A Window Of Opportunity (for Russia and the U.S. Part I)

Ever since the dramatic events of September 11th and Russian President’s grand gesture of support of the United States in its efforts to defeat international terrorism, polar views have been voiced on the meaning and implications of Mr. Putin’s bold move, and its impact on the future of Russian-American relations.

Some Russian observers openly admit that the anti-terrorist coalition has no strategic value and has been formed exclusively as a working body to tackle a specific task. They point out that a decision of such nature and importance needs the approval of the Duma and the main political forces in the country.

Hence, it is a tactical shift to exploit the situation and eventually benefit from it.

Others believe that the attack against the United States has created a unique pretext for opening a window of opportunity for the Russian leader to move in the direction, which he was unable to take for a long time.

The last point of view has found sympathetic response in this country and appears to have edged into an area of broad discussion on the future of US- Russian relations in the years to come. Perhaps, most eloquent if not very convincing comment on this issue was provided by “The Nation” magazine contributors Stephen Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel who assert that Vladimir Putin, “became the Bush administration’s most valuable ally in the war against terrorism,” that “Russia’s contribution to the US counter-terror operation in Afghanistan exceeded that of all of America’s NATO allies together” and that “the promise of a historic US-Russian partnership is being squandered by President Bush’s polices.”1

With this and possibly other similar or quite opposite views it’s inevitable that a public controversy should ensue with questions focused on the following issues: will the anti-terrorist coalition transform into a fundamental, long-term union based on mutual trust and common goals? Can it survive the turbulent currents of international politics, overcome the legacy of the Cold War mentality on both sides and evolve into a true partnership?

An overview of the alliances the former USSR had over the past decades may help answer some of these questions. Since this is an extremely broad subject it will be limited by necessity to a relatively small but crucial area, that of cooperation in matters of intelligence and security.

To better appreciate the principal stand of the Soviet leadership on these problems it’s pertinent to recall the words of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator who in December of 1952, speaking at the meeting of the commission on reorganization of intelligence and counter-intelligence work created by the CPSU Central Committee, said, “In intelligence work one should never practice a frontal attack. An intelligence service must operate in a roundabout way; otherwise it will suffer failures, heavy failures. To attack head on is a short-sighted tactic…Completely eliminate stereotypes from intelligence work, at all times change tactics, methods. At all times, adjust to the world situation. Take advantage of the world situation…Our main enemy – America. But the principal effort should not be on America proper. Illegal residences should be created first of all in neighboring states…”2

The Soviet leader’s words in essence summarized the experience of Soviet intelligence and subversive activities of two previous decades: NKVD assistance to Spain and China in the 1930s, the Grand Alliance with US and Great Britain during World War II, Soviet state security crucial role in the creation of the Soviet bloc (except Yugoslavia and Albania) after the war when the Eastern European security services were set up in the image of the Soviet KGB and overseen by Soviet advisers.

Stalin’s remarks featured in the book as a symbol of his wisdom admired by former KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov, suggests indirectly that Mr. Putin also derives his inspiration from “the leader of all times and all peoples.”

But let’s look at the record.

The first contacts of the Soviet security organs with similar foreign entities go back to the 1930s when the NKVD (KGB early predecessor) fearing Japanese incursions into the Soviet Far East, helped create and strengthen the security establishment in Outer Mongolia and Tuva, two Asiatic countries bordering the USSR. Several years later, Tuva was incorporated into the USSR and became one of its autonomous republics, while Mongolia remained a communist outpost in the region, claiming formal independence.

During the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet government, although represented on the “non-intervention committee” in the beginning of the conflict in 1936, sent a considerable amount of aid in tanks, planes, and military specialists to the Republicans. The Soviet intelligence regularly provided the Republican government with information on secret designs and plans of Nazi Germany and Italy against the new regime, it helped in clandestine transfer of hundreds of “volunteers” and tons of arms to Spain from neighboring countries, and after the Republicans’ defeat, in the evacuation of their military and political cadre to the USSR.

Perhaps the most extensive allied relationship in the pre-war period the Soviet intelligence developed with China. Stalin ordered to help the Kuomintang Army to repel the Japanese aggression. The Soviet assistance included arms and ammunition, and military specialist. In 1938, the first formal organ of coordination between the Soviet and Kuomintang intelligence services was instituted under the name “The Joint Bureau.” Under its auspices regular exchanges of intelligence information were carried out for several years. The Soviet NKVD provided the Chinese with assistance in training of their special units, which operated in the Japanese occupied territories as guerrillas and saboteurs.

