman of the KGB, where he would remain until the failed coup of 1991.) During Kryuchkov’s years in the KGB’s foreign intelligence service, it was involved in funding and supporting various communist, socialist and anti-colonial movements across the world, some of which came to power in their countries and established pro-Soviet governments; in addition, under Kryuchkov’s leadership the Directorate had major triumphs in penetrating Western intelligence agencies, acquiring valuable scientific and technical intelligence and perfecting the techniques of disinformation and active measures. At the same time, however, during Kryuchkov’s tenure, the Directorate became plagued with defectors, had major responsibility for encouraging the Soviet government to invade Afghanistan and its ability to influence Western European Communist Parties diminished even further.

Vladimir Kryuchkov, Head of the First Chief Directorate and later KGB Chairman (above). Having caused a stir by pointing out troubles in the KGB First Chief Directorate, fertile ground was created for Kalugin’s rivals to take him down. Vladimir Kryuchkov, the Head of the First Chief Directorate became Kalugin’s biggest problem. He suggested Kalugin was possibly a US spy. According to Kalugin, Kryuchkov’s reasons for wanting to destroy him was his strong relationship with Andropov. Kalugin said Kryuchkov likely thought that he would be sent somewhere, leaving him to become the head of the First Chief Directorate. Kryuchkov’s anxieties would manifest in the sort of unsettling hostile and destructive behavior that Kalugin repeatedly pointed out had rotted away at the soul of the KGB. Kalugin could not avoid problems by staying well back from him. Kryuchkov, after all, was his manager. Kalugin could not escape his fate.

Having caused a stir by pointing out troubles in the KGB First Chief Directorate, fertile ground was created for Kalugin’s rivals to take him down. Vladimir Kryuchkov, the Head of the First Chief Directorate became Kalugin’s biggest problem. He suggested Kalugin was possibly a US spy. According to Kalugin, Kryuchkov’s reasons for wanting to destroy him was his strong relationship with Andropov. Kalugin said Kryuchkov likely thought that he would be sent somewhere, leaving him to become the head of the First Chief Directorate. Consequently, Kryuchkov’s anxieties would manifest in the sort of unsettling idiosyncratic behavior that Kalugin repeatedly pointed out had rotted away at the soul of the KGB. Kalugin could not avoid problems by staying well back from him. Kryuchkov, after all, was his manager. He could not escape his fate. As part of Kryuchkov allegations, he claimed Kalugin was possibly instrumental in allowing the flow of what was characterized as dicey intelligence from a questionable source to the Center. He determined that an intelligence source, who was Cook from Thiokol, Kalugin’s earliest recruitment in the US, was a supposed means by which the US was enabled to channel chicken feed through the Soviet system. No one really cared about Cook who was arrested for possessing and selling foreign currency and making hostile statements about the Soviet regime. He was simply used as the predicate for taking the drastic step of insinuating that Kalugin had been compromised, despite a mountain of exculpatory evidence to the contrary. Wrongful preconceptions can always be supported by bent intelligence.

Kalugin explains that things were made far worse because the matter was investigated by General Victor Alidin, head of the Moscow KGB. Kalugin explained that Alidin was an abominable KGB officer, with a solid reputation for brutality and widely reviled. Yet, he was extremely close to Soviet Premier Brezhnev. In Washington, Kalugin had caught Alidin’s son-in-law embezzling hundreds of dollars of payments intended for KGB operatives. Kalugin recommended tough action, but Solomatin, his rezident, limited the response to a reprimand to avoid all of the trouble with Alidin that likely would have followed any stronger action. Alidin and his men, to whom Kalugin refers as “Alidin & Company,” set out to find spies! As Kalugin described how their reports on the case were written, they seemed as mad as March hares, concocting a bizarre parody of a nonexistent relationship between Cook and Kalugin. It emphasized the Cook’s job as a mole was to string the KGB along and make Kalugin look good. There were leading questions asked of Cook. Those questions  concerned Kalugin’s alleged recruitment by the CIA. Alidin & Company engaged in the worst possible behavior as investigators. Using their well-exercised nefarious stratagems, they were able to make right look wrong and good look bad. One might suppose that it was relatively easy for Kalugin’s adversaries to question that an officer, so early in his career, could stumble upon such a find as Cook. Many officers with far more years and experience never came close to such an achievement. To an extent, Kalugin’s success proved to be his undoing. After being surreptitiously interviewed formally by Alidin and his investigators under the guise that they were fact-finding and needed his help in investigating Cook of Thiokol, It did not take Kalugin long to figure out what they were driving at. Kalugin’s description of the moment when he became conscious of his KGB investigators’ plans against him was chilling. After twisting and turning facts, Kalugin’s rather sophomoric investigators were able to bear false witness against him, breathing out lies. As Kalugin depicted the matter, it all seemed surreal-to-the-point-of-silliness. Again, not a bit of evidence supposedly collected on Cook or Kalugin was conclusive. Certainly, the presumption of innocence was a principle alien in the Soviet Union. Erring on the side of liberty was not something done in its system. Kalugin’s treatment ostensibly could have been chalked up as a lesson to others that all intelligence activities were subject to scrutiny. Perhaps the real lesson was that in the KGB there was an ever-present danger of certain peccant officers, petty tyrants, who, having been provided with brief authority by the Soviet state, were willing to abuse it. Within such officers, there was typically a need through harsh and disruptive behavior to prove, mainly to themselves, that they have power over others and to soothe some uneasiness over what they may recognize as their own shortcomings. They were imaginative in their thinking but in all the wrong ways. Dead ends would only open doors to more illusions and thereby their pursuits were never exhausted.

As Kalugin related this whole tragic episode, there was a duality of emotions manifested in his words. Surely there was disdain, but there was also great pity. Kryuchkov had attained one of the most important positions in the KGB. Rather than relate to Kalugin as one his successful managers and display his competence to possibly take on the position KGB Chairman, he shrunk to reveal the idiosyncrasies of a paranoid KGB official, who could think only of his own personal interest and attempt to destroy two innocent men in the process. Ironically, Kryuchkov would become KGB Chairman in 1988. Unable to accept the ideals of perestroika and glasnost implemented by Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, he participated in  the 1991 coup attempt, the consequence of which was triggering the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union. Kryuchkov was a major part of the problem that led to destruction of the KGB, and a major part of the problem that led to the Soviet Union’s collapse. If anything could be said about Kryuchkov’s nefarious plan to undo Kalugin, he was quite thorough leaving nothing to chance, even the likely response of his mentor, Andropov. He moved Kalugin out of the Center into what was then a relative nether region of the Soviet Union, Leningrad. He would become First Deputy Chief of the Leningrad KGB, second-in-command there. In what turned out to be their final meeting Andropov in a friendly manner: “You have stirred up too much dust here at headquarters. I just want you to go away until things settle down. You go to Leningrad and when things calm down, you’ll be back. I promise you. It will take a year or so. No longer than that. You’ll be back soon.” However, Andropov died in two years, and Kalugin remained in Leningrad for seven years.

Certainly, Kalugin knew that Andropov was quite shrewd, and made endless calculations in his decision which all had to be made in the context of Soviet politics. Kalugin was invaluable to Andropov when it came to being set straight on what was happening on the ground versus the West and what was happening among the rank and file on foreign intelligence inside the KGB. Yet, from where he was situated, Kalugin likely understood Soviet politics to a limited degree. The interplay between Andropov and Kryuchkov surely included efforts to discern the Communist Party political scene. Indeed, in the years following the 1956 Hungarian Uprising on which they worked together closely, Kryuchkov, the former prosecutor and diplomat, may have served as more than a loyal confidant who could provide bits of information, but an invaluable sounding board on political developments for Andropov. With his ears always pinned back, Kryuchkov surely had an appreciation of what was happening in the Communist Party and the Soviet system in general. His political awareness and sensitivity likely enabled him, much as that of an attorney to a client, to illuminate for Andropov, ways to finesse responses to Kremlin requests, particularly politically charged ones, to avoid any pitfalls, to ensure his survival and to create possibilities for his advancement within the political realm. Kryuchkov, while twenty years younger than Andropov, was ten years Kalugin’s senior, though he appeared about ten years additional, and spent more time observing senior Communist Party leaders and had more experience formulating nuanced responses to them, given their sensibilities. (Perhaps no better example existed Kryuchkov’s political savvy than the way in which he knocked the career of Kalugin, another Andropov protégé, completely off track while incurring no consequences for himself.) Andropov most likely thought that if he were moved up in the hierarchy and a choice had to be made for a new KGB Chairman, it would be good to have his protégé Kryuchkov to be in the running for the post. By interceding for a second time on Kalugin’s behalf, and thereby blatantly undermining Kryuchkov, Andropov may have sent the wrong signal concerning his confidence and impressions about him in the KGB and the Communist Party, potentially making Kryuchkov a weaker candidate for the top KGB post later. When Andropov was actually promoted to Deputy Chairman in 1978, Kryuchkov was not elevated to KGB Chairman but remained at the First Chief Directorate. (Kryuchkov eventually assumed that post on October 1, 1988, almost five years after Andropov’s death.) Again, Kalugin’s father warned him about the Soviet system, the state security service, the people within it.

Demoted from his post as head of KGB Foreign Counterintelligence, Kalugin was sent to the Leningrad KGB branch. There, Kalugin witnessed first-hand the true nature of the KGB’s activities as a domestic political police. He discovered that the KGB’s internal functions had precious little connection with state security but rather, benefitted corrupt Communist Party officials by keeping them in power. Indeed, from Leningrad, Kalugin could see more clearly the wretchedness of the Soviet system, and real socialism at its fullest. Further, he was authentically in touch with Soviet people for the first time and began to understand how they lived. Kalugin concluded the Soviet system was unworkable and needed to change.

At Leningrad KGB

In the end, Kalugin was demoted to serve as first deputy chief of internal security in Leningrad. Regardless of the circumstances, Kalugin did his job in his new post. One interesting case he was involved with in Leningrad was a counterespionage operation, the handling of a double agent. According to Kalugin, the KGB ran double agents to gather knowledge on hostile intelligence services. The KGB could learn a great deal by the kind of questions a hostile intelligence service was asking a double agent such as what kind of intelligence was required and what type of assignment it was giving to the double. To illustrate that point, he provides the theoretical circumstance of a CIA officer outlining what he was seeking from a Soviet agent. The officer might say a bit too much in explaining the matter and let slip some interesting information. Double agents could passively pick up valuable material just by being in the presence of hostile intelligence officers. Kalugin then gives a real life example of how a Soviet double agent grabbed a roll of microfilm that his CIA handler had forgotten. Dozens of intelligence documents, shedding light on the CIA Tokyo station were on that microfilm. Kalugin explains that the KGB also used double agents to plant disinformation and confuse hostile intelligence agencies. And running a double game could be extremely valuable in the propaganda battle with the West. On several occasions when the KGB was sure the CIA or other agency had been duped by its double, it would then nab the CIA agent for espionage. The KGB would then go about revealing details of the CIA’S spying operation, and expel the US case officer in a great fit of publicity.

Concerning the counterespionage case he became involved with while in Leningrad, the KGB elicited the cooperation of a Leningrad scientist named Pavlov who frequently traveled the world on a Soviet research ship. Ostensibly, he had access to information about Soviet science and the Soviet military industrial complex. Instructions were given to him to express dissenter views, engage in some black market operations, and do everything possible to attract the attention of the CIA and other intelligence services. For two years Pavlov was dangled at the CIA, doing everything that he was told. The KGB was surprised, for it expected the CIA to show interest in a man who had so much access. Then out of the blue, the KGB received a cable from the KGB’S station chief in Buenos Aires, Argentina stating that Pavlov had come to the Soviet Embassy and reported that the CIA tried to recruit him. He talked to the CIA agent, passed along some information, undoubtedly chicken feed, and agreed to meet him in Leningrad upon his return home. Kalugin said that his boss in Leningrad was skeptical, but the Center told them to go ahead with the meeting. And indeed such a meeting took place. Our surveillance people observed Pavlova and a diplomat from the US consulate in Leningrad–clearly a CIA case officer–rendezvous ingredients on a remote street in the city. Pavlov took money from the CIA case officer in exchange for scientific information. A second meeting was scheduled 25 miles outside of Leningrad. Pavlova was to give the CIA agent documents in exchange for another payment. As it turned out, however, the meeting came only days after the September 1, 1983 Soviet shoot down of Korean Airlines Flight 007. The Center made the decision not to continue to pursue the counterespionage operation. It ordered the arrest of the CIA case officer when he met with Pavlov and use of the incident to counter the storm of controversy that swept over the Korean Airlines fiasco. The CIA officer was caught red handed. He was expelled, but the incident while hyped did not make a dent in the bad publicity suffered over the shoot down. However, it also turned out that Pavlov was not being honest about the money he received from the US, pocketing more than he reported. As a result of suspicions over Pavlov’s honesty, his apartment was searched and the KGB found large sums of money proving he was pocketing payments. Pavlov confessed and was sentenced to 13 years in jail. He was granted amnesty in Yeltsin’s era.

In the Leningrad KGB branch, Kalugin also witnessed first-hand the true nature of the KGB’s activities as a domestic political police. He discovered that the KGB’s internal functions had precious little connection with state security but rather, benefitted corrupt Communist Party officials by keeping them in power. Indeed, from Leningrad, Kalugin could see more clearly the wretchedness of the Soviet system and appreciate real socialism at its fullest. Further, in Leningrad, he was authentically in touch with Soviet people for the first time and began to understand how they lived. Kalugin concluded the Soviet system was unworkable and needed to change. It was a conclusion from inside the Soviet Union and was not prompted by any outside ideas or reports. The disintegration of what were once considered the indestructible foundations of the KGB, as outlined by Kalugin, placed it on the road to destruction. In this segment, Kalugin provides a stark warning about what can happen to a state security organization that has lost its way. In vinculis etiam audax. (In chains yet still bold.)

Concerning the story of how his career ended, no one could be as sound on the details of the matter as Kalugin, himself. In the section of this review dubbed “About the Author,” may have been a bit of a spoiler, telling the story of how things progressed to the present very briefly. Kalugin was forced into retirement but seemed content to break free of the suffocating chains of the KGB bureaucracy, and daylight madness of a few power wielding superiors or equals in other departments. Kalugin then took a very active part in the rallies of Democrats. His disillusionment culminated in a sensational appearance at a political gathering in Moscow in the summer of 1990. He gave a speech from the abundance of the heart at the “Democratic Platform in the CPSU” conference. The former KGB general reports that he struggled to steady his voice and said: “Some people may think that I have jumped on the democratic bandwagon with evil intentions. I understand that there may be suspicions in your m8nds, but let me tell you that you’re wrong. I am from the KGB. I worked in that organization for more than thirty years, and I want to tell all of you how the KGB works against the best interests of democratic forces in this country.” Kalugin then describes an utter silence in the hall as he talked about himself and explained why the KGB must be radically reformed and the number of agents drastically reduced. He stated:  “We cannot begin a serious restructuring of society until we rid ourselves of the restraints imposed by an organization which has penetrated every sphere of our lives, which interferes with all aspects of state life, political life, the economy, science, arts, religion, even sports. Today, just as ten or twenty years ago, the hand of the KGB is everywhere. And any real talk of perestroika without reforming the KGB is nothing but a lie. All the much-ballyhooed changes in the KGB are cosmetic, a disguise upon the ugly face of the Stalin-Brezhnev era. In fact, all elements of the old dictatorship are still in place. The chief assistant and handmaiden of the Communist Party remains the KGB. In order to secure genuine changes in our country, this structure of violence and falsehood must be dismantled.” The speech was met with roars of approval, and a standing ovation. Requests for interviews and speeches followed in the weeks afterward. What also followed was a predictable KGB attack. A statement was released by the KGB press office declaring in effect: “The KGB is going to have its say about Kalugin, who he is and what he stands for.” Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev dealt the heaviest blow, issuing a decree on July 1, 1991, stripping Kalugin of his rank of major general, revoking all of his KGB awards, and cutting off his pension. Kalugin persisted against the odds. He was soon elected People’s Deputy of the USSR from the Krasnodar Territory. He remained a very vocal independent critic of the Communist system. His continuous attacks on the KGB garnered him notoriety and a political following. Political courage had to replace physical courage in the field as a KGB officer, though the real threat of violence, his assassination, existed. Nevertheless, he continued to protest KGB abuses.

