The Cold War is back

4877_1.jpgRussian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, is leading his country back into the dark ages of Soviet totalitarianism and instigating a global confrontation between Russia and the United States — as well as between Russia and the West as a whole.  The Russian President has consistently rolled back democratic freedoms. And he is proving that the genie can be placed back into the bottle: he has centralized authority and suffocated dissent in the media and in the nation at large. Reformers making efforts to build democracy have been intimidated and silenced.

On the international front, Putin’s Russia is making trouble on Iran, obstructing U.S. efforts to get the Mullahs to stop their nuclear ambitions. And it is no surprise, seeing that not only did Russia obstruct U.S. efforts in Iraq, but evidence indicates that the Russian ambassador to Iraq passed on U.S. war plans to Saddam in the early days of the American invasion. More troublesome still, it appears that Russian mischief is behind the missing Iraqi WMDs.

So is the Evil Empire back? Or did it ever even leave us?

To discuss this issue with us today, Frontpage has assembled a distinguished panel, which includes two ex-spy chiefs from opposite sides of the Cold War. Our guests today are:  

Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, former acting chief of Communist Romania’s espionage service, is the highest ranking official ever to have defected from the Soviet bloc. He is  author of Red Horizons, republished in 27 countries. In 1989, Ceausescu and his wife were executed at the end of a trial where most of the accusations had come word-for-word out of Pacepa’s book.  

FP: James Woolsey, Ion Mihai Pacepa, Yuri Yarim-Agaev and Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.  

Yuri Yarim-Agaev, let me begin with you.

Is the Evil Empire back?

Yarim-Agaev: Fortunately, not.  Although I am very critical of Putin and believe that his regime is the main obstacle against the emergence of democracy in Russia, I would not credit him with the power to restore the Evil Empire.  The Evil Empire was based on the communist system.  As an ideology, communism collapsed globally, and as a political system, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. That is irreversible, and that was the major and decisive battle won by democracy in the Cold War.  Sadly, it was not followed up, complete victory was never pursued, and the momentum was lost for a while.   

As a result, although mortally wounded, communism has not been eradicated from the face of the Earth.  Its remains persist in several major forms:   

-         as a barely breathing but still ruling political system in China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba;    

-         as political structures left by communism such as the KGB and party apparatus in Russia and many other former Soviet countries which either control or share power; 

-         as power structures propped up or created by the Soviet Union in its extended empire in places such as Palestine, Iraq, Angola, etc.;   

-         as the world terrorist network created mainly by the KGB in its fight against democracy;

-         and finally, as an ideology not completely disavowed which still spoils cultural  academic and political life in our country and the entire Western world.   

These pieces of communism’s agony are strongly interconnected and help to prolong each other’s unwarranted existence.  Such symbiosis, however, also makes them more vulnerable. With one final and comprehensive effort, democracy can complete its work and destroy this house of marked cards. Yet until such an effort is made, this moribund communism, although it has no chance of being revitalized, will continue to spoil and destroy the lives of many people around the world for a long time to come.   

FP: Thank you sir. Obviously the “Evil Empire” as we knew it is not back. But Russia is a big power and a big threat and with its backward steps toward authoritarianism and an anti-Western foreign policy, many of the aspects of the Cold War are indeed returning. More than anything, Russia surely doesn’t represent a reliable well-intentioned democratic all, to say the least.   

Mr. Pacepa what are your thoughts?   

Pacepa: I agree with Yuri: Putin alone cannot restore the Evil Empire. But I do not concur with his view that Soviet Communism was an ideological system that irreversibly collapsed. I was at the top of that system and I know for a fact that Soviet Communism had devolved into a samoderzhaviye, the Russian form of autocracy traceable to the 14th century’s Ivan the Terrible, in which a feudal lord ruled the country with his political police. Stalin exterminated the leadership of Lenin’s Communist Party together with some seven million of its members and then, behind a facade of Marxism, gave his political police precedence over the original tools of ideology and the Communist Party. Gulag, the badge of Soviet Communism, was rooted not in Marx’s doctrine but in the tsarist 1845 Criminal Code stipulating draconian penalties for persons arousing “disrespect for Sovereign Authority, or for the personal qualities of the Sovereign.”   