Simultaneously, the Soviet intelligence took advantage of the situation and set up its “legal” residences in about 20 Chinese cities. In Shanghai and Harbin, Soviet illegal groups were also deployed. The heavy Soviet presence in China at that time facilitated the eventual victory of the communists in the country.3

World War II opened new vistas for the KGB and new great opportunities. In August of 1941, the British government, through its Ambassador in Moscow, proposed to establish ties and cooperation between the Soviet and British intelligence services in their common struggle against Nazi Germany. The first talks held subsequently in Moscow lasted nearly two weeks and resulted in the signing of a major agreement, which envisaged the exchange of intelligence information about Germany, the conduct of joint operations involving sabotage on German and occupied territories, infiltration of agents into these areas, providing them with communication lines and equipment. Special intelligence missions were opened in London and Moscow (no sooner were the negotiations successfully over than the Soviet intelligence obtained from its secret assets in England full accounts of what had happened in Moscow). The initial results of the cooperation looked very promising. By March of 1944, the Soviet intelligence had sent to England 36 agents, 28 of them were infiltrated by the Britts into Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Italy.

However, the head of the Soviet official intelligence mission in England, Ivan Chichaev in his cable to Moscow in 1942 complained about delays and suspicious behavior of his British partners and recommended to wind up the operation.4

Ivan Chichaev played another role outside his duties as the liaison officer in the U.K. He was charged with the task of maintaining relations with allied governments in exile of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Norway, Belgium, and France. While performing these duties, Chichaev and his staff recruited a number of spies from émigré circles, who provided the Soviets with valuable intelligence information. For instances the results of an experiment with “heavy water” conducted in Norway as part of research in nuclear science, were obtained by Chichaev. One of his contacts from France would later become a prized KGB asset “Daedalus,” ¾a future minister in the Charles de Gaulle Cabinet, Pierre Cot. 5

The Soviet-British intelligence cooperation ended at the imitative of the British government in September of 1945. The U.K. representative in Moscow was recalled home because, according to Russian sources, the British side resented Soviet suspiciousness and lack of progress in their relationship.6

The United States came late with its offer of cooperation with the Soviet intelligence. At the end of 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dispatched the OSS Director William Donovan to Moscow to negotiate an agreement with the Soviets and open a liaison mission in the USSR.

The American side suggested to exchange intelligence information about the adversaries, to discuss acts of sabotage behind the front lines, to assist in infiltrating agents in the enemies’ rear, to swap radio communication devices and materials related to sabotage activities.

By early spring of 1944 the Soviet liaison mission headed by Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Graur was ready for departure to the USA when it was suddenly cancelled at the suggestion of the US. Within days, the Soviet intelligence, which ran 26 assets in the OSS at that time, learned that it was J. Edgar Hoover, the omnipotent Director of the FBI who opposed the opening of another Soviet spy nest in the USA. Eventually, Hoover’s resistance was overruled by President Roosevelt, and by June of 1944 the exchanges, as defined by the agreement, were in full swing.

The Soviet intelligence, both KGB and the military (GRU) were generally satisfied with the level of cooperation. Some pieces of intelligence, like for instance 1,500 photocopies of key lists to Soviet ciphers captured by the Germans and obtained by the allied forces in Italy, had special value.7

The Soviet-American partnership in the area of intelligence lasted only a year and a half with World War II over and the OSS disbanded in October of 1945, a new war, the Cold War, was looming on the horizon.

1 The Nation. April 15, 2002 Endangering US Security by S. Cohen and K. vanden Heuvel

2 Stalin’s remarks, declassified in the post-Soviet era are contained in the book “Yuri Andropov and Vladimir Putin: On the Path to Resurrection” by KGB General Yuri Drozdov and journalist Vasily Fartyishev. Olma-Press Moscow, 2001 P.41-42

3 Essays on the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence Moscow International Relations 1997 Vol.3 p. 14-16

4 Essays on the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence Moscow, International Relations Vol. 4 p. 387-389

5 The Sword and The Shield by Christopher Andrews and Vasili Mitrokhin Basic Books 1999 p. 108-109

6 Essays on the History of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Vol.4 p.398

7 Essays Vol.4 p.411-12

Oleg D. Kalugin
Major General
Former People’s Deputy of the USSR


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