Following an attempted 1991 coup against Gorbachev led by Kalugin’s nemesis, Kryuchkov, along with seven others, a popular movement under the Mayor of Moscow Boris Yeltsin emerged to subdue coup supporters. Watching events transpire in Russia as the Soviet Union collapsed and failing to act in some way would have been tantamount to accepting and admitting that he never had a spark of dignity or decency. Kalugin manned the barricades, serving as an inspirational leader for protesters. He jumped on top of Soviet tanks to address protesters. It was Kalugin who supposedly persuaded Yeltsin to address crowds before the Russian White House and elsewhere.

The Collapse of the Soviet Union

Following an attempted 1991 coup against Gorbachev led by Kalugin’s nemesis, Kryuchkov, along with seven others, a popular movement under the Mayor of Moscow Boris Yeltsin emerged to subdue coup supporters. Watching events transpire in Russia as the Soviet Union collapsed and failing to act in some way would have been tantamount to accepting and admitting that he never had a spark of dignity or decency. Kalugin manned the barricades, serving as an inspirational leader for protesters. He jumped on top of Soviet tanks to address protesters. It was Kalugin who supposedly persuaded Yeltsin to address crowds before the Russian White House and elsewhere. In September 1991, Gorbachev restated Kalugin’s ranks along with all decorations and his  pension. Yeltsin took control of the Soviet Union from Gorbachev and dissolved it, breaking it down to constituent republics. It was widely seen as a change for the better for the Soviet people and the world.  Though the new and smaller Russian Federation filled the vacuum of the Soviet space and got off to a very rocky start, reformists such as Kalugin who followed Yeltsin could be satisfied that they at least put it on the right track with an energetic shove. Kalugin decided to become a part of the reconstruction. He believed that Russia could eventually meet its full potential. His sensibilities then were representative of those times. He became an unpaid advisor to reformist KGB Chairman Vladimir Bakatin. Bakatin became famous for issuing a pattern of listening devices at the US Embassy in Moscow. However, Bakatin was only able to dissolve the old system but not reform it. As time went on, he was wise enough to recognize that possibility had passed beyond his view.

It would be easy to say that it should not have been terribly difficult for an intelligent man to predict the future of an authoritarian regime that sought to crush the spirit of its people with deceptions, crimes, and evils. Long ago, as a child, he had reached one set of conclusions on those matters. However. his experiences and intelligence provided him with the capability to discern why his initial conclusions might not have been correct. As he collected more information and experienced more of the darker side of what the Soviet system had to offer, he found that he was able to refute his long held views. Thus, he could no longer press any of his ideals about Soviet Union, the Communist Movement, the Communist Party, Socialism and the geopolitical struggle with the West forward with a degree of confidence. There was nothing puzzling about it all to Kalugin as he made that transition in his thinking. The death of Kalugin’s life in Russia opened the door to a new life in the US. Arguably, to that extent, Kalugin in the long-run oddly benefitted from the wrath of his enemies, and in a way benefited from the collapse of the Soviet Union. The righteous was separated from the unrighteous.

Kalugin always remained resolute in disappointment. He never lost his way. In his mind, he organized and synthesized the conditions that beset him. He never resembled what has been whimsically called “spiritual roadkill.” He had his own ethics, buttressed by a creed of what is right and wrong, fair and unfair inculcated within his soul at home with his parents. Ethics without such a creed are only a hollow shell. Bereft of the Soviet system that was once his mighty and faithful, shining beacon of light, upon which he could place all of his hopes and dreams for his future and the future of the world, over a few short years, as mentioned earlier, Kalugin was forced to make a series of never before imagined, new choices about his future, and his family’s future. Even through that, his heart remained stout and strong. Still today, he has refused to concede defeat to his enemies back in Moscow. How poetry manages to connect is really its classic role in culture. It provides an emotional vocabulary, putting into words what one may be sensing. When thinking about Kalugin’s struggles, wanting to achieve much for his country and do the right things, Arthur Hugh Clough’s “Say not the Struggle nought Availeth” (1849) comes to mind. It connects well with Kalugin’s persistence in humility:

Say not the struggle nought availeth,

The labour and the wounds are vain,

The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;

It may be, in yon smoke concealed,

Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,

And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking

Seem here no painful inch to gain,

Far back through creeks and inlets making,

Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,

When daylight comes, comes in the light,

In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,

But westward, look, the land is bright.

Kalugin always remained resolute in disappointment. He never lost his way. In his mind, he organized and synthesized the conditions that beset him. He never resembled what has been whimsically called “spiritual roadkill.” He had his own ethics, buttressed by a creed of what is right and wrong, fair and unfair inculcated within his soul at home with his parents. Ethics without such a creed are only a hollow shell. Bereft of the Soviet system that was once his mighty and faithful, shining beacon of light, upon which he could place all of his hopes and dreams for his future and the future of the world, over a few short years, as mentioned earlier, Kalugin was forced to make a series of never before imagined, new choices about his future, and his family’s future. Even through that, his heart remained stout and strong.

It is imaginable that greatcharlie’s enthusiasm over First Directorate may lead some to simply write this review off as a hopelessly oleagic encomium. However, nothing presented here is expressed with pretension. What one finds in First Directorate is of the highest quality and remains steady from beginning to end. Readers are also enabled to see the world through the lens of a man with years of experience in the world and a thorough understanding of humanity. Information from the text that is presented here, though it may wet the palate, only represents a mere fraction of what “things, wonderful things” the reader will find in First Directorate. In the genre of fiction and nonfiction spy stories, there is an artistic milieu in which writers seek to position themselves amidst. It cannot be denied that human nature instinctively finds entertainment more compelling than edification. While there is plenty in First Directorate to be entertained, in focusing on such, the depth of Kalugin, the man, might be missed. There is much that explains KGB tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods in First Directorate. When dealing with details as well as publishers and editors, one may likely find inconsistencies with previous accounts told by Kalugin of people and events. While there are many facts in First Directorate to scrutinize, in focusing on such, the mosaic of Kalugin, the man might be missed. Of course, readers should enjoy First Directorate as they wish. It is nice to get hold of a book that allows readers many ways to enjoy it. For greatcharlie, it was an absolute pleasure to read. As would be expected, greatcharlie wholeheartedly recommends First Directorate to its readers. It is definitely worth the read.

By Mark Edmond Clark

Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students

When Putin occasionally grieves publicly over the Soviet Union’s demise and expresses pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners worldwide. Putin, just being himself, certainly does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Still, he is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. A group of university students in the US inquired with greatcharlie on Putin’s expressions concerning the Soviet Union following a lively seminar debate. It was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to their inquiry. Hopefully, what is at the root of Putin’s stance on the Soviet Union has been figuratively dug up for them to see.

In late-May 2019, greatcharlie received an intriguing message from some undergraduate students of a university in the US concerning recurrent comments of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, lamenting the Soviet Union’s demise. There had apparently been a very lively debate in their political science seminar on Putin’s “often public lamentations over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, his insistence that it had many positive attributes and that as a superpower, it played a valuable role globally.” The students’ solicitation of greatcharlie’s thoughts on the matter was flattering. It was even more stirring to see them express great interest in international affairs and Russian politics in particular. Another subject was selected for greatcharlie’s June post.  However, rather than simply suggest a few books and journal articles to supplement their seminar debate, it was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to the students’ inquiry. Undergraduate and graduate students represent a significant portion of greatcharlie’s audience. The hope of greatcharlie is that by responding in this way, these intrepid students and others reading the blog will be encouraged to further pursue their international affairs studies and to continue reaching out beyond their classroom lessons to augment their knowledge base.

Confusion over one’s thinking can often issue from imprudently offering enthusiasms on a subject. When Putin occasionally offers pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners. Putin, just being himself, does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Yet, Putin is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. It would be counterintuitive not to accept that when Putin acts at any level, he does so with purpose and that purpose can be uncovered. What is at the root of Putin’s nostalgic, pro-Soviet position is figuratively dug up for them to see from this somewhat informal, multidirectional examination. Hopefully, it discusses a few valuable points perhaps not covered in the inquiring students’ seminar. Further, from this examination, insights were generated on the Russian Federation President’s intentions and actions that will contribute to the foreign policy debate internationally. Nulla tenaci invia est via. (For the tenacious no road is impassable.)

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was the very public nature of his expressions. Even in those dire initial days in office, Putin rarely offered comments off the cuff that could possibly produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as they related to feelings of patriotism were heard from him before. Still, he avoided uttering sentiments that stemmed from truly personal feelings. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Putin Has Said Some Interesting Things about the Soviet Union

When Putin first began publicly discussing his feelings about the Soviet Union, he provided a rare glimpse of how thoughts coalesced in his consciousness. Only a few years earlier Putin had become a full-fledged political man, a deputy mayor of St Petersburg, and then suddenly found himself at the very top, learning his way through the Kremlin jungle, domestic politics, and the larger world of global international affairs. Prior to his statements about the Soviet Union, Putin left no doubt that the essence of his thinking was akin to a “Russia First” concept. On August 16, 1999, the members of the State Duma, the Russian Federation’s Parliament, met to approve Putin’s candidacy of a prime minister. He was President Boris Yeltsin’s fifth premier in 16 months. In his speech to the Duma, Putin stated with spirit: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest . . . We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored.” Being Yeltsin’s choice, Putin was dutifully confirmed as prime minister without much been made in support of, or against, his nationalistic stance. His strong patriotic tone was heard again in a statement made in Part 5, “The Spy” of Putin’s memoir First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000) page 80. One of the interviewers preparing the book, notes that she asked him, “Did you suffer when the Berlin Wall fell?”, he explained: “Actually, I thought the whole thing was inevitable. I only really regretted that the Soviet Union had lost its position in Europe, although intellectually I understood that a position built on walls and dividers cannot last. But I wanted something different to rise in its place. And nothing different was proposed. That’s what hurt. They just dropped everything and went away.”

Even so, only after a few short months as acting president and as the elected president, Putin, with the apparent aim of keeping the Russian Federation a welcomed player on the international stage, began taking a nuanced approach in issuing statements. When Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin departed in 1999, he left his young, hand-picked successor, Putin, with a rather dire situation economically, socially, and politically. Through strenuous efforts, Putin managed to halt what was once the country’s downward spiral toward abject ruin. Yet, after leveling things off, he hoped to move forward with plans and programs to improve living standards for average Russians and conditions around the country as a whole. At Kremlin press conferences, official government meetings and events, political rallies,  presentations at universities, policy think tanks, scholarly journals, and other institutions, Putin expressed his desire to create something better for the Russian people. Reading through Putin’s December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”, that appeared on the website of the Russian Federation on December 31, 1999, he clearly believed, boiled down to the bones, that the key to Russia’s progress would be a successful effort to maximize the performance potential of the Russian people. That became his stated aim. He would focus on those factors that have brought some level of success and advancement, and attempt to amplify them to create some change.

Putin also was interested in acquiring Western investment into his economically troubled country to provide the people with the support they needed. For a while, he seemed to stoke Western approval of the Russian Federation with his words. However, he also made a number of half-turns away from a pro-Western position that really evinced there was a duality in thinking. As an example, on March 5, 2000, Putin made a statement to the effect that he did not rule out having the Russian Federation join NATO. However, he stressed that it would only do so “when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner.” After stating that he could not imagine Russia being isolated from Europe, Putin went further on NATO to state: “it is hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy.” Putin’s nuanced language was apparent, too, when very publicly broaching the issue of the Soviet Union’s fall. He remarked: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, whoever wants it back has no brain.” Putin’s efforts were successful to the extent that statements as these caused the West, if not to drop its guard, certainly to take a more relaxed view of him and his intentions. It would seem even then, that his true feelings and intentions would have readily identified him as a Russian nationalist. In that same vein, those pro-Western statements ran counter to the strong nature of his later statements of near adoration of the Soviet Union.

Soon enough, that nuanced bit of his statements that provided a touch of goodwill to the West was dropped. The collapse of the Soviet Union was publicly discussed by Russian Federation officials with the apparent goal of amplifying the message to world of how badly Russian people suffered as a result and that consideration might be given to increasing any efforts to invest in and generally assist their country. It also had the purpose of letting the Russian people know that their government was aware of their plight. No deception was being used then to hide deficiencies in the system which was the practice under Soviet rule. On April 25, 2005, Putin stated: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.” In process of repairing things, however, Putin encountered significant obstacles that primarily concerned the capabilities and capacity of the Russian people to get beyond only making changes here and there for the better, and get behind efforts at making real progress. The product of his efforts could be characterized as rather anemic. There was still an uneasiness in Russia when Putin began as president. Morale was low, fruitful activity was sparse, and new, useful ideas were absent. One might posit that faced with disappointment and discontent over immediate results of his own efforts over the years, he has been able to manage his greatest concern which is not to allow the country to roll backward. That was probably a nightmare that likely nearly suffocated him many nights at the time. In order to stabilize the situation, he apparently decided to turn toward something that felt familiar and safe. Eventually, Putin’s goal became to develop some simulacrum of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Soviet Union. Sustainability was less likely a concern given the exigent circumstance of a need for immediate answers. On March 2, 2018, Putin issued his most direct comment to date about the Soviet collapse. Taking questions from supporters in Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad, Putin was asked what Russian historical event he would like to change. Putin immediately answered, “The collapse of the Soviet Union.”

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was its very public nature. Putin has never been anything akin to some wandering preacher, expressing his convictions about matters. Even in those dire early days in office, Putin, who emerged from the secret world of Soviet intelligence, rarely offered comments off the cuff that could produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as it related to feelings of patriotism were certainly heard from Putin before. Still, Putin is a man who has typically avoided uttering sentiments genuinely stemming from personal feelings, which in this case was his grief over loss of the Soviet Union. If he ever slipped up and revealed blithely his inner feelings on a matter, he would have moved quickly to preserve the confidentiality of such statements. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was clearly because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated Western characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons.

The KGB Factor

An immediate impression of Putin’s words might reasonably be that he and most likely many others who were part of the Soviet apparat continued to adhere to their “unique reality” about the Soviet Union. Indeed, his statements were true to life with respect to the commitment to the Soviet system by hardline, old guard, former apparatchiks, which includes Communist Party functionaries or government bureaucrats, nomenklatura or high ranking management, and dead-enders among former rank and file Soviet citizens. For all those from the same water in which Putin swam, each time anyone referenced the Soviet Union in such a positive manner, there would doubtlessly be agreement that it was the full version. For them, such words from Putin likely ring patriotic bells. It strikes greatcharlie as hopelessly derivative to remind readers that Putin’s decisions and actions have been influenced by his life in the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, initialized from Russian and better known as the KGB. It was Soviet agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Nonetheless, it is a reality and an important factor that should be examined first.

A seemingly infinite number of primary and secondary sources exist on the KGB. However, an intriguing Cold War era description of the KGB that greatcharlie has referred to often is a concise November 13, 1982 New York Times article entitled, “KGB Praised By Some Feared By Many”. The article explained that the KGB was the most widely feared instrument of the Soviet Government. It measured the strength of the KGB at 90,000 or so staff officers inside the Soviet Union to guard against internal security threats and run the political prisons. Along the country’s borders, 175,000 of border troops patrol its 41,800 miles of frontiers. Outside of the country, the article noted that its scientific-technical operatives sweep Western countries seeking the latest secret inventions, while its ”illegals” try to penetrate foreign intelligence operations. The article explains further that the first Communist secret service, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counterrevolution, Speculation and Sabotage, mainly referred to under the acronym Cheka, virtually copied the Czarist secret police organization and even co-opted some of its more capable officers. The Cheka’s founder, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, was quoted as saying, ”Trust is good, but control is better,” and, in 1918, ”We stand for organized terror.” In its earlier years, the article states, the Soviet secret police acquired a reputation as an instrument of mass terror: beginning in the 1920s as the organizer and supplier at home of huge concentration camps where millions perished; in the 1930s as Soviet Premier Josef Stalin’s executor of huge purges of the party and the Red Army officer corps; and, in the late 1940s and 1950s, as the perpetrator of assassinations of opponents abroad. The latter killings were performed by a group specialized in what Soviet intelligence reportedly  called ”wet affairs”. In the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death on March 5,1953, the KGB was accused of trying a coup in the Kremlin, using secret police troops. Its chief, Lavrenti P. Beria, was seized by his party comrades and executed. The article notes that it was not until 20 years later that the KGB recapture the degree of respect it once held in the Soviet Union when its director, Yuri Andropov, was elected to the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo.