Marxism and the Communist Party were foreign organisms introduced into the Russian body, and both were eventually rejected. But the historically Russian political police remained in place with new nameplates at the door. KGB chief Yuri Andropov, a Russian to the bone, used to tell me that “our gosbezopasnost” (state security service) had kept Russia alive for the past five hundred years and “our gosbezopasnost” would guide her helm for the next five hundred years. Andropov has proved a dependable prophet. In 1982 he was enthroned in the Kremlin. His KGB successor, Vladimir Kryuchkov, authored the August 1991 coup that deposed Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1998, former KGB officer Yevgeny Primakov became Russia’s prime minister. Most notably, Vladimir Putin was the very chief of the gosbezopasnost before being appointed Russia’s president.     

In the Soviet Union, the KGB was a state within a state. Now former KGB officers are running the state. They have custody of the country’s 6,000 nuclear weapons, entrusted to the KGB in the 1950s, and they now also manage the strategic oil industry renationalized by Putin. The KGB successor, rechristened FSB, still has the right to electronically monitor the population, control political groups, search homes and businesses, infiltrate the federal government, create its own front enterprises, investigate cases, and run its own prison system. The Soviet Union had one KGB officer for every 428 citizens. Putin’s Russia has one FSB-ist for every 297 citizens.     

The Cold War is indeed over, but, unlike other wars, it did not end with the defeated enemy throwing down his weapons. This historically Russian gosbezopasnost might one day rally behind some other dictator–nationalist, socialist, fascist, environmentalist or whatever label he might choose–who suffered from grandiose dreams of conquering the world, and who could again threaten our Western way of life.     

FP: This is all quite complicated. So in some ways the Cold War ended but also never ended at all? Gen. McInerney, what are your thoughts, especially about Yuri Yarim-Agaev’s and Gen. Pacepa’s seeming disagreement on Soviet Communism being an ideological system that irreversibly collapsed?   

McInerney: Jamie, I am delighted to be associated with this esteemed panel on such an important question.  Both Yuri and Gen Pacepa’s presentations were excellent and, based on their comments which I agree with and my observations, I would say that the Evil Empire as we in the West knew it is trying to make a comeback. Specifically with respect to Iran, Russia is not our ally and is probably our enemy I am sorry to say.     

Russia’s assistance to this Iranian regime with nuclear technology will enable this Islamic terrorist regime to develop nuclear weapons. These weapons could eventually end up in American, European and Israeli cities. Consequently their assistance is very destabilizing and most worrisome. The nightmare scenario that we all fear could come to pass and Russia would be the enabler. This is not good and I think we in the West should put enormous pressure on Russia to cease and desist.     

I am not paranoid, but Islamic extremists desire to kill as many Americans as possible – and this is our greatest concern in the coming years. Russia should not want any part of this. I understand that there is a great deal of frustration within the gosbezopasnost after their super power status was reduced.     

However, they must be very careful working with a nation like Iran and their extreme Islamic leadership. As described above, Putin is a very clever person and is skilled in this devious behavior. He has no desire to have Russia adopt democracy and has taken the appropriate steps to become a totalitarian regime in the future. Using Iran to be a de facto ally in reducing America’s role could backfire on them.  

 I still believe that Russia helped Saddam Hussein remove his WMDs in the fall of 2002 and their is ample evidence with the concurrent visit of senior Russian military leadership and assistance teams at that time and now the recently released tapes of Saddam’s conversations at the Intelligence Summit in Feb 2006; but this is a separate subject. Their role in the Oil for Food program is well documented. Russia certainly was not our friend in removing Saddam from power. So there is ample evidence that she has an entirely different agenda than one of global democracies which will continually force her to move back to the Evil Empire days.   

FP: Thank you Gen. McInerney. Your turn Mr. Woolsey? And what do you think about Yuri Yarim-Agaev’s and Gen. Pacepa’s seeming disagreement?   