Citing a common perspective of Western intelligence specialists then, the article states that the KGB, while retaining excellent abilities in traditional espionage was devoting greater resources to acquiring Western military and industrial technology. In fact, in the decade before the article was written, the KGB has acquired the plans of American spy satellites, advanced radar, computer source codes and conventional weapon innovations. It posits that those acquisitions could have been attributed to former KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov. It was under his supervision the KGB became a type of office for technology transfer from the West, in addition to its conventional tasks, such as penetrating the coderooms of the NATO alliance. The article further explains that the KGB, to the envy of foreign intelligence services, was able to retain key personnel for many decades, providing a kind of continuity particularly valuable in counterintelligence. The article quoted an assessment of the KGB by James J. Angleton, retired head of the CIA’s counterintelligence branch, a controversial figure, yet sacred cow US intelligence. Angleton simply stated: “I wish we had their continuity.”

Interestingly, the New York Times article’s treatment of the KGB had an almost prosecutorial tone. Still, there should not be any misunderstanding that among those who were or potentially could have been victims of the KGB in the Soviet Union and abroad, the organization was not by any means viewed as the “good guys”. its actions were not misunderstood. However, while it is a bit one-sided, the article manifests prevailing Western impressions of the KGB at the time, It hopefully allows one to gain a sense of the tension and tenor of the geopolitical struggle between East and West during the Cold War as late as the 1980s.

In First Person, Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Indications are that members of the KGB managed to skirt many of tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. He has great reason to be thankful to it.

On Putin’s KGB Perspective

Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem. (Into the truth through shadows and images.) Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. While embellished to a considerable degree, that remains the “commercialized”, Hollywood version of the KGB officer, popular in the West during the Cold War. It was certainly a great departure from reality. Essentially, for Putin, they paint a portrait of someone who does not exist. Some appear so satisfied seeing Putin as such, they do not seem interested in getting the picture straight. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons. A fair appraisal of Putin’s career would be that he was good at his work and that he well-impressed his colleagues and superiors alike. Certainly, he could be dashing and audacious when necessary, but moreover he was honorable and discreet, using his wits and memory. He progressed gradually and fruitfully with agents he recruited. As a result of his many successes, he received promotions up to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Similar to most of his young colleagues, the KGB offered Putin a solid basis for believing that the Soviet system could be protected and sustained. The KGB, as a central organ of the government, ostensibly had the know-how and the resources to prevent the Soviet Union, and the contiguous countries of the Eastern bloc that it led, from falling into a chaotic condition.

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian noted: “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”  In his bildungsroman, First Person. Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. The officers of the KGB were the tried and true protectors of the Soviet Union. The organization was praised by the Communist leadership as the country’s ”sword and shield”. The KGB certainly had the trust of its customers. At the same time, the KGB, was an indispensable instrumentality of the government to the extent it was the means through which it subjected the Russian people to terrible conditions believing that there was little chance that those conditions would fully effect its members. Indications are that KGB officers managed to skirt many of the tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. For those reasons alone, he has great reason to be thankful to it. In Part 3, “The University Student” of First Person, Putin states about himself: “I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.” Ubi bene, ibi patria.  (Homeland is where your life is good.)

It must be mentioned that Karen Dawisha, in Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Shuster, 2014), insists that there was more than an emotional connection between former KGB officers and the Soviet Union. Dawisha explains that in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Chekists were asked to take control of the currency that the Communist Party had accumulated. There were Central Committee decrees ordering such activity. Dawisha cites an August 23, 1990 decree which authorized: “urgent measures on the organization of commercial and foreign economic activities of the party” and laying out the need for an autonomous channel into the Party cash box . . . the final objective is to build a structure of invisible party economics . . . a very narrow circle of people have been allowed access to this structure . . . .”  Dawisha makes the connection between this period when KGB officers heard the clarion call of the Communist Party to loot state coffers and Putin’s start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a job he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Grabbing money became their métier, and they worked hard at it. In St. Petersburg, Putin obeyed his patrons and proved himself to be reliable.  He also gained a solid understanding of the linkages between organized crime, which is of a special breed in Russia, bureaucrats, and former KGB officials. (While in St. Petersburg, he befriended an attorney named Dmitry Medvedev.) When his boss, Alexander Sobchak lost his bid for reelection as St. Petersburg’s mayor, Putin was out of a job. Yet, in the course of less than two years though, Putin rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months after that, he was Russian Federation President. On April 2, 2015, greatcharlie posted a review of Putin’s Kleptocracy. There is far too much to follow along that argument to unpack here. However, Dawisha does an excellent job of providing evidence to support her thesis. It could very well be an important part of the larger picture of Putin, the KGB, and governance in the Russian Federation.

Why a KGB Veteran Is Likely to Follow His Former Institution’s Line of Thinking

Surely, those who joined the KGB would say that they had answered the call to serve their nation in the security service. Some likely found a home, that offered employment security, a steady salary a place to belong to, a place where they will be taken care of, and an ordered life. That would not be considered irregular. The same could be said of those who have sought military careers or foreign service careers. Yet, as a result of more than a “collective consciousness” about defending the homeland, and given the unique nature of their work, a bond would form among KGB personnel and their families to the extent that a sort of mini society existed in the service. There may be some evidence that KGB officers, having an innate sense for being discreet, were mainly repressed people. Unable to express love within family or in close circles, the repressed have a habit of investing emotionally into larger organizations. Their love can be put into an institution, which in the case of Putin and his colleagues, was the KGB. The intelligence service, that closed off part of the intelligence officer’s life, becomes his family. For some, it becomes their raison d’etre. That type of linkage can lead to difficulties upon retirement and separation from organization. That makes associations of retired intelligence professional all the more important by creating links to the organization in which they served. The more contentment officers found in the KGB, the more settled and satisfied they became with their lives. Through the KGB, they got the picture of their lives straight.

Putin rose meteorically through the newly formed Russian Federation Government under Yeltsin almost as if his life had been mapped out by providence. He found support and guidance from former KGB colleagues from St. Petersburg which is both his hometown and where got his start in politics at the local level. Many have since become officials in Putin’s government, political leaders, and key business leaders with whom Putin remains in close contact. In the KGB, these former officers are affectionately referred to as Chekists. They come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Among the aforementioned cadre of government officials, political leaders, and business leaders with whom Putin has surrounded himself are men who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg were mostly Cheka. Putin’s own Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was in fact raised in the Chekisty (Chekists) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. With a loyal and effective team, Putin could stay ahead of troublesome political and business leaders that would disrupt his plans more often than not to the extent they would enable themselves to achieve their own self-aggrandizing, short term goals. However, by surrounding himself with like-minded Chekists of his “KGB family”, retaining his prevailing Chekist beliefs that aspects of the Soviet Union provides a good model for Russia to itself build upon has been made easier for Putin.

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, were not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. Those who were not privileged seem to discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. According to a December 19, 2018 Levada Center poll, more Russians regretted the breakup of the Soviet Union then than at any other time since 2004.

Is Putin in Touch with His Fellow Russians Regarding the Soviet Union?

His KGB life aside, Putin must be able recall that the Soviet Union was not satisfying for all Russians. Even in First Person, Putin admits that housing conditions for his family in St. Petersburg were far less than perfect, nevertheless, they still lived better than many. For those not so enthusiastic with the Soviet system, Putin’s pro-Soviet sentiments likely reminded of the ugliness of a not so distant past. The majority of Russians were unable to obtain positions equivalent in prominence and power as Putin held. Surely, they did enjoy the relatively staid and secure life that came with it. While it was more “democratic” to claim that Soviet citizens had equal access to education, opportunity, housing, sustenance, health care, social welfare, and other programs, efforts by the Soviet system in that direction were more cosmetic than consequential in establishing the type of society to which they made claim. All of those services, while satisfying when made available and were of appropriate quality, hardly reflected an effort by the Soviet government to respond to the will of the people.

Under the authorized description of the Soviet system, it was a so-called classless society. However, it assuredly was economically stratified, and could be visualized in terms of concentric circles. The quality of life for citizens in the society would degrade sharply as one looks outward from the center all the way to those circles at the end where citizens struggled daily to survive. Those who occupied the center circle were the nomenklatura, the country’s leaders and power elites at the top. Those moguls lived in luxury relative to other citizens, and enjoyed the best things that Russia had to offer. Outside of the nomenklatura, the standard of living was passable for Soviet citizens from what would approximate “middle-class”. Those were usually the apparatchiks of the Soviet system, full-size functionaries of the Communist Party or the Soviet government apparat (apparatus). Apparatchiks were also those who worked in any bureaucratic  position or position of political responsibility. In many cases, they were lucky enough to be employed under the “self-management” concept positions, which required employees to evaluate the quality of their own productivity. However, that virtual middle-class was never completely comfortable for they , too, could suffer the effects of housing shortages, rationing, corruption, and other inconveniences. In some cases, they had to pay their superiors in order to keep their positions. This was even true in some parts of the military

Russian citizens living under a lower standard encountered those same problems and more with far greater intensity. They often suffered periods of rationing and privation. Some fell into a state of penury, a reality that the Soviet system desperately sought to conceal. They were forced to make the most of nothing. Those citizens emerged from the Soviet system holding a worldview, infiltrated by pessimism. They fully experienced the self-serving, self-enriching, behavior of national leaders for whom they were simply statistics.

Of the many Russians émigrés who escaped the Soviet Union during the Cold War, some who were activists or associated with activist organizations, were labelled anti-social elements when they lived there, and the Soviet government was likely happy to rid the country of them. There were some defectors, and some who managed to immigrate in order to take advantage of Western educational and professional training programs, getting away from the Soviet Union. What these groups typically had in common though, was the manner in which they spoke with disdain about of the Soviet system once they arrived overseas. They generally told stories with unmitigated rancor of an abominable government security apparatus that abused power, had neighbors spy on neighbors, obliterated all aspects of privacy, and made freedom something that could only be enjoyed in dreams. They could vividly recount their difficult lives in a manner that would bring the walls down. Very often, Soviet intelligence services would troll émigré communities in the West, to recruit and develop agents abroad using the threat of harming family members still living in the Soviet Union if cooperation was not provided.

Immediately after the Soviet Union’s collapse, tens of thousands of detailed facts, intriguing anecdotes, and classified debriefings collected on furtive actions taken by the KGB were collected from the archives (vaults) of what was once called 2 Fellx Dzerzhinsky Square Moscow, the headquarters and prison of the KGB. With that information, and insights such those discussed here, there is enough to assess today, as it had been at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise, that the inability of the government to find an efficacious way to meet its all important responsibility to provide for and ensure the well-being of its citizenry, that led to the country’s downfall. Despite all of the alleged promise and dogma uttered about the “great socialist system”, the results confirmed that the Soviet concept was never viable. Despite all appearances, the country for years was slowly being strangled by many ills from within. While not easily stirred by the transfer from one national leader to another, at some level, Russians surely had expected that the rather shrewd, worldly-wise young ex-KGB man, Putin, might be the elixir their country needed. Many may have hoped that he would be able to present a concept for change to overcome what was before. It certainly would not have expected that Putin main focus would be to use Russia as a platform from which the supposed splendor and the power of the Soviet Union could be reestablished

As Putin, himself, acknowledged, the average Russian citizen had little idea beyond the US and the European Union to find examples of what they quietly wanted to be after the Soviet Union collapsed. Even in that case, they had absolutely no idea what it would really take to reach such heights. They also had little knowledge of how to discern what would indicate a political leader has the qualifications or capabilities to put the country on a path to advance there successfully. Steps in that direction were made. Russia was made a member of what became the G8 and G20. It would become the key member of NATO’s Partnership-for-Peace and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It participated in UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions mandated by resolutions. After the 1990s, there was the image of Russia acquiring a place at the main table with the top industrialized countries despite its precarious situation economically, socially, politically, and militarily. As a policy, Russia sought to incorporate itself into the international system of regulating foreign economic operations, particularly the World Trade Organization. However, paying careful attention to Putin’s words when he was acting President, the impression is created that finding a true path toward comity with the West was not actually on his mind. Putin explained in his very revealing essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”: “Russia will not become a second edition of say the US or Britain, where liberal values have deep historic traditions. Our state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and its people. For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly to be gotten rid of. Quite the contrary, it is a source of order and the main driving force of any change.”

Do Russians Want to Go Back to Soviet Days?

In the West, one might expect that concerns or fears would be so universal among all Russian citizens over any wording that would even hint some form of the Soviet Union would be reanimated in Russia. That uneasiness clearly would not be based on unreason and paranoia, but rather upon the experience of having lived so shabbily under its system. Conceivably as a result of the experience many Russians had enduring dissatisfaction in the Soviet Union and living with the limitations and inconveniences of daily life in the Russian Federation, they had become expert in keeping a sense of proportion. The follow-on to the Soviet system was supposed to be the great Russian liberalization. However, that was not the case.

There are occasionally some significant grumblings about Putin’s governance. Protest rallies become considerably more intense than perambulating demonstrators near election dates. Flaps of clashes with police and the security services by more politically active segments of the population have been predicted by Western experts, and reported in the Western media, as spelling the beginning of the end for Putin. Nevertheless, Putin remains. Interestingly, Putin has been ridiculed and denounced in the news media. Further, there has been television programming in the Russian Federation that has lampooned Putin much to his dissatisfaction. However, he hardly dealt with any problems of considerable intensity from his core constituency or, relatively, from the majority of Russians countrywide. They have not really exhorted Putin to try harder. They keep within the margins. Perhaps the old adage “go with what you know” could be applied, for it best suits the situation for the Russian people regarding their country’s path and its leadership. To the extent that they will continue have any order in their country, average Russians believe that they can at best rely upon Putin. That begrudging sense of being somewhat satisfied has been just enough to bring Putin victory in election after election. One might say therein lies a sort of duplicity on their part. Still, in an even bigger way, the Russian people are really gambling on Putin’s mortality. The possibilities of who might come to power from other powerful political forces in Russia is hair raising. Via trita, via tuta. (Beaten path, safe path.)

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, typically are not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. That is quite intriguing because those who were not privileged seemingly discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. They are the dead-enders. It is posited here that in some cases, such pro-Soviet elements apparently focus upon and magnify aspects of Soviet life that they may have enjoyed from the totality of their experiences and then determined that it was as a result of the benefits of being Soviet. To be more precise, it appears that as a result of some psychological transference, what defined their private existence somehow became what universally defined their existence under the Soviet system. Those positive, pleasant aspects of Soviet life may actually have been things such as good times had among family, friends and colleagues that in reality are common to people all over the world, transcending citizenship or nationality. Perhaps in Soviet terms, it could be chalked up to humanism. While being a Soviet citizen may have been a common experience, what they had even more in common was their humanity. It was the US philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, John Dewey, who stated: “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.”

Statistical evidence of such pro-Soviet thinking among former rank and file Soviet citizens was provided by a poll published on December 19, 2019 by the Levada Center, a Russian independent, nongovernmental polling and sociological research organization. According to that poll, more Russians regret the breakup of the Soviet Union at that moment in time more so than any other since 2004. The poll was conducted between November 18, 2018 and November 28, 2018, surveyed 1,600 people nationwide. When asked whether they regret the 1991 Soviet collapse, 66 percent of respondents answered “yes”. That represented an increase of 58 percent from 2017, and is the highest proportion since 2004, the last year of Putin’s first term. Reportedly, 25 percent of respondents said they did not regret the Soviet breakup, the lowest proportion since 2005, and 9 percent said they could not answer. Interestingly, Levada found that Russians’ concerns about their economic security today were among the main reasons for the increase in the number voicing regret. Indeed, a Levada pollster explained that 52 percent of respondents named the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “single economic system” as the main thing they regretted. The peak of regret over the Soviet collapse came in 2000, when 75 percent of Russian polled by Levada answered “yes” to the same question. At the same time, 36 percent said they miss the “feeling of belonging to a great power,” and 31 percent lamented mistrust and cruelty in society.

US and Soviet armor units face-off at Checkpoint Charlie on the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin October 27-28, 1961 (above) For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against efforts by the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West always emphasized its moral superiority, but that never needed to be done in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West through newsmedia stories, spoke for itself.

The World Does Not Miss the Soviet Union

An examination of the Soviet Union’s position in the world cannot be made by only weighing how the government administered the domestic affairs of the country against the preferences of quondam citizens. Those who speak nostalgically before the world about their own positive version of the Soviet Union, such as Putin, typically engage in an act of omission by airbrushing its realities. The impression is given that its collapse was the result of some benign decision among its republics to succeed to pursue their own aims. They omit, albeit intentionally, that the failed country not only posed problems for its own citizenry, but particularly after World War II, it posed a threat to the world. To be frank, the history of Soviet behavior is atrocious. The people of countries that stand just outside of its sphere of influence but close enough to feel threatened, and the people of border countries that are former Soviet republics, many of which in some way have been victimized by Russian Federation transgression, would unlikely ever think or say anything positive about the Soviet Union. The haunting spectre of the departed Soviet Union has helped to form negative impressions of the Russian Federation. Surely, one should not, using a broad brush, condemn the people of a country for the acts of their government. It was the Soviet government that ruled by fear and terror and was the anathema. As for the Soviet people, they were most often appreciated around the world. Many significant contributions were made by the Soviet people to the arts, mathematics, sciences, engineering, philosophy,  that were remarkable. Some space could reasonably be granted for former Soviet citizens wax about the loss of a homeland and those good days that existed. Still, looking at the pertinent facts, the greater realities about the Soviet Union cannot be denied.

Running through the basics of the Cold War, one would learn that in the postwar period, the Soviet Union essentially replaced Germany as occupiers large areas of Eastern Europe, to include Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In a very powerful speech in Fulton, Missouri in March 5,1946, the then former United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill would say that those countries were locked behind an “Iron Curtain.” In those countries, a process of “Sovietization” began. Soviets operatives worked behind the scenes to establish puppet governments that would serve as an extension of Moscow’s rule. These governments had the initial appearance of being democratic but in reality were not. Local Communists were gathered into a coalition party then handed power, usually after coups or rigged elections. All political parties, other than the Communist Party, were dissolved. Leaders of the Soviet-dominated countries would lie about or deny realities about what was occuring in their societies. As a result of Soviet efforts, an “Eastern Bloc” and “Soviet Bloc” had been established. US officials agreed that the best defense against the Soviet threat was a strategy called “Containment” formulated by the US diplomat George Kennan. In his famous February 22, 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow outlining the policy, Kennan explained that the Soviet Union was “a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi [agreement between parties that disagree]”; as a result, the only choice for the US was the “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” US President Harry Truman agreed with Kennan and stated before the US  Congress on March 12,1947, “It [Containment] must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation . . . by outside pressures.” In his speech, Truman also asked Congress for $400 million in military and economic assistance for Greece and Turkey to counter Soviet meddling in those countries. The Containment Policy would shape US foreign policy for the next four decades.

Direct confrontation came when the Soviet Union cut all road and rail links to West Berlin, allegedly in response to a decision by the US, the United Kingdom, and France to merge their occupation sectors of the city. With no access to any sustenance, the US and United Kingdom flew in tons of food and supplies by air transports in what was known as the Berlin Airlift. Elsewhere in the world, North Korean forces, trained, equipped, and supported by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea. Led by the US, UN forces collectively responded. The fighting was halted on July 27, 1953. Pro-Soviet Russians, might point to the fact that actions taken by Russia in the period capsulated here were the result of Stalin, who many Russians decry as a corrupt despot who sullied the grand ideals of the revolution. However, in the years that followed his death in 1953, the commitment of Moscow to the revolutionary and expansionist paradigm continued. Under Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union, despite calls for peaceful coexistence and desire to reopen ties with the West, firmed the Soviet Union’s grip over its empire and increased its support of Third World Communist movements. On May 14, 1955, the Soviet Union and seven of its European satellites sign a treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact, a mutual defense organization that put the Soviets in command of the armed forces of the member states. The military alliance was named the Warsaw Pact because the treaty was signed in Warsaw. Warsaw Pact countries included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria as members. Similar to NATO, by treaty, Warsaw Pact members were required to come to the defense of any member attacked by an outside force. The force was initially set up a unified military command under Soviet Army Marshal Ivan Konev.

Soviet efforts to maintain a tight grip over its empire were highlighted by the quelling of protests against Communist rule in 1956 culminating with Soviet tanks successfully taking control of Budapest on November 10, 1956. On August 15, 1961, the Soviet Union initiated the construction of a wall between East Berlin under Soviet control and West Berlin under US, United Kingdom, and French control. The border between East and West Germany were also sealed by fencing. A decision by Khrushchev to construct a Soviet intermediate range nuclear armed missile base in Cuba, led to a blockade of the island country and strenuous demands from US President John Kennedy that the missile be removed. As the US prepared to invade Cuba, negotiations between Khrushchev and Kennedy, initially through back channels, led to an October 28, 1962 agreement to remove the weapons.

Khrushchev legacy was not one of diplomacy, but rather brinkmanship the nearly led more than once to nuclear war. On October 15, 1964, Khrushchev was removed from office. His successor Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union for nearly two decades. Brezhnev also wanted to launch a new era of negotiation with the West, labeled détente by US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in the administration of US President Richard Nixon. However, under his leadership, the Soviet Union never ceased its military buildup and pressed its efforts to expand Communism into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. From July 1965 to April 1975, the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam and the Communist Viet Cong in South Vietnam with everything from rifles to fighter jets in war against the South Vietnamese government which the US and its Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies supported with troops and materiél. The result was the intensification of fighting and prolonging the wreckage of human lives. On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed efforts by Czech President Alexander Dubcek to initiate reform programs, known as the “Prague Spring”. Dubcek was arrested when he refused to halt his efforts. On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On December 30, 1980, the Solidarność (Solidarity) Movement in Poland was crushed with the imposition of Martial Law. It was finally under Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who in attempting to reform the Soviet Union under perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), destabilized it to the point of collapse.

For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. Its defense against those Soviet ideals was simply referred to as anti-Communism. Societies in the West were somewhat disparate, with loosely associated forms of freedom, and democracy in most of its countries must have appeared disorderly from the East, with up roars over government decisions and actions, demands for justice and social progress, and political rivalries that played out publicly. Yet, they still took on an amiable form. Moreover, it was well-accepted by those in the West that their world and way of life was worthy of protecting. Militarily, the means was collective defense. Those who were part of that struggle, using the white hat black hat symbolism of the Western film genre of the 20th century, saw themselves as the white hats representing all that was good, admirable, and honorable and viewed the Soviet and Soviet Bloc operators as the black hats, the villains. One was either on the right side or the wrong side. Using familiar terms of today concerning human interactions in societies to explain Communism, it posed a threat to individual freedom, inclusiveness, and tolerance. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West’s moral superiority was always emphasized, but it never needed to be presented in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West when occasional newmedia stories told what was happening there, really spoke for itself. US President Ronald Reagan, getting to the root of the differences between East and West in his renowned June 12, 1987 “Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate” explained: “The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship and affront.” (Attempting to boil down to the bones the Cold War to provide an accurate, comprehensive summary of ideas and events felt a bit Sisyphean. Too much occurred. There were too many episodes, too many flaps of diplomacy and periods of aggression and war, to synthesize. If a sense for the monumental geopolitical struggle was created, this synopsis has served its purpose. Hopefully, the information has also provided some factual counterbalance to pro-Soviet statements recounted here.)

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Russians have never seen the coming of a new day, but rather an ongoing dark night, a black void they have stared into for decades.

What Has Putin Established in Russia?

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens countrywide. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Indeed, it would not be out of court to say that despite what one might perceive at first blush, Putin seems, in practice, oblivious to the economic realities those conversations revealed. If the Russian people were to take a careful look over their shoulders today, they undoubtedly might recognize that nothing spectacular has been accomplished at home on their behalf by his government. There is no interest in disparaging any of Putin’s exertions, but many Western analysts and other observers would agree that Russians never seen the coming of a new day in their country, but rather just the ongoing dark night, a black void which they have stared into for decades. It might be stated with confidence that in a general sense they are not content. The reality that their lives have hovered in an endless limbo seems to be suppressed by most.

It may very well be that by the time Putin reached the top of the power pyramid, such people skills, his ability to understand others he is not associated with became a bit seared. Perhaps proper focus has not been placed on the people’s thinking and the ability to perceive their needs. Even his intuition regarding experiences of other Russians and where many were at a given moment seem darkened from disuse. A gentleman must always adapt to his circumstances. To a great degree, what has emerged in the Russian Federation is indeed Putin’s version of the Soviet Union. Although the struggle to establish global Communism is absent, Putin certainly has included imagery from the Soviet Union in his new Russia. It would seem that some methods well-used during the Soviet era to maintain social order and population control, were implemented by Putin in response to the fragility of the society and that the Russian Federation remains vulnerable to collapse. It is also assured that many of Putin’s former KGB colleagues would find ample opportunities to make use of their dark and unusual skill sets.

Once again, the old adage “go with what you know” seems to fit well, in this case with the Putin’s thinking. Of course, such explanations do not provide an excuse or a defense for his actions. The following list includes only a few of those elements: utilization of prison camps, “gulags”, in Eastern Russia, to detain reactionaries and other undesirable elements; the suppression of political opposition; assassinations of political opposition leaders; assassinations of journalists; the padlocking of media houses, newspapers the broadcast, publish, and post stories exposing what they perceive as questionable or even corrupt activities of Putin’s administration; and, the expulsion of “undesirable organizations” such as foreign and international religious, human rights, and civil society organizations and termination of their programs. There are also: massive military parades before the Russian Federation’s leadership; fiery anti-Western speeches at rallies; military deployments into other countries (e.g., Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela, Moldova, Georgia, and Belarus) the occupation and annexation of the territories of sovereign neighboring countries; the sudden death, murders, suicides of senior diplomats, senior military officers, senior intelligence officials, senior law enforcement officials, and senior officials of other security related services; the arrest and prosecution of Russians who are international business elites, known better as oligarchs, who have fallen into disfavor with the Kremlin; regularly renaming and repeating policy conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions of technology created to highlight Russian intellect, ingenuity, and advancements; the hosting international amateur sporting tournaments in Russia as a means to showcase the country; and, reported violations by Russian Federation national sports teams of rules and regulations of international sporting associations, including the International Olympic Committee. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos fixa et mutari nescia. (Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable)

Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has doubtlessly been a considerable psychic drain along with the stresses and anxieties of other matters in which he has been engaged daily. He may never have publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live, yet as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them.

Putin Knows How Much Progress Is Really Possible in the Russian Federation

There is rarely a single reason for anything, and that certainly applies to Putin’s claims about the Soviet Union. With no intention of being whimsical, it might be worthwhile to consider that theories on what may have influenced Putin other than his KGB background, can also be joined by others built on his additional dimensions. It should not be thought that analysis from another direction might even compromise theories already proffered on Putin’s pro-Soviet comments. After all, the hope and primary goal of this examination remains reaching the actual state of the matter. Putin may not necessarily be so dedicated to other foreign and domestic matters that he has not tried to develop a clearer vision for Russia and has not sought to respond at all to the echoes of those suffering economically in his country. It might be reasonable to doubt that Putin would be completely unable to see the world through the prism of average Russians. That would run counter to expectations of what should be among the suite of skills possessed by a KGB officer in the field. Interestingly, in Part 3, “The University Student”, a close friend notes that he once asked Putin about his work in the KGB. Putin cleverly replied, “I’m a specialist in human relations.”

Putin might very likely reject the idea that being in the intelligence service of the KGB seared his conscience and left him indifferent toward the situation of fellow Russians or cause him to disregard their well-known plight. Moreover, he would most likely reject the idea that members of the KGB thought to help the Soviet government subject the Russian people to “unappealing conditions.” It may very well be that a heartbreaking value judgment was made. Putin may have viewed it as unconstructive to turn his attention fully in the direction of the troubled state of affairs of the Russian people because his ability to be fruitful has been simply too limited. From the start, he knew that the job of Russian Federation President involved achieving monumental tasks. So much wrong had to be made right. Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness of leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union at this point might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has been beyond peradventure a considerable psychic drain in tandem with the stresses and anxieties caused by other matters in which he has been engaged daily. Psychologically, the aggregate disappointment and agony could have become so magnified in his mind and everything would become unmanageable. Being the true professional that he is, Putin knows that he needs to stay focused on the larger picture. He must avoid losing himself in the labyrinth. He must not allow himself to be over matched by difficulties. He has never publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live. However, as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them

The Russian Federation government’s limited capabilities and capacity to resolve those domestic problems for some time, in fact, is not necessarily the result of Putin’s leadership being remiss. Certain inadequacies that have harmed output, seem to be intrinsic to the Russian system. Among them are included: unreliable governance at the republic, krai, and oblast levels, poor execution of economic policies, banking and financial disarray, low moral in the workplace, alcoholism, drug abuse, mismanagement, corruption, and criminality. With focus has been placed on Putin’s efforts to extol cherry picked “virtues” of the Soviet Union, little attention is given to other comments that he made during his first months of service as a national leader. He often spoke the truth about the ills of collapsed superpower, and often explained that lingering problems from the Soviet era made getting the Russian Federation moving forward very difficult, if not impossible. A statement to this effect from Putin can also be found in his December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”. He stated: “We had to pay for the Soviet economy’s excessive focus on the development of the raw materials and defence industries, which negatively affected the development of consumer production and services. We are paying for the Soviet neglect of such key sectors as information science, electronics and communications. We are paying for the absence of competition between producers and industries, which hindered scientific and technological progress and prevented the Russian economy from being competitive in the world markets. This is the cost of the brakes and the bans put on Russian initiatives and enterprises and their personnel. Today we are reaping the bitter fruit, both material and mental, of the past decades.” It is hypothesized in a January 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One”, that the type of success Putin really wants for Russia out of his reach, not by some fault of his own, but rather because it’s problems are so heavy, and may run too deep. He may have run out of real answers to put the Russian Federation on real upward trajectory given the capabilities and possibilities of the country using all tools available to him.

Even militarily, Russian Federation efforts to create an aura of technological modernity have fallen short. Its latest high tech, 5th generation fighters and hypersonic missile reflect the measure up only to the latest developments in the West nearly two decades past. The US move to lasers, 6th generation fighters that hardly resemble anything the world has seen before, and hypersonic systems that it has already has been developing almost the point of deployment, ensure that the Russian arsenal will pale in comparison with the US for some time to come.

Given all of that, it is very likely that Putin arrived at the conclusion that he had little choice but to simply do things as he saw fit with available resources to create the best circumstances possible. Unable to move steadily and safely in a new direction, Putin apparently saw the best option as creating a copy old order with all of its power and prestige. As aforementioned, sustainability was not at issue. He likely took this step originally as a temporary measure, to allow him time to chisel something better. That would certainly be in following with Putin’s modus operandi. However, in the end, in spite of many improvements, the country moved so much in the direction of the old order, the familiar for the Russian people, that it became figuratively “heavier” and more difficult way of being to transition from. If Putin learned anything from his KGB work, it was that sacrifice is required in nearly every endeavor. Many Russians have failed to benefit from his efforts. Indeed, there is a tendency for some to suffer while others benefit. Yet, those who continually fail to benefit have unlikely been forgotten. Imputing the best intentions on Putin, he will eventually use his full powers as president to make amends to them at some point, if time and opportunity will allow. Though the people may very well be uplifted at that point in the future, until then, they will be left twisting in the wind. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

US President Donald Trump (left) and Putin (right) in Helsinki, July 16, 2018. The vengeful thinking which prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration likely initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation had clearly changed. Trump explained that he wanted to work with Putin to achieve things globally that could best be done jointly. In response, Putin has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US mirroring the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. He has promoted what greatcharlie has labeled un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration.

Troubling Manifestations

It is important here to point out a unique aspect of Putin’s KGB world. Enlarging on a point made earlier about Chekists, they share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Fully xenophobe and suspicious, Putin was determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he saw as enemies that might weaken it. In many respects, Putin has conformed to what might be expected of a Chekist. Although he would seem to be much more than average, he appeared to have been poured into same mold as all the others. Putin has actually stated publicly that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. While on his way to the top of the political heap in the new Russian Federation, Putin saw how mesmerising “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.”

Some Have Said Putin’s US Policy Manifests His Revanchist Mindset

When character and behavior are brought together, one uncovers motivation. In the summer of 2013, the EU Council sharply condemned Russia’s mounting pressure on members of the EU Eastern Partnership, countries with association agreements with the EU. In 2012, the EU accounted for 52 percent of Russia’s exports, 68 percent of which consisted of fuel and energy. Following the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the EU suspended virtually all cooperation. Still, Putin’s thinking on the EU was not positive even before the Ukraine crisis. Putin saw the EU as a project of deepening integration based on norms of business, law, and administration at variance from those emerging in Russia. Putin was also concerned that EU enlargement would become a means of excluding Russia from its “zones of traditional influence.” Certain Russian actions, to include election meddling, indicate Moscow actively seeks to encourage members to withdraw from the EU sphere and discourage countries joining it. Joint projects with European countries reportedly allowed Russia to exploit their differences on political, economic and commercial issues creating a discordant harmony in the EU. As much as making money, a goal of such efforts has been to undermine EU unity on sanctions. The Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, for instance, has provided Putin with the means to disrupt, and potentially weaken, European unity. A murmur exists in Europe that solidarity ends at the frontiers of some countries.