Woolsey: The differences here are minor — we are all describing the same phenomenon.  I would say that what we now have in Russia is a Really-Bad-Wanna-Be-Again-Empire.      

Really bad rather than evil because Putin has taken things back maybe not all the way to Ivan the Terrible but to, say, Nicholas II on a bad day. Custine is still, sadly, as excellent a guide to the tendencies of Russian governments as Tocqueville is to ours. Today the communist ideology is dead and we are left with increasingly corrupt thuggery.  One searches in vain for even a bit of lip service being paid to the principle of from-each-according-to-his-ability-to-each-according-to-his-need. There’s not a trace of commitment to any overarching values, good or bad, in the behavior of the new Russian establishment.

A Wanna-Be-Again empire because, whereas Russia’s control over its most recent empire, aka the USSR, deteriorated in the early ’90’s Putin is working hard to restore as much Russian dominance as possible via, inter alia, the leverage provided by oil and gas. It is not accidental, as my Soviet negotiating adversaries used to be fond of saying, that Belarus has been getting easier treatment regarding what it owes for Russian gas than Ukraine, and that Georgia found its gas pipeline blown up last winter where it passed through Russian-controlled territory. As Tom Friedman put it in a recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine, the price of oil and the path of freedom move in opposite directions.   

So unless the Saudis reach into their oil reserves and do again what they did in the mid-80’s and late 90’s — pump oil, tank world prices, and bankrupt their higher-cost competitors including Russia — we will apparently be dealing for some time with a quite wealthy state, and one that is highly corrupt and essentially fascist, that represses somewhere between the preponderance and essentially all of its people’s civil liberties, that holds rigged plebiscites occasionally, and that diligently works to dominate its neighbors. This Wanna-Be-Again empire’s Achilles heel, though, is demographic.  With Russians’ current tiny birth rate and short male life expectancy, by mid-century Russia could have under 100 million people, a large minority of them Muslim — not a good prospect for maintaining even a scaled-back empire, or perhaps even for holding on to Russia proper.     

Yarim-Agaev: There is not much difference in our attitude toward Putin’s regime; there is, however, a major disconnect in assessing its nature and inevitability.  We agree that the patient is ill and concur on the primary symptoms.  We disagree on a diagnosis and hence on how to treat the patient–or whether he is curable at all.     

We agree on what Russian leaders want, and what they think that they can achieve, and here Ion Pacepa’s knowledge of top KGB ranks is important.  We may disagree, though, on what they actually can do, and here knowledge of the real political and economic situation is far more important than knowing the aspirations of those leaders, who typically have a very poor understanding of their country. We agree on Wanna-Be and may disagree on Gonna-Be.     

Historic analogies and the private revelations of the top brass, however peculiar and at times useful, have no validity in terms of either scientific proof or judicial verdict.   I would not use them as evidence for sentencing the Russian people to 500 more years of secret police rule, or as the foundation for developing policy toward Russia.     

I would not give the green light to Putin’s regime only because it allegedly restores the natural course of Russian history, which was only slightly distorted by Communism, which was merely a masquerade costume as it were for Russia’s perpetual autocracy.  I believe that Russia’s future will be determined by the global expansion of democracy, globalization of the market economy and the information revolution, rather than by the ghosts of Ivan the Terrible and Nikolai I.     

I would not reduce the political system that shaped the 20th century and brought our civilization to the brink of elimination, to a blip on the radar of Russian history. Whatever communism borrowed from Russian autocracy and from Marx’s theories, it developed into a clearly identifiable and new political system with a unique set of basic principles.  That system is so deterministic and dominant that it established itself in virtually identical form in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Cuba-with no regard to race, ethnicity or local history, and suppressing those countries’ cultures and religions.  The Russian Gulag, the Chinese Laogai, Castro’s prisons, and Pol Pot’s killing fields are unalienable parts of any communist system and follow directly from Marxism-Leninism.  They can hardly be explained by some obscure article of Nicholas I’s criminal code, typical for any autocracy.     