Regarding NATO, in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted West German Parliamentarian Egon Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and EU as having acquitted themselves of ties to promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and arrogating for themselves the right to divine what would be in the best interest of all countries. He feels historians have ignored the machinations and struggles of people involved. Putin further stated: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have. You can also see this striving for an absolute triumph in the American missile defense plans.” Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. (Fortunate is he who understands the causes of things.)

Putin did not stand by while the EU and NATO expanded. One might agree with the supposition that Putin has a revanchist mindset, his decision to attempt to pull independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Russia’s orbit would surely support that idea. To accomplish that, Putin had to create something that did not preexist in most near abroad countries: ethnic-Russian communities forcefully demanding secession and sovereignty. That process usually began with contemptuous murmurs against home country’s identity, language, and national symbols and then becomes a “rebel yell” for secession. It was seen in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and more recently in Crimea, the Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine. Each time an ethnic-Russian space is carved out of a country, Putin gains a base from which he can exert his influence in that country.

A greater part of the foreign policy matters upon which Putin, seemingly in revanchist mode, felt cause to be laser focused was the geostrategic competition with the US. By the time his third term as Russian Federation President began, Putin left little doubt that the Russian Federation would assert itself in the world and he would ensure that Russia would never fall victim to business and financial experts and multinational corporations. Hostile feelings toward the US seemingly came to a head during the administration of US President Barack Obama. The details that contentious period are too sizable to unpack here (The most recent posts in which greatcharlie has outlined those many episodes in detail include: “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”; Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage; “Trump Achieved More at Helsinki than Most Noticed: Putin Is Not a Challenge for Him”; and “Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting; Cui Bono?”.) Crimea was likely just the first step among what would likely have been far worse actions leading even to war had the interregnum between Democrat and Republican administrations had not occurred in 2016.

Un Grand Défi

One might theorize that the sort of vengeful thinking which prevailed during the Russian Federation’s struggles with the Obama administration, initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation clearly changed with the arrival of the Trump administration. Putin and his aides and advisers should have recognized that. It was never the stated intention of the Trump administration to engage in a protracted, geostrategic competition with Russia. That is still the case despite the entreaties of some advisers. It was the expressed intention of candidate Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign to improve relations with Russia. As US President, Trump made it clear that he wanted to try to work with Putin and achieve things globally that could best be accomplished jointly. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them.

Clearly, the Russian Federation has not been threatened by any unprovoked aggressive or outright hostile offensive actions on the geostrategic landscape by the Trump administration. In reality, with the current political environment in the US, sounding the alarm over what might be identified as revanchist behavior by Putin might have served Trump well in at least an attempt to mollify critics and detractors. Nonetheless, without such provocation, Putin, has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US that would mirror the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. Accordingly, he has propagated what greatcharlie is labeling un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration. The benefit from un grand défi that Putin stands to gain is that it helps him create the appearance that the Russia Federation is a world leader and superpower. Indeed, despite all of Putin’s other maneuverings, the Russian Federation is only able to seen as a superpower when it is interacting with the US or measured against it. Correspondingly, as long as the Russian Federation is competing geostrategically in a discernable form of rivalry with the US, it can retain a strong place for itself at the grand table of military superpowers, although it stands a far off second to the US. Further, from what is detectable, that military tie in Putin’s mind also allows the Russian Federation, by a slender thread, to set a place for itself among the world’s economic powers, although it is not one. (As a measure of goodwill from the West, Russia was once welcomed on the G7. Putin wrecked that by conquering Crimea.) Alas, any unvarnished assessment would confirm that without tying itself to the US, any claims by Moscow of being a true world leader would simply appear self-styled, and could not be substantiated. Unless there is something or someone who could change Putin’s mind otherwise, doubtlessly as a matter of policy, he will continue to create a competitive environment with the US, leaving US Presidents with little choice but to meet any challenges posed by the Russian Federation. Curiously, it may very well be that Putin, living the Judo Ichidai, likely appreciates being in a “struggle” with the US. Odimus accipitrem quia semper vivit in armis. (We hate the hawk because he always lives in arms.)

Thus far, Putin has shown himself to be very intelligent man. All of the factors pulling him away from positive relations with the US seem to have caused Putin to metaphorically miss his exit along the road of diplomacy. The truth about the Trump administration and its good intentions should have reached Putin and made an impression, if only subconsciously. It is difficult to believe that Putin genuinely does not understand what Trump has been doing and that he does not recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia do some good in the world. By now it should be clear to Putin that Trump will not rise to grab the bait and begun some contentious back and forth between Washington and Moscow. As a consequence of  un grand défi he purposefully designed and promoted to compete as a soi-disant “superpower” with the Trump administration, Putin must contend with the missed opportunities for progress and advancement of the Russian people by insisting the two countries remain essentially divorced from each other. Those realities seemingly make Putin’s own effort at keeping Russia on top both counterintuitive and somewhat Quixotic.

It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image.

The Way Forward

By approaching the matter of Putin’s nostalgia romanticising of the Soviet era from a couple different directions and arguing matters from varied angles, it is hoped that the undergraduates who contacted greatcharlie, it has provided an edifying journey of exploration on their inquiry. It is also hoped that this essay was also satisfying for greatcharlie’s other regular readers. The purpose of greatcharlie’s examination was to simply consider Putin’s reiterative statements of praise for the Soviet Union. It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image. Patriotism, national identity, national pride, history, and culture are powerful ideas to organize a country’s population around. Focus upon them, often allows tricky leaders to distract from the internal with external The argument is made that the cause of Russia’s problems is the outside world, not internal difficulties, lack of capabilities, mismanagement, corruption, criminality, and so on. Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit. (Of mortal men, none is wise at all times.)

For the past two decades, great wells of anger have stored up among Putin and senior Kremlin officials toward the US for a variety of reasons. That has made finding a moderate path more difficult.  At the same time, as a practical matter, the Russian Federation’s contentious interactions with the US create a tie to it that could imaginably support the claim that a superpower competition exists. As greatcharlie posits here, without interacting with the US or being measured against it on a geopolitical matter for example, the Russian Federation would simply appear as a self-styled superpower, unable to substantiate the title in any way except by ostensibly harkening back to historical examples of the superpower rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Russian Federation can only steal a modicum of the “superpower light” radiating from the US. It has precious little ability to generate any light of its own in that respect. Thereby, negative interactions need to be regularized and promoted by Putin. Under such circumstances, engaging positive interactions with the Russian Federation will prove very difficult for the Trump administration. However, Putin should not believe that he has found some sweet spot from which he can take on the US without any real consequences. There are also inherent dangers that stem from un grand défi Putin has inflicted upon the US. It could very well open the door to unmanageable disagreements and potential clashes. Fortunately, the Trump administration has shown little interest in rising to take Putin’s unappetizing bait. Whenever Trump feels he needs to act in response to Putin’s moves, it will be at a time, at a place, in a manner of his choosing, most likely with some degree of impunity, and when necessary covertly with plausible deniability. In that respect, although he has promoted un grand défi, Putin has in reality only established pas de problème, or no problem at all.

Things could certainly be better for the Russian people. The “golden mean”, a middle way, could very likely be found to create positive relations with the US that would bring real benefits to the Russian Federation. Moving in that direction would certainly mean doing more than just putting a toe in the water. Still, as long as the Russian people are satisfied, as a few polls and studies indicate, attempting to judge from the outside what would be best for them seems unmerited. Putin’s actions appear to illicit some uniquely Russian reactions. Putin does not need to turn back the clock and resurrect the Soviet Union because it has not really moved too far away from what was in a functional sense. Actions that have resulted in economic sanctions and have prevented the Russian economy from participating in competitive world markets, attendantly hinder genuine scientific and technological progress. The potential of Russian enterprises and people consequently remains locked in. It is almost assured that bitter fruit will be reaped in the future by moving forward in such a troubled way. Occasio aegre offertur, facile amittitur. (Opportunity is offered with difficulty, lost with ease.)

Russia Is Top US National Security Threat Says General Dunford; That Should Make It the Top Priority for US Diplomacy

Pictured are Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (2nd right), Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu (left), Black Sea Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Aleksander Vitko (2nd left), and the Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov.  Putin, rejects any criticism over Russia’s actions in Ukraine or anything else. He says Russia was targeted by the West with sanctions and he had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.

According to a July 9, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Russia Is Top US National Security Threat: Gen. Dunford,” US Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford says Russia is at the top of the list of security concerns for the US. Dunford was speaking at his US Senate confirmation hearing to become the next US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reuters quoted Dunford as saying, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it is nothing short of alarming.” Relations between Russia and the West have taken a sharp turn downward since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Political leaders among the NATO Allies are uncertain of what Putin is trying to achieve with his actions in Ukraine, his moves in the Baltic States, positioning of Russian rocket forces near Poland, or his considerable military build-up. The Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (the military commander of NATO), US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told a US Congressional Committee in April 2015, “We cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent.” Breedlove further stated, “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.” NATO conducted several exercises to show Putin its intent to respond to aggression.

Sanctions from the US and Europeans have put relations between Russia and the West, built largely on economic cooperation, at considerable risk and pose a serious economic threat to Russia despite any heroic claims otherwise by Putin. Repetitive threats of further sanctions from the US and EU could prompt Putin to consider means to shift the power equation. He may eventually feel his back is against the wall and do more than put his forces on parade or use his forces covertly despite his denials of doing so. The escalating war of words between US and Russian officials is also problematic. Words of anger, mockery, hate, and aggression, do damage that can be difficult to repair. The world has witnessed the vicissitudes faced by the Obama administration in foreign policy. The administration often fails to acknowledge how dire problems really are. It tends to settle upon bromides, with a seductive kind of superficiality, to very challenging situations, which later prove to be shallow entrapments. Some resolution must be found to current problems in relations with Russia. In order to respond diplomatically to Putin, the genuine motivation for his actions must be uncovered. Formal diplomatic talks could be established between the US and EU with Russia not in an attempt to mollify him, but provide opportunities for all sides to “clear the air” on those issues and others and work together to mutually satisfy interests. Negotiations can be based on the relative strengths of the positions and capabilities of all sides. The peace that can be achieved must be the focus not how much each side can destroy through warfare. In the US and in the EU, all other elements of foreign and defense policy must serve to effectively support that diplomacy. Good use must be made of time available before situations change. The door to opportunity might remain open for a brief period. O si sic omnia! (Oh would that all had been done or said thus!)

Whenever Putin now hears NATO threaten to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, he responds with an enigmatic face. Even though NATO took steps such as maneuvers or force redeployments were taken in response to Crimea or ostensibly a perceived Russian threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin likely expected NATO Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their military commitments.

Putin’s Response to the West

Putin and his advisers have heard explanations from the US and EU that sanctions were a means to halt its annexation of Crimea, its activities in Ukraine, a response to the downing of Malaysian Airline Flight MH117, and as a means to push all parties to the negotiating table. Putin, however, rejects any criticism of Russia’s actions over Ukraine or anything else. He explains that the deterioration of relations with the West was “not our choice.” He has proffered. “It was not we who introduced restrictions on trade and economic activities. Rather we were the target and we had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.”

Having been a P5+1 partner with China as well as the main Western powers that levied sanctions against it, the US, United Kingdom, France, and Germany during the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Putin and his advisers have undoubtedly learned how to more effectively handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin can likely better predict Western responses in certain situations. Beyond what Russia gleaned from the Iran talks, Putin has looked deeply at the US and Europe, discerning many flaws, weaknesses in the transatlantic defense. He has watched it decay due to Western political leaders’ lack the will to maintain it. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that faced no threat. Putin tested NATO, acting unabashedly in the face of the alliance by moving against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. Whenever NATO threatens to use force against Russia now, albeit defensively, Putin responds with an enigmatic face. Even though maneuvers and force redeployments were made and sanctions were imposed in response to Russian moves as in Crimea or a perceived threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin expected Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their NATO military commitments.

Tanquam ex ungue leonem! (From the claw we may judge a lion.) Since 2011, uniformed military manpower has declined in every Western nation, but Russian military manpower has increased by 25 percent to 850,000 between 2011 and mid-2014. Russia supposedly has about 2.5 million active reservists out of a total population of 143 million. It ranks second, behind the US, on the list of countries with conventional warfighting capabilities. Expenditures on defense, and the related category of national security and law enforcement, accounts for 34 percent of Russia’s budget which is more than twice in comparison with 2010. The US only spent 18 percent, or $615 billion of its budget in 2014 on defense and international security. Explaining his concept for achieving this growth, Putin told senior military commanders and defense industry executives at a meeting in Sochi on May 12, 2015, “We can and must do for the defense industry what we did for Sochi.” Putin was referring to the $50 billion spent in to host the 2014 Winter Olympics there. He went on to state, “All questions relating to adequate resource allocation have been resolved.” Putin has a penchant to display power. Most recently it has been lurid. With its conventional forces rejuvenated, Russia is on the march again, seizing territory in albeit a piecemeal fashion. Putin has likely assessed war with Russia is the last thing US and EU political leaders want. He has seemingly gauged his moves sensing just how far he can go with them. He may believe he can later legitimize acquisitions via talks with the West.

Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies. To Putin, only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Aspects surrounding his career in the Soviet Union’s KGB certainly reinforced that perspective.

Confabulating on Putin

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin has been the authentic face of the Russian government. Putin restored order in his country after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies.  To Putin,  only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Given its approach to Putin, there is every indication that many in the West believed positive relations with Russia would endure despite pushing Western demands its leaders. Putin style of management was undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer from 1975 to 1991 in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. However, his style was not shaped in terms of his use of KGB tradecraft. It was shaped as a result of his continued close association with a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career, particularly a few who served in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with him. They are called siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. At the pinnacle are men among them who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. These men come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was raised in the Chekisty (Chekist) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. That left an imprint on him. Putin got his start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a post he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Putin rose to deputy-mayor, but his work in St. Petersburg was halted after six years when his boss lost his bid for reelection. Yet, in two years, he rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months later, he was Russian Federation President.

Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Putin says that he is determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He also wants to bring the independent states of the former Soviet Union back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence. Putin does not hesitate to let the leaders of those states know his intentions either. Although Putin managed to restore order from turmoil in Russia, many would note that he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. There is a significant opposition movement to Putin in Russia, lead by individuals such as the slain statesman and politician, Boris Nemtsov. Yet, Putin’s words have also resonated with many Russians. Convinced Russia is in a struggle with the US, the Economist states 81 percent of Russians see the US as a threat. The EU is also viewed as such.

When Putin began his third term as Russian Federation President, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were the neophyte, not a seasoned leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced and news ones arose. A series of deliberate public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further. Putin’s anger metastasized. Soon enough, regular intrusions by Russian military aircraft in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters began.

The Downturn in Relations Began Well Before Ukraine

Dimitry Medvedev was Russian Federation President when Obama came to office. Obama seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. So comfortable was Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. Senior Russia analysts in the US government could have confirmed that Putin, who at the time was serving as Russia’s Prime Minister, was the real power in Moscow. Yet, that truth was given little consideration. Instead, Putin was treated by Obama as the “odd man out”. Little was done to build a relationship with him. When Putin began his third term as Russia’s president on May 7, 2012, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were a neophyte and not a seasoned national leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced, and new ones arose, to include: Putin’s decision to allow US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010, and the allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Putin was still fuming over Operation Unified Protector, during which in 2011, multinational forces including the US, were placed under NATO command and imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Putin felt NATO-led forces went beyond UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s mandate by helping local forces overthrow Gaddafi. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia. The world recognized how poor the relationship between Obama and Putin was after observing their body language during a June 17, 2013 meeting in Northern Ireland. A spate of public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further.

Positive signals from Obama’s discussions on nuclear arms reductions with Medvedev likely gave administration officials the idea that Putin would also consider proposals on it. Putin firmly expressed disinterest, but administration officials smugly insisted that Putin agree to reductions in both nations’ nuclear arsenals. Putin then out rightly rejected their proposals. Obama administration officials were unprepared to receive Putin’s final rejection of the proposals and reacted poorly. Putin’s decision was viewed within the Obama administration as ending the president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”   With the apparent goal of retaliating against Putin over his decision on its nuclear proposals, on August 7, 2013, the White House cancelled a September summit meeting in Moscow for Obama and Putin. It was a trite, and amateurish response. Administration’s officials explained their decision to cancel behind lightweight rhetoric regarding the effective use of the president’s time. An August 8, 2013 New York Times article quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe.” Commenting on his rejection of the proposal, Putin was likened to l’enfant terrible. An unidentified source told for the same August 8th article stated, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.” That source went on to state, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.” Putin and his advisers were further convinced that the US and EU did not respect Russia as a power, even militarily. Aching to be taking seriously in the US public, among other reasons, Putin soon after wrote a September 11, 2013, op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “A Plea for Caution”. He challenged popular views on foreign policy and national-identity held in the US.

There were other public affronts. The next year, during preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, there was a constant drum beat of doubt expressed by US security experts on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism. US officials were highly critical of security measures taken by the Russians for the Games and the level of cooperation officials from Russian security service officials showed toward counterparts from US security organizations. There were endless dalliances into clairvoyance evinced by predictions of terrorist attacks. It smacked more of fear mongering than anything else. Obama administration and other US officials knew the Winter Olympics would have been a proud occasion for Putin and the Russian people. Sochi provided Putin the chance to present his resurgent Russia in the best light possible. The Russian people would have the opportunity to tap into the power of Russia’s renewed greatness. Putin displayed great patience in the face of mordant criticisms leveled against the Games’ organization and even personal rebuffs to him. Putin achieved his objective, and Sochi was safe and secure. However, what occurred was not forgotten. Empta dolore experientia docet! (Experience teaches when bought with pain!)

By 2014, Putin’s anger toward the US as well as the Europeans metastasized. In his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin enumerated some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Soon, there were regular incursions of Russian bombers and fighters in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters.

No Immediate Military Solution

At the NATO Defense Ministers Meetings on June 24, 2015, participants decided on air, maritime, and special forces components of an enhanced 40,000 strong NATO Response Force (NRF). Ministers took measures to speed up political and military decision-making, including authority for NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe to prepare troops for action as soon as a political decision is made. Ministers approved a new concept of advance planning. They also finalized details on the six small headquarters being set up in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “They will each consist of around 40 people, and will play a key role in planning, exercises, and assisting potential reinforcement.” Ministers additionally decided to establish a new Joint Logistics Headquarters, to facilitate the rapid movement of forces when necessary.  Directly on Russia, Stoltenberg stated, “We are carefully assessing the implications of what Russia is doing, including its nuclear activities.” He added that NATO is working on how to deal with hybrid threats, including through close cooperation with the European Union. To avoid misperceptions of NATO’s actions, Stoltenberg explained, “We do not seek confrontation, and we do not want a new arms race.” He stressed, “we want to keep our countries safe… this is our job.”

However, despite promises, Allies must have the requisite political will to give meaning to those words and any plans. The reality is that US outlays on security are three times that of the other 27 partners combined, even though the US gross domestic product (GDP) is smaller than their total GDP. The disparity in burden threatens NATO’s integrity, cohesion and capability—and ultimately, both European and transatlantic security. Since Washington has decided to cut 40,000 troops from the US Army’s ranks by 2017, the US will not be able to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength without earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task. Although the NRF is now 40,000 strong, the political will of NATO Allies to use it to block or engage Russian forces must exist. While a Baltic state or Ukraine may face the eminent threat of a Russian attack, the NRF may only be poised for “sitzkrieg”, taking no aggressive action and making no effort to even deter potential Russian action. If instead of a hybrid attack, Putin ordered a Russian force, overwhelming in size and power to the NRF, to attack a target, it might be futile for the NRF to try to halt it, even with the maximum amount of pre-positioned weapon systems and ordinance available. The NRF might try to survive against the Russian leviathan until more NATO forces arrived to reinforce it and ideally expel Russia from the country under attack. However, Russia would not make reaching the NRF easy. A Normandy style landing to reinforce the NRF would hardly be possible. NATO air power might be able to stave off the Russian force, but air, land, and sea elements could mass from bases in Russia and use powerful conventional weapons to destroy forces engaged and reinforcements.

The path to the repair of US-Russian relations perhaps can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. Both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving ties. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.

The Way Forward

This is not greatcharlie’s first descant on Putin. Unlike other handschuhschneeballwerfer who have scrutinized Putin from a safe distance, the intent here is not to abuse. The goal has been to objectively examine thinking behind Putin’s actions to construct ways to engage with him. If what Putin says is true, and his continued aggressive moves have been spurred by Western responses, there may be room for the resolution of this dispute. Negotiating with Putin certainly would not be an indication of timidity, fear, or duplicity. Indeed, when speaking to Putin, the US and EU must demand respect for their positions and the rights of sovereign states. However, the views and rights of Russia must also be equally acknowledged and respected. Equity and some degree of equanimity among all sides to any talks must be promoted. There must be the will to act fairly and justly toward each other, to include an immediate cessation of hostile acts. That would mean halting Russian intrusions into NATO airspace, flyovers and buzzing by military jets, interceptions at sea and other harassing actions in NATO waters. Further deployments of NATO land forces must be paused. Negotiating requires setting aside anger over what has transpired, but does not obviate the need to discern one another’s actions to avoid deceit or trickery.

Some European leaders have made contact with Putin and tried to resolve some issues with him, but they have had little success. There have been intermittent congenial contacts between Obama and Putin. For example, on July 4, 2015, Putin called Obama to mark Independence Day and express his confidence in US-Russia relations. On June 25, 2015, Putin called Obama reportedly to discuss the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, but Obama also voiced concern over Russia’s support for separatists operating in eastern Ukraine. On February 10, 2015, Obama called Putin to urge him to accept a diplomatic peace plan for Ukraine presented by France and Germany in Belarus. Nevertheless, a more substantial contact between the US and Russia occurred on May 12, 2015 when US Secretary of State John Kerry held four hours of talks with Putin in addition to four hours talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.  In what Kerry characterized as a “frank meeting” with Putin, the Russian president gave detailed explanations of Russia’s positions. Their talks covered Iran, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The eight hours of talks were a welcome development. It was Kerry’s first visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in early 2014. Kerry stated on Twitter, “it was important to keep the lines of communication open between the US and Russia as we address important global issues such as Syria and Iran.” Lavrov said the talks helped Russia and the US improve mutual understanding.  Perhaps a path to repairing relations can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. There is no intrinsic guarantee diplomacy will work. However, both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving US-Russia relations, and Russia’s overall relationship with the West. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have also formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.

Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than Ever to Historic Nuclear Deal: Putin Has Learned Much from This Process

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center) with Russian Federation Defense Minister and General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left) and the commander of the Western Military District Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov (right). Through Russia’s participation in the Iran Talks, Putin learned much about decision making among the Western powers from the inside and likely feels better able to deal with them diplomatically and militarily.

According to an April 27, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than ever to Historic Nuclear Deal,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told the 191 parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at conference at the UN that the P5+1 was very near to a deal with Iran that would end a 12-year-old stand-off.   Kerry was quoted as saying on April 27th, “We are, in fact, closer than ever to the good, comprehensive deal that we have been seeking, and if we can get there, the entire world will be safer.” He stated further, “If finalized and implemented, [an agreement] will close off all of Iran’s possible pathways to the nuclear material required for a nuclear weapon and give the international community the confidence that it needs to know that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed exclusively peaceful.” Yet, despite progress made, Kerry emphasized “the hard work is far from over and some key issues remain unresolved.”

Such sober comments underlining the considerable amount of negotiating still required to reach a final nuclear deal have come as a reality check for many following the April 2, 2015 announcements by parties to the talks, with flourish, that parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program were agreed upon. The appearance of reaching a nuclear deal was as potent as actually reaching a final concordance for some. This was particularly true in Iran where ordinary citizens celebrated in the streets after the framework nuclear deal was reached. Public reaction within P5+1 nations was imperceptible. However, there was a significant reaction among foreign and defense policy analysts and others interested in the talks. Their comments were kind of lush, a bit soupy. Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association declared, “The parameters agreed upon by the United States, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany with the Islamic Republic of Iran promises to lead to one of the most consequential and far reaching nuclear nonproliferation achievements in recent decades.” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies affirmed, “[T]he proposed parameters and framework in the Proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has the potential to meet every test in creating a valid agreement over time . . . It can block both an Iranian nuclear threat and a nuclear arms race in the region, and it is a powerful beginning to creating a full agreement, and creating the prospect for broader stability in other areas.” Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund proclaimed, “The agreement does three things. It blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. It imposes tough inspections to catch Iran should it try to break out, sneak out or creep out of the deal. And it keeps our coalition united to enforce the deal. Under this deal, Iran has agreed to rip out two-thirds of its centrifuges and cut its stockpile of uranium gas by 97 percent. It will not be able to make any uranium or plutonium for a bomb. Many of the restrictions in the agreement continue for 25 years and some . . . last forever.”

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) Every step toward a final deal has brought US President Barack Obama closer to the legacy-defining foreign policy achievement he has sought. Obama’s desire to establish his legacy during his second term office has been a subject regularly discussed among White House officials and US political pundits. Yet, it is uncertain whether a final agreement can be reached and whether it would hold. The notion of how the P5+1, particularly the US, would likely respond to a violation of the treaty by Iran has gone through a transformation process during the negotiations. It was once understood that the US would inevitably decide to stop Iran from moving closer to developing a nuclear warhead by force of arms. Senior Obama administration foreign and defense policy officials made it clear that military intervention was “on the table.” Threats of regime change and of imposing a US form of democracy on Iran by the administration of US President George W. Bush were still ringing in Iranian leaders’ ears when the Iran Talks began. The idea of being attacked by the US became engrained in the psyche of Iran’s leadership, offsetting any idea Obama lacked the will to take military action following the Syria gas attacks debacle. Tehran’s views have changed since then.

Fas est et ab hoste doceri. (It is right to learn even from an enemy.) The P5+1 has served to present a united front to cope with the common danger of a nuclear armed Iran. However, the coalition has not been truly united. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has actually exploited the comity between Russia and its P5+1 partners to protect Russian interests. (The other P5+1 partners may very likely be aware of this.) Putin did not want the P5+1 to take military action against Iran, Russia’s strongest Middle East partner. During the Iran Talks, Russia and Iran made unilateral deals on matters from agriculture to weapon systems. The talks have helped Moscow better understand how Western powers approach issues as Iran’s nuclear program, making Russia better able to handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Russia, as Iran, is coping with Western economic sanctions. Putin has heard many threats to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, through NATO. However, Putin responds to such threats with an enigmatic face. Putin has Russia on the march, seizing territory in a piecemeal fashion, but he undoubtedly has a sense of how far he can go. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin likely believes military action against a capable opponent is the last thing Western political leaders want. (It is the last thing he wants, too!) To that extent, he also likely believes that after he has acquired enough, he will be able to legitimize Russia’s acquisitions through talks.

Initial Russian Concerns about Possible US Military Strikes in Iran

As a Member of the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council, Russia’s role as a party to the nuclear negotiation was essential, but it was also rather extraordinary given its ties to Iran. Russia had a very positive, congenial relationship with Iran unlike Western states in the P5+1. Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stated “Iran and Russia are able to confront the expansionist intervention and greed of the US through cooperation, synergy and actuating strategic potential capacities.” When the Iran Talks began, Russia was actually working closely with Iran in support of its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who Western members of the P5+1 opposed. However, despite Iran’s close business and economic ties or ongoing military cooperation with Russia, albeit limited, could not guarantee the US would refrain from moving against its strongest partner in the Middle East. For that reason, Putin likely had genuine concern that Iran would become a target of massive US military action if the Iran Talks did not succeed when they began. Putin had not forgotten that close cooperation between Russia and authorities in Tripoli and Damascus did not deter the Obama administration from promoting and supporting insurrection against them. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, multinational forces under NATO command went beyond imposing a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi as part of Operation Unified Protector. Gaddafi’s regime fell and he was killed. In Syria, the Obama administration responded in support of the Syria Opposition Movement which bloomed during the so-called Arab Spring. The removal of Assad and his regime was the Obama administration’s goal.

Moreover, before the Iran Talks began and during the negotiations, Obama and officials in his administration were unambiguous about plans to act militarily against Iran over its nuclear program. According to a March 14, 2013 article in the Times of Israel, Obama explained that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in just over a year and diplomatic efforts have just less than that to halt Iran’s drive to the bomb. The Times of Israel determined Obama was intimating that if diplomatic efforts failed this year or early next year, the US would be forced to carry out military action against Iran. Obama also reportedly explained that he had been “crystal clear” that a nuclear-armed Iran was a “red-line,” and that the US was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon with which it could threaten Israel or trigger a regional arms race. In a September 15, 2013 article in the Guardian, Obama sought to shore up the potency of US deterrence against Iran warning that he was still prepared to take military action against the Iranian nuclear program, which he described as “much closer to our core interests” than Syria’s chemical weapons. A February 26, 2014, Reuters article reported Kerry told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action. Kerry also left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks broke down. The Reuters article further explained that when Obama stated all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, he was using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action.

During the talks, urgency was placed on having Iran allow rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place to ensure any movement toward a nuclear weapon would be detected and the West could intervene. If Iran could be kept from moving close to a nuclear weapon, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond militarily to its existence.

Western Allies Prefer Sanctions Over US-Led Military Action

As the nuclear negotiations progressed, it became more apparent to Putin and Russian foreign and defense policy officials that despite their insecurities about US intentions, the threat of military action was a fiction. Russia’s European counterparts in the P5+1 coalition began expressing doubts about the willingness of the US to use military force against Iran. The French were perhaps the first to publicly appraise Obama as unwilling to use military action to respond to Iran’s nuclear program. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tried to outline what he thought were the reasons for Obama’s tack in a 2013 speech. He stated: “The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest.” He suggested this explained “the non-response by strikes to the use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime, whatever the red lines set a year earlier.” Fabius stated further that a redirection of US interests may be a manifestation of the “heavy trauma of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan” and what he perceived as the current “rather isolationist tendency” in American public opinion. Fabius lamented that without US engagement, the world would find “major crises left to themselves,” and “a strategic void could be created in the Middle East,” with widespread perception of “Western indecision” in a world less multipolar than “zero-polar.” According to a May 2, 2014 Reuters article German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program must be given a chance, but she also said “If Iran does not meet its obligations, or does not meet them adequately, we remain ready to take back the current limited suspension of sanctions.” Merkel’s statement diverged considerably from those of Obama and Kerry who indicated a US readiness to act militarily if negotiations failed. The reluctance of Germany to support US military action sent a message to Russia that there was no unity in the West on it. Sanctions remain the greatest threat European leaders alone can pose to Iran if the talks failed. Only the US can effectively act with force against a nuclear capable Iran, but Obama would never want to go it alone against Iran.

In sessions leading to April 2, 2015, urgency was placed on having Iran agree to keep rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place not just throughout the long duration of the agreement but even after the core limits of the agreement expire. That would ensure any movement toward nuclear weapons will be detected and providing the opportunity to intervene decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There was an apparent belief that if Iran was kept from moving secretly toward a nuclear bomb, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond to its existence. As long as Obama was uncertain military action would achieve all objectives based on his concepts, Putin could imagine Obama refusing to go to war.

Israeli F-16 jets flying in formation. US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israel’s diplomatic reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She explained “the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” For Putin, Sherman’s words ended all guessing on US intentions with Iran.

Military Action Is Sidelined

Ultra vires! (Beyond ones powers!) Guessing over US intentions ended when Putin and his foreign and defense policy officials heard US officials confirm that in which Moscow could not be certain. On April 13, 2015, Haaretz reported US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israeli reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She stated, “A military strike by Israel or the US would only set back the nuclear program by two years.” She said further, “You can’t bomb their nuclear know-how, and they will rebuild everything. The alternatives are there but the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” She noted, “There is no difference [between the US and Israel] on the concern about the Iranian nuclear program but on the way to deal with it.” Despite fears expressed in 2013 that Iran would soon have a nuclear weapons, Sherman explained that the US and Israeli intelligence communities agree Iran is not close to producing one and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has made no decision to produce one. Sherman said, “They don’t have enough fissile material and don’t have delivery system or weapon per se.” She proffered, “It would take them a considerable period of time to get all that.”

Even the tone in the US Congress softened. Congress drafted a bill that would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it is completed. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner stated “Congress absolutely should have the opportunity to review this deal.” He explained further, “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, which appears to want a deal at any cost.” The focus of most observers was the fact that the bill would halt the lifting of sanctions pending a thirty day Congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of sanctions imposed by Congress in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Actually, if Congress rejects the final agreement, Obama could still veto its legislation. It would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail. However, what was most important about the bill for Putin was that Congress accepted more sanctions as means to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not war.

Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and likely views that as a weakness. Putin undoubtedly wants to find ways to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term.