Communism is cemented in its ideology and cannot survive without it.  It does not make a difference whether its leaders believe in it or not, as long as they serve that ideology.  Upon decline of the ideology, the system may continue to procrastinate its demise, since there is no opposition to challenge it.  After the collapse of the system, constituent parts can exist even longer, especially if they are as tightly organized as the KGB–but they would still live on a borrowed time.   

The KGB was always subservient to the party and cannot exist for any extended period without it.  The KGB did not take over the communist party; in 1991 it totally lost its power together with the party.  It never regained it, but rather filled the void left by disorganized Russian democrats, and the controversial policy of Western democracies.     

Secret police cannot run a modern country; they can only try to control it. All the powers of the FSB as listed by Pacepa are of a destructive or restrictive nature.  They only suppress society’s productive and constructive forces.   That is why, with the skyrocketing prices of oil and gas, Russia remains a poor country in comparison with Estonia and the Czech Republic, which have no natural resources but a much higher level of political and economic freedom.  Of all the offspring of the Soviet Empire, these two countries undertook the most radical steps to root out Communism.     

With all its atrocities, totalitarianism has only one advantage.  Like a sponge it soaks up into its hierarchy the most evil part of society and makes it localized and easily identifiable. It is unwise not to use that advantage.  Any good doctor would be glad to identify a tumor timely and to remove it to save the patient’s life.  It would be strange if instead of taking that action he would leave the patient with the explanation that his heredity and unhealthy lifestyle caused the deterioration of his health.  Such advice can be useful after removal of the tumor, but not instead of it.  It would have been quite unfortunate if in 1945 instead of holding the Nuremberg trials and carrying out the policy of denazification, America had found a historical explanation for German Nazism and left the Gestapo to rule.   

I still believe that Russia can and will develop into a democracy, and that the major obstacles on this road are the remains of the communist system. We may help to clear the road at least by not legitimizing and supporting them.  Even after those roadblocks are finally removed there will be many bumps left, and then the understanding of Russian history may help to overcome them.  But not yet.  First things first.     

As to the Cold War, it is not over, never was, and will not end until all the remnants of communism as listed in my introductory statement are eliminated.   

Pacepa: I think we all can agree that, even without the Communist Party, we are dealing with a dangerous Russia. Putin may not be a tyrant on the order of a Stalin, but he is running Russia with the same criminal political police Stalin used for tyrannising the country and carrying out the Cold War. Over 6,000 former KGB officers are now managing Russia’s federal and local administrations, her domestic and foreign policies, her media, her re-nationalized oil industry. In a 14-page article, Putin defined Russia’s political future: “The state must be where and as needed; freedom must be where and as required.”   

Russia’s weapons of mass destruction are also still in the hands of Stalin’s intelligence agencies, which continue to produce, stockpile and guard them. When I was in Romania in the late 70’s, the KGB’s nuclear component alone had 87 super secret nuclear cities. I knew them well. None had ever been shown on any Soviet maps or counted among the population’s labor force. Celyabinsk, for instance, was on the map of Russia, but Celiabinsk-40, a KGB city of 40,000 people located in the Urals, was not. After a nuclear accident at the East Siberian city of Tomsk-7 in April of 1993, ten other “secret cities” were disclosed.     

These facilities are so enormous, it would be virtually impossible to disassemble them, and so far nothing indicates that they have been. A couple of years ago one of them test-launched a missile system that allegedly could manoeuvre in mid-flight, allowing it to dodge defenses. “The test carried out yesterday confirmed that we can build weapons which will render any anti-missile system defenseless,” Putin announced. Now he is using these facilities to arm Islamic terrorists-through the government of Iran-with nuclear power and the Shahab-4 missile.   

On February 12, 2004, Putin declared the demise of the Soviet Union a “national tragedy on an enormous scale.” His language is sure to have sent a chill through the 14 other former Soviet republics that have been independent from Moscow for more than a decade. It should worry us as well.     