Reality Check Concerning Putin

Unlike the diverse group of cabinet-level officials and policy makers and analysts that advise Obama, Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. In thinking about Obama, Putin undoubtedly recognizes his US counterpart wants to be an honest broker. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and operates under the notion that issues in foreign affairs can be resolved at the negotiating table. Given that, Putin and his advisers undoubtedly view Obama in a way akin to renowned United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s “boneless wonder.” Putin very likely hopes to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term. Putin and Obama are very different men. After the Soviet Union’s collapse and internal chaos of the 1990s, Putin restored order in Russia by reestablishing the power of the state some might say with little regard for human and political rights. Putin’s style of management was shaped by his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin has been assisted by a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career. These men are referred to as siloviki (power men). At the pinnacle were those who came from a community of families in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg whose “roots” go back to first political police of the Communist Party known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He went to schools and a university Chekisty (Chekist) community progeny typically attended.

Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent on Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As Putin has noted in public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. In a March 18, 2014 speech, Putin enumerated some actions taken by the West that have fostered his contempt. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice from Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally.

Paradoxically, the aggressive behavior Putin attributes to the US has been displayed by him time and again. In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. In November 2014, Putin signed a Russia-Abkhazia Treaty of Alliance and Integration which meant in practice Moscow is responsible for the customs, defense, and security of the separatist republic. In March 2015, Putin signed the Russian-South Ossetian Treaty of Alliance and Integration which has similar terms. Georgia has no chance of regaining its territories. In November 2013, using economic influence and political power, he drove then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to abort a deal Ukraine had with the EU that would have pulled it toward the West. When the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych, Putin grabbed Crimea. Such moves legitimize NATO’s worries.

Putin’s uncongenial attitude toward the West was very apparent while the Iran Talks were still underway. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers (as the one shown above) in US and European airspace prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russia also sold its S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran.

Lessons Learned Through the Iran Talks Putin May Be Applying

This uncongenial attitude Putin has harbored toward the West was apparent during the Iran Talks. Perhaps he was testing his P5+1 partners. In August 2014, Russia signed a deal with Iran that undermined Western-led sanctions against the two countries. The memorandum of understanding between the two governments envisaged wider economic cooperation to include closer ties in the oil and gas sector, construction and rebuilding of generating capacity, development of a power supply network infrastructure, machinery, consumer goods, and agriculture. It laid the foundation for a multi-billion dollar deal between Moscow and Tehran, the so-called oil-for-goods contract. In addition to that contract, there was the sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile to Iran. The S-300 would neutralize any possibility that Israel could take unilateral action against Iran. That would remain the case until the Israeli Air Force receives F-35 fighters from the US. Only the US Air Force’s small fleet of B-2 stealth bombers would have a chance of hitting Iranian targets properly now. If the US and Europe repeatedly threaten and levy sanctions, Putin and his advisers may take audacious steps. Sensing his back is up against the wall, and unable to project strength otherwise, Putin might seek to deter further Western action by making extraordinary threats to use Russian military power. The Russian Ambassador to Denmark threatened that the Danes would become a target of Russian nuclear weapons if they participated in any missile defense program. Danish jets scrambled 58 times in 2014 to head off Russian aircraft. Russian strategic nuclear bombers also conducted numerous incursions into northwestern US air defense identification zones. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers and intelligence-gathering jets in US and European airspace have prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russian military aircraft have been flying without transponders over Europe close to civilian aircraft. Putin warned Russia was developing new strategic nuclear weapons that would catch the West by surprise. Russia has moved Iskandar ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave between Lithuania and Poland and long-range, nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea.

An April 18, 2015 Reuters article stated Putin recently softened his anti-US rhetoric only a week after accusing the US of trying to dominate world affairs and saying what it wanted was “not allies, but vassals.” Putin reportedly said on April 18th, “We have disagreements on several issues on the international agenda. But at the same time there is something that unites us, that forces us to work together.” He then stated, “I mean general efforts directed at making the world economy more democratic, measured, and bilateral, so that the world order is more democratic. We have a common agenda.” Similarly, the BBC reported that on March 6, 2014, after seizing Crimea, Putin told Obama by telephone that US-Russian “relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems.” Regarding Crimea, Putin said Russia could not “ignore calls for help and acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law.” Given Obama’s record on the use of force, and what Russia observed during the Iran Talks, Putin may have calculated he has pushed hard enough, and he now can reap a negotiated resolution from Obama. Perhaps Putin assessed that as with Iran, talks might provide him with the chance to achieve many objectives.

The Way Forward

Fene libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (Men readily believe what they want to believe.) The decay of Europe’s defense came as a result of a lack of commitment of the European countries, and to an extent the US, to the stewardship of NATO, militarily. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that did not face an apparent threat. There was no change in thinking despite Putin’s aggressive stance and actions against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” To surmount the impact of what the Western capitals were seeing, they ignored what they saw, made massive military cuts, and failed to meet their military commitments to NATO.

Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis! (Not for you, not for me, but for us!) Meetings between NATO allies can no longer simply amount to rhetorical conversations about collective security in Europe, pledges to do more, and proposals to rearrange the meager military resources currently available to face the vast, mobile, hard-hitting Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Decisions must be made now on what will done in the face of a confrontation with Russia over future aggressive moves against Ukraine or any other sovereign state in Europe. Too many ambiguous political speeches and statements on US military power have already been made to create doubt over whether the US might respond at all. There must be clear discussions on a mutually acceptable political rationale for military action, despite its difficulties and horrors, must be established between the US and the Europe. US and European leaders must confirm now what they will commit and exactly how they will act together militarily. In a manner loud enough for Putin to hear, Obama, in particular, must continually confirm at the UN, in NATO, and in its members’ respective capitals that Europe can count on US support if a military confrontation becomes imminent.

Book Review: Karen Dawisha, Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Shuster, 2014)

In writing Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, Karen Dawisha provides a wake-up call for those who have failed to recognize Putin’s Russia for what it has become. She concludes Russia is a deeply corrupt country led by a “thieving regime,” veiling its actions with the half-truth of attempting to restore Russia to greatness. She supports her view with a very detailed, weighty analysis.

Many have tried to peer into the life Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin to gain insight into his actions. Much of the new information that emerges is more often gossip and speculation. For example, recently there were reports of a study done by a lead researcher at the US Naval War College in 2008 that concluded Putin had Asperger’s Syndrome, basing on an analysis that linked his movements on videos to his state of mind. After avoiding the spotlight for ten days, Putin appeared on television, laughing off rumors that suggested he had health problems, he had been subject to a coup, and that his 31-year-old girlfriend had given birth in Switzerland. In June 2001, President George W. Bush stated about Putin: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue.” Yet, despite such publicly reported misunderstandings and even academic analyses that viewed Putin as forging democracy in Russia, occasionally studies are produced that offer real insight and new information on the Russian president. Putin’s Kleptocracy is the latter.

In her book, Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Schuster, 2014), Karen Dawisha discusses how Putin, who has wielded national power in Russia since 2000, has been conscientious about his work, not only in governance but in amassing fortunes for himself and his circle. In writing Putin’s Kleptocracy, Dawisha ostensibly provides a wake-up call for those who have failed to recognize Putin’s Russia for what it has become. She concludes Russia is a deeply corrupt country led by a thieving regime, veiling its actions with the half-truth of attempting to restore Russia to greatness. She supports her view with a very detailed, weighty analysis.

Dawisha is the Walter B. Havinghurst Professor of Political Science at the Department of Political Science at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and the director of the Havinghurst Center for Russian and Post Soviet Studies. She was an adviser to the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and as an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, she was a member of the Policy Planning Staff and the Bureau of Political Military Affairs at the US State Department. Dawisha also served as a Professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland and had served as the Director of its Center for the Study of Post-Communist Societies. From 1979 to the present, she has written five previous books, written numerous journal articles, and edited eight volumes on Russian, Post-Soviet, and Soviet politics.

Dawisha tells the reader about a sullied and corrupted Russia that is in agony and suffering. It is a Russia that is rotting politically, economically, morally. However, while her discussion of the spoliation of Russia is trenchant, it is also quite riveting. Reaching as far as she could with the sources available, Dawisha, with great detail, painstakingly enumerates the lies, deceptions, and activities of Putin and his associates as they amassed huge fortunes cleaning out the coffers of the Russian government and strong-arming oligarchs (a few ultra-wealthy business leaders) for “donations.” Readers will need to decide for themselves whether her argument is convincing. Dawisha does not approach her book with an open and balanced perspective on the subject matter. If Dawisha were Russian, she would certainly be firmly ensconced in the opposition movement. One learns about Putin as Russian oppositionists would want the world to know about him.

Dawisha paints a picture in Putin’s Kleptocracy of Putin and his circle living in opulence, as average citizens live in a Russia where houses and apartments are shabby, streets look like an amusement park the morning after the night before. The reader can visualize Putin and his circle cleaning out Russia’s coffers, while closing the public space and denying citizens the rights of free press, assembly, and speech.

To write Putin’s Kleptocracy, Dawisha spent almost eight years studying archival sources, the accounts of Russian insiders, the results of investigative journalism in the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, France, and Italy, and all of this was backed by extensive interviews with Western officials who served in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and were consulted on background. Dawisha consulted with and used many accounts by opposition figures, Russian analysts, and exiled figures who used to be part of the Kremlin elite. Dawisha also relied on the work of Russian journalists who many of whom she says have died for this story. Dawisha tells readers how their work has largely been scrubbed from the Internet, or infected with viruses attached to online documents, leading to computers crashes. Whole runs of critical Russian newspapers have disappeared from Russian libraries. Dawisha also made use of the dump of non-redacted cables from WikiLeaks which she calls “a very regrettable but also a completely fascinating source of information.” Sapiens nihil affirmat quod non probat. (A wise man states as true nothing he does not prove.)

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the authentic face of the Russian government has been Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin restored order in Russia after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. His style of management was undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer from 1975 to 1991 in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. However, his style was not shaped in terms of his use of KGB tradecraft. (Tradecraft refers generally to skills used in clandestine service to include efforts to manipulate opponents.) It was shaped as a result of his continued close association with a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career, particularly a few who served in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with him. These men are known as siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. At the pinnacle are men among them who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. These men come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was raised in the Chekisty (Chekist) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended.

It was in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Chekists were asked to take control of the currency the Communist Party had accumulated. There were Central Committee decrees ordering such activity. Dawisha cites an August 23, 1990 decree which authorized: “urgent measures on the organization of commercial and foreign economic activities of the party” and laying out the need for an autonomous channel into the Party cash box . . . the final objective is to build a structure of invisible party economics . . . a very narrow circle of people have been allowed access to this structure . . . .”  Dawisha makes the connection between this period when KGB officers heard the clarion call of the Communist Party to loot state coffers and Putin’s start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a job he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Grabbing money became their métier, and they worked hard at it. In St. Petersburg, Putin obeyed his patrons and proved himself to be reliable.  He also gained a solid understanding of the linkages between organized crime, which is of a special breed in Russia, bureaucrats, and former KGB officials. (While in St. Petersburg, he befriended an attorney named Dimitry Medvedev.) Putin rose to deputy-mayor, but his work in St. Petersburg was halted after six years when his boss lost his bid for reelection. In the course of less than two years though, Putin rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months after that, he was Russian Federation President.

Much was said about reestablishing Russia as a Great Power and passing and upholding new laws for the Russian people when Putin became Russian Federation President in 2000. However, Dawisha is convinced that from the beginning, the goal of Putin and his circle of former KGB colleagues was to create an authoritarian regime ruled by a close-knit cabal with embedded plans, interests, and capabilities.

Putin brought his circle of Chekists with him to the presidency. Putin declared that he was determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He would not be satisfied until Russia’s global power and influence are restored and the independent states of the former Soviet Union are brought back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence. Putin did not hesitate to let the leaders of those states know his intentions either. Dawisha recounts the story of when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.” Dawisha would not deny that returning Russia to Great Power (if not superpower) status was a goal of Putin and his circle. She points out that Putin and his circle also promised to pass and uphold laws to protect, promote, cement, and sustain democratic institutions. However, Dawisha insists that the goal of Putin and his circle was to acquire large amountd of money. She is convinced that their goal from the start was to create an authoritarian regime ruled by a close-knit cabal with embedded plans, interests, and capabilities. She goes as far as to state democracy was used as decoration rather than direction. Dawisha explains Putin and his circle managed to establish what they internally call a sistema that serves the purpose of creating a unified and stable authoritarian state that allows individuals close to Putin and his associates to benefit personally from the unparalleled plundering of Russia’s vast natural resources. Political leaders close to Putin have become multimillionaires, and oligarchs around them have become billionaires. Their power and wealth can be maintained as long as they do not challenge Putin politically. The state absorbs the risk, provides state funds for investment, and gives Putin and those close to him massive monetary rewards. However, Putin stands at the top of the heap. Dawisha says he has acquired over twenty official residences, fifty-eight planes, and four yachts, and $700,000 in wrist watches. She estimates Putin’s holdings in the commodity-trading firm, Gunvot, at $40 billion. Having acquired so much, Dawisha explains Putin and his circle have never sought to use any of it to assist ordinary Russians. Even money earmarked for the Sochi Olympics was diverted to the pockets of the bureaucratic and political elite. Russia’s elites continue to maximize their gains by keeping domestic markets open for their predation while minimizing their own personal risk by depositing profits in secure Western bank accounts. By 2013, the gap between Russia’s rich and poor was larger than in any other major country, and twice that of Western Europe. Radix malorum est cupiditas! (Greed is the root of evils!)

Dawisha paints a picture in Putin’s Kleptocracy of Putin and his cronies living in opulence, as average citizens live in a Russia where houses and apartments are shabby, streets look like an amusement park the morning after the night before. The reader can visualize Putin and his circle cleaning out the coffers, while closing the public space and denying citizens the rights of free press, assembly, and speech. Dawisha says, in Putin’s Russia, the law has lost its meaning. True, he has built a legalistic system. Yet, that system serves to control, channel, and coerce the middle class and the broader elite while at the same time allowing his inner core of friends and associates in various positions along what has been called Putin’s “vertical of power” to act with impunity. It is all in following with the adage, “For my friends anything, for my enemies, the law!”

To deal with the perspectives of Russian people, Putin engaged in what Dawisha calls a charm offensive. She points to the success he had using “gimmicks” such as the election of Dimitry Medvedev as Russian President. Putin presents himself as Russia’s “strong man.” having the ability to take on the country’s burdens and dominate situations. The state’s near control over the entire media space facilitates getting out that narrative.

Dawisha suggests that from the moment Putin took power in 2000, Russia ceased to be a place where democratic dreamers could flourish, and provides a record that shows Putin governed with little regard for human and political rights. Dawisha claims there has been targeted repression, with nonviolent demonstrators being sentenced to either prison or indefinite psychiatric treatment. Despite the best efforts of Putin’s political opponents, journalists, and activists and NGOs, to the average Russian, oppositionists represent chaos, disorder, not reform or progress. Perhaps it is easy for the slothful human nature to take what is easy, comfortable, assuring, and logical. To deal with the perspectives of Russian people as all this has been happening, Putin from the beginning engaged in what Dawisha calls a charm offensive. Dawisha leaves no doubt that she feels those willing to believe that Putin could provide a road to democracy in Russia had really been left in the cradle intellectually. She points to the success he had using “gimmicks” such as the election of Dimitry Medvedev as Russian President. She proffers that was a “public relations maneuver” to create the illusion that Russia remained a burgeoning democracy despite all the behavior of Putin and his circle indicated the contrary. So comfortable was US President Barack Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. (Some of Putin’s smaller gimmicks such as using the Ketchum public relations firm, which the Russian government already allegedly had an estimated $1.935 contract, to place an Op-Ed in the New York Times to impact US public opinion on Syria, Russia, and Obama, failed miserably.) Putin depicts himself as Russia’s “strong man,” having the ability to take on Russia’s burdens and dominate situations on behalf of the Russian people. The state’s near control over the entire media space facilitates getting that narrative out. Yet, Dawisha certainly recognizes that Putin has been bolstered not only by illusions he has helped to create about himself, but goes a step further to say he is also supported by the internal logic of the system.. Manual control trumps institutions; instructions and understandings are greater than law; and, money is above everything. This system has satisfied the wealthy, the business community (energy sector), the military, and the other security services. It has strengthened Putin’s power over those who contest him politically. When Putin faces disapproval internationally for his actions, the impression is created that he is acting on behalf of Russia in the face of condemnation from overseas.