In Russia, the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.     

I highly value Yuri’s long fight against the Evil Empire, but I respectfully disagree with his view that “historic analogies … have no validity.” I wish we could ignore Russia’s genes.     

What should we do about it? There is no easy answer for a country whose arteries have been calcified by seven decades of abysmal feudalism-disguised as Communism. If history, including that of the last 16 years, is any guide, the Russians, who are now enjoying their regained nationalism, may well strive to build a Wanna-Be-Again empire by inspiring themselves from old Russian traditions, not from Western-style political parties. Russia has never had any real political parties anyway, and Putin’s United Russia looks like just another power-hungry mafia of siloviki along the lines of the Communist Party. The KGB, now the FSB, will become simply another anagram in a long string: Oprichnina, Okhrana, Cheka, GPU, OGPU, MVD, NKVD. Good or bad, the old political police may appear to most Russians as their only defense against the rapacity of the new capitalists at home and the greediness of foreign neighbors.     

It won’t be easy to change this trend. But we may be able to motivate members of the new Russian generation to start creating a new identity for their motherland. Former CIA director James Woolsey should know better than any of us if and how we might help them to achieve this goal.   

McInerney: Well as Jim said I think we are all saying the same thing as to what is happening to Russia, but may have some historical or granular differences about how and why it is transpiring.     

I agree with Jim, Yuri and Gen Pacepe that the vestiges of this former empire are enablers in the direction it is moving and none of us have said it is going in the right direction. I would hope that Gen Pacepe’s suggestion of motivating a new Russian generation to start creating a new identity for their motherland would be possible, but here I am a pessimist. History has not been good to “hopeful” strategies and ideologies that have totalitarianism as a tenet part of leadership and control. Yuri’s goal for success is the elimination of the remnants of communism which he described in his opening comments. I strongly agree with him but also believe that the direction Russia is going now will make that very difficult.  

Today, Russian corruption is symptomatic of problems including a neutered parliament, intimidated media and a subservient judiciary, all tenets of a fledging democracy and capitalistic system.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (whom I am sure Yuri and Gen. Pacepe know) said on 2 June 06 that the Russian Government should retain control over strategic companies like defense, atomic energy, and natural resource giants like Gazprom whose board he heads. He pays homage to capitalism by saying companies in other industries must be private but counters that with government playing a larger role to put them in order.     

I have never seen a government that has ever put a private company in order but I am sure there may be a few. Yuri is correct in stating that the West should not legitimize and support this thuggery (Jim’s word) and we should not be intimidated by their threat of opposing their entry to the WTO.     

President Bush should look into Putin’s eyes and say Not now-clean up your act. Russia is on a fast track to becoming a” wanna be evil empire” again if the West does not stand up to there recent actions that are well documented and known. This has to be a global stand and I am not hopeful that our economic allies (EU, ASEAN, ME, SA) have the courage — which is not good especially with our mounting challenges in Iran and North Korea.   

FP: Jim Woolsey, last word goes to you sir.   

Woolsey: I agree with much of what Mr. Yarim-Agaev says and he provides a useful perspective on the unique contribution of communism, including that in countries other than Russia, to the history of totalitarianism. I don’t support the proposition that Russia is a “gonna-be” empire (as distinct from just “wanna-be”) – I don’t like “gonna” as a characterization of the future of human history. We all have choices.  

But a nation’s choices can be heavily influenced by its history, and even though Russians’ willingness to subordinate other values to that of security is not permanently imbedded in the Russian  people’s DNA, this willingness has nonetheless manifested itself a number of times. I rather imagine that any nation’s citizens would likely be obsessed with security if they had been invaded in relatively modern times by the Mongols, the Swedes, the French, and the Germans (twice).    


Partly as a result of this historic Russian tilt toward sacrificing other values for security, including their practice of dominating their own neighbors (Lincoln used to tell of an old farmer whose philosophy was, “Ah don’t need much land, jist what adjines mine.”), Russia missed four chances in the 19th and 20th centuries to opt solidly for