Although Dawisha focuses more directly on Putin’s rise financially, through her discussion, a picture emerges of Putin from the abstract as an individual with significant capabilities. Great guile is displayed in his maneuvers to attain political power and a vast fortune. When moral good is not part of the calculus, Putin’s accomplishments appear very impressive. Through Dawisha’s close examination of Putin’s activities, one can discern both a simplicity and complexity about him. The simplest shape in geometry is the circle. Yet, when one tries to duplicate it, great difficulty is usually encountered. The circle’s complexity is revealed. Publicly, Putin may very well be all things negative that Dawisha says he is. Beyond Dawisha’s discussion of Putin’s avarice, malfeasance, and aggressive actions, one gets a sense of his human side from the book. There is a state generated image of Putin and an authentic Putin, who appears humble in private. His humility may be one of the secrets to his success. Humble men are honest about themselves. The humble recognize their failings, but capitalizes on their talents. Those who are proud build themselves up as false Gods. They will always have an eye on what others think of them. The humble have disdain for the opinions of others. For this reason, it is unlikely Putin lamented over what Dawisha has written about him. Putin is well-aware that he has “very often” been taken by the “lesser angels of his nature.” Knowing their own strengths and weaknesses, and capabilities and the possibilities for their success in an endeavor, the humble can accomplish great things. Putin keeps what is personal close to himself. When speaking about what is important to him, Putin does not use throw away lines. He is straight forward and to the point. Dawisha recounts the evening when he was declared the winner of the 2012 Russian Federation Presidential Election and Putin publicly wept. It is impossible to know what was happening inside Putin to bring that on, but his emotional expression was clearly genuine. Dawisha believes Putin and his circle could never have imagined amassing so much success and power. However, Putin undoubtedly knows how big he really is and what his rise has cost him, personally. While Dawisha believes there will be no end to Putin’s appetite for money and power, Putin likely knows exactly how far he can go. Veritas vos liberabit. (The truth shall make you free.)

Although Dawisha focuses more directly on Putin’s rise financially, from her discussion, a picture emerges of Putin as an individual with significant capabilities. Great guile is displayed in his maneuvers to attain political power and a vast fortune. When moral good is not part of the calculus, Putin’s accomplishments appear very impressive.

Throughout the remainder of Putin’s Kleptocracy, further evidence is provided by Dawisha on bribe taking from Russian and foreign companies seeking business deals and permits; rigged privatization deals designed to enrich associates who would later serve as money sources for Putin and his circle; stories of payoffs from inflated no-bid contracts for state projects; illicit exports of raw materials purchased at state-subsidized prices and sold for far lower prices; money laundering; election fixing; the intimidation, and alleged elimination of potential whistle-blowers and a lot more. Dawisha puts faces on those who allegedly engaged in such illicit activities, along with naming firms involved, and the amounts pilfered. There absolutely more than enough to satisfy those interested in news about Putin’s Russia.

There is also much to that can be learned from Putin’s Kleptocracy given what it provides on Putin and current political environment in Russia, and the economic, political, and social histories of Russia and the Soviet Union. Dawisha’s book is a real page turner, and one that will be difficult to pull away from. Its countless stories of illicit activities are incredibly intriguing. Putin’s Russia has been the subject of many greatcharlie.com posts. It is a pleasure to be able to introduce many our readers to a truly well-written, well-researched book on the subject. Without hesitation, greatcharlie.com highly recommends Putin’s Kleptocracy to its readers. They are guaranteed to read it more than once. For some practicioners, Putin’s Kleptocracy may even serve as a reference. It is a book greatcharlie.com readers, regardless of their degree of interest in the subject, will greatly appreciate acquiring.

By Mark Edmond Clark

 

“A Plea for Caution” One Year Later; The New York Times Op-Ed That Revealed Much about Putin

In his September 2013 New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not suggest any real steps to create opportunities for international cooperation or greater peace and security. He seemingly wanted to stir mistrust worldwide toward US efforts in foreign affairs. It would be disingenuous for US President Barack Obama’s administration to deny its behavior toward Putin likely influenced his decision to write it.

In a September 11, 2013 New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin provided a commentary on US-Russian relations that appeared to be a rebuttal to US President Barack Obama’s August 10, 2013 speech on the possible US military response to the chemical use by the President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Putin’s objective with the op-ed was to reach the US public through the back channel of the news media. That was made clear when he stated, “Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.” Yet, Putin failed to realize that while he sought to promote Russia’s positions and arguments in the media, attempting to cope with policy analysts and popular pundits, hostile to his statements, on their “home court”, would be a mistake. Global media is still dominated by the West. Moreover, among those people interested in foreign and defense policy in the West and worldwide, very few would ever take the position that Russia was equal imilitarily, economically, or politically to the US and its Western partners. Far more people worldwide might accept negative perspectives of Russia given its human rights and civil rights history, and the authoritarian nature of the Soviet Union from which it had emerged. Changing such perceptions of Russia would be difficult to accomplish with one op-ed.

What made the op-ed even less likely to receive approval was the manner in which Putin presented his facts and arguments. He does not present a discussion based on Russia’s genuine concerns about the impact of military action. Putin displayed more tack than tact in his commentary. There was no romantic fuzziness in his words. There is no soft spot. It is not some lush, soupy appeal.  The op-ed lacks the moral eloquence of Obama’s speeches. Manifested in the text, however, was the fact that Putin is tough and has no time to be a sentimentalist. Putin was well-aware that he was communicating with citizens of an, albeit, adversarial government. Despite his best intentions, his recognition of the fact that he is not the best friend of the US public–and he likely does not care to be–managed to infiltrate his statements.

Putin accomplished very little with the op-ed. Since the time it was published, the atmosphere in international affairs has not improved, mutual trust has not been strengthened, and US-Russian relations have worsened. Putin has made major moves in Ukraine contrary to US wishes, and he has warned the West that Russia still has nuclear arms. If anything, his op-ed serves as a marker, indicating a genuine downturn in US-Russian relations had occurred. A look at events surrounding his decision to publish the commentary sheds light on how US-Russia relations fell to current levels, but also  seems to provide hope that a constructive dialogue between Obama and Putin could still develop.

Background: Putin and the US

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the authentic face of the Russian government has been Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin restored order in Russia after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. Many would note the record shows he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. Putin is conscientious about his work, and has become quite experienced in governance and wielding national power. His style of management is undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin has been advised and assisted by a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career. These men are known as siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. A quarter of Russia’s senior bureaucrats, particularly in the armed forces and the security services, are siloviki. At the pinnacle are men who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. The “roots” of the families those men come from go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. Putin attended the schools and auniversity Chekisty (Chekist) progeny typically attended.

The Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken their homeland, create disorder, and make it dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. The Chekists are resentful of the West’s success over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. As Putin himself has publicly expressed, the Chekist consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. That loss did not mean a loss of dignity or the will to act. Anti-Western sentiment became so strong that it has created a siege mentality among the Chekists. In his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin spoke not only as the voice of Russia, but the voice of the Chekists. He enumerated some of the actions taken by the West that have fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice from Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Putin is determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He will not be satisfied until Russia’s global power and influence are restored and the independent states of the former Soviet Union are brought back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence.

Even prior to the op-ed’s publishing, the downward spiral of Russia’s relations with the Obama administration was evinced  by: Putin’s decision to allow National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010; counter allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Despite these and other negative connections, the White House sent Putin proposals on a variety of issues, some in which he had already expressed disinterest. They insisted that he agree to reductions that would be made in both nations’ nuclear arsenals.

Putin rejected the nuclear arms proposals due mainly to his concerns over the efficacy of taking such an audacious step. To him, the proposals called for staggering reductions. He views nuclear weapons as a means to assure Russia’s survival. It is unlikely that a Chekist would ever reduce Russia’s nuclear arsenal to a level demanded by the White House. Perhaps positive signals from Obama’s discussions on nuclear arms reductions with the erstwhile Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave administration officials and advisers the idea that Putin would follow-up by accepting proposals on it. Obama felt he had a strong relationship with Medvedev. Obama seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. So comfortable was Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. There were more than enough senior Russia analysts in the US government who could have confirmed Putin, who at the time was serving as Russia’s Prime Minister, was the real power in Moscow. However, Obama administration officials and advisers did not appear to give any deep consideration to this matter. Since Medvedev was Russia’s president, Obama saw him as the authority with whom he needed to be concerned. He treated Putin as “the other guy.” Obama did little to build a positive relationship with him. When he returned to the Russian presidency for a third term, what Obama knew about him was mostly in the abstract.

Summit Cancellation 2013: The Catalyst

Obama administration officials and advisers were clearly unprepared to hear or accept Putin’s final rejection of their nuclear arms reduction proposals and reacted poorly to it. They seemed driven to achieve objectives for their president without consideration of the efficacy of their approach. Whether they even thought Putin’s concerns over nuclear arms reduction proposals were genuine is not clear. However, Putin’s decision was viewed within the Obama administration as ending their president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”   With the apparent goal of retaliating against Putin over his refusal to accept its nuclear proposals, on August 7, 2013, Obama cancelled a Moscow summit meeting with Putin set for September. It was an amateurish and dangerous response by the administration to Putin. Yet, the decision meant much more than blocking the meeting. For Putin, the summit with the US president would be an important part of his effort to show that under his leadership, Russia has returned to the world stage as a global power. As an outcome of the actual talks with Obama, Putin likely hoped to demonstrate that he is a strong leader who is able to respond effectively to the US on security issues. During the event in Moscow, Putin would also receive the chance to present his resurgent Russia in the best light possible. Obama administration officials and advisers knew the summit meeting would have been a proud occasion for Putin and the Russian people. However, they were out to prove that it was in control of the situation. They sought to bring to light what they believed was the reliance of Russian leaders on US standing and capabilities to elevate a country that was practically an economic basket case and a shadow of its former self as a military power. Boiled down, they felt Russia needed the US, but the US did not need Russia. So, they scrapped the summit. Publicly, Obama administration’s officials and advisers made things worse by publicly explaining that the meeting was cancelled because was not seen as an effective use of the president’s time. An August 8, 2013 New York Times article quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe.” Officials and advisers tossed in comments about Putin’s rejection of the proposal. An unidentified source for the same August 8th article stated, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.” That source went on to state, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.” Yet, despite these thinly veiled excuses, it was generally understood that the cancellation appeared was a consequence of Putin’s refusal to consider the proposals for extreme nuclear reductions. From it, came seasons of disappointment. Memores acti prudentes future! (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what must be!)

The Op-Ed

By cancelling the summit, Obama administration officials and advisers played into the worst anti-Western strain of Chekist thought. Putin saw the US decision as a form of rejection, a personal affront, and an effort to humiliate him. In Moscow, the anger, bitterness, and hostility that grew in Putin over the cancellation, along with a lot of other things, was likely palpable. Putin had his own set of options. As Obama’s approval ratings on foreign policy had dropped precipitously during the year to a bit less than 39.8 percent by the end of August, Putin may have perceived that he had a shot of reaching a disappointed US public with a special message.  The Russian Federation government had a contract with the Ketchum public relations firm that included placing favorable news items about Russia in US newsmedia outlets. Putin used the firm to place his op-ed in the New York Times. In writing his editorial, Putin, in part, seemed to be utilizing a bit of old KGB tradecraft in writing the piece. (Tradecraft refers generally to skills used in clandestine service to include efforts to manipulate opponents.) Much of what he proffered was a distorted view of circumstances.

Putin began by offering a discussion of certain truths about the US-Russian relations as allies during World War II and adversaries during the Cold War. He recounts that the veto power given the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council was established to create consensus on issues of peace and war. He explained that if states were to bypass the UN Security Council and take military action without authorization, as the Obama administration indicated it was prepared to do in August 2013, that UN’s relevance would be placed in jeopardy. As a result the UN would suffer the fate of the League of Nations. However, in further discussion of the UN, Putin engages in something akin to introjection, claiming qualities typically identified with, and exemplified by, the US. Having been successful in constructing a peaceful solution on Syria’s chemical weapons issue, Putin portrays Russia as a beacon of light in international affairs, and promoter of transnationalism, multilateral solutions, and the maintenance of international peace and security. Putin explained, “From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.” While he should be commended for expressing these sentiments, it has actually been the US, particularly the Obama administration, which, for the most part, has shown great reverence for international law. Obama, himself, would undoubtedly prefer to solve problems at the diplomatic table using reason and logic, due process, and rule of law. Putin, on the other hand, has what former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called “a zero-sum worldview.” Contrary to Obama’s belief in the importance of win-win relationships among nations, Putin sees all transactions as win-lose; if one party benefits, the other must lose. Gaining and retaining power is Putin’s goal.

Putin goes on to explain, “The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.” Here, Putin provides a veiled reference to the Operation Unified Protector, when multinational forces under NATO command imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi under UN Security Council Resolution 1973. (The military operation to enforce the UN Security Council Resolution was initially led by the US under Operation Odyssey Dawn.) In Putin’s view, Western-led forces went beyond their mandate to aid anti-Gaddafi forces, and their actions led to his overthrow. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia. Despite the fact that the action against him was taken under a UN Security Council resolution, to Putin, it represented one more instance of the West trampling on Russia’s interests. However, looking at Russia’s actions, Putin was not in a position to admonish anyone about international law and the use of force. In 2008, Putin invaded Georgia, and Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. He forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova is under similar pressure. In November 2013, using economic influence and political power, he drove then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to abort an agreement Ukraine had with the EU that would have pulled it toward the West. Once the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych, Putin grabbed Crimea.

In appraising the use of force by the US, Putin engages in a type of projection, imputing some of the dominant traits of his own handling of foreign policy on the Obama administration. He goes as far as to blame the US for efforts by some nations to acquire nuclear weapons. Putin explains: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.” The truth is that Obama has been averse to taking military action, contrary to former US President George W. Bush who was perceived as having the US take pre-emptive military action at the slightest whiff of aggression. Obama’s policy of restraint matches the public mood. Developing proposals for military action has been very difficult for administration officials and advisers.  In situations where the use of force is almost absolutely necessary, officials and advisers have presented options for action that are lightweight, very small in scale and calibrated precisely. Putin’s discussion of Obama as being interventionist is shear fantasy.   While obama has been involved in situations worldwide as a leader on the internation stage, its ill-advised action in Libya was its only authentic intervention. Note that it is Putin who now appears poised to move further into Ukraine.

Even if a US audience was not receptive to his message, Putin likely assumed the hyperbole in his commentary would serve to impress many people in other countries who are ill-disposed toward the US and its policies. appreciative of his efforts to admonish it. Undoutedly, his words were likely captivating and satisfying enough for those who choose not to look deeply and those who choose simple answers. Many realities are erased and the past is written off. He then writes on the past a new story, a substitute for reality. The op-ed seemed to be “sabotaged” by his comments concerning “American exceptionalism” that was rejected and much derided within all circles in the US; and, by his discouraging words concerning US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If someone claiming to be a Chekist were ever to offer encouraging words about the spirit of US public or US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he would most likely be an imposter! Creating even more discord, Putin explained that US action could place multilateral efforts on Iran and Israel-Palestine at risk.

The one part of Putin’s op-ed deserving real consideration was his discussion of the danger posed to international peace and security by Islamic militant groups in Syria. Putin succinctly analyzes the emerging threat. He reported, “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world. Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.” Putin again seemed to be using skills acquired during his KGB days to develop a strong report on the emerging threat of Islamic militant groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Still, he also seemed to be providing a glimpse of what was being discussed in the Kremlin on developments in Syria, as well as Iraq. His prognostication about the growth of the Islamic militant groups has been on the mark to the extent that the ISIS threat has not reached the shore of the US or Europe. Yet, few in the US focused on Putin’s important comments on Islamic militant groups. His questionable discussion of other issues distracted US readers from anything constructive he had to state.

The Way Forward

In his op-ed, Putin does not suggest any real steps that would help create possibilities for international cooperation or greater peace and security.   Indeed, it was not constructed to improve things. Putin essay better served to stir mistrust worldwide toward US efforts in foreign affairs. It would be disingenuous for the Obama administration to deny that its approach to Putin, prior to the op-ed, played a likely role in his decision to write it. Put basely, the Obama administration officials and advisers treated Putin as if he was “their ball to play with.” They lashed out at Putin in a very public way on many occasions, and Putin saw the op-ed as a means to respond to those incidents “publicly.” Unfortunately, rather than use the op-ed to discuss his dissatisfaction and concerns about US actions, he prevaricated and made a number of remarks the US public would only find offensive. Once those points were highlighted in the US newsmedia by political pundits and policy analysts, few in the US public would read it or give it thought after “hearing” what was in it. Putin will unlikely write an op-ed again in a US newspaper given his experience with the first. However, it is likely, given the current course of US-Russian relations, Putin’s future communications with the US public will be far less “congenial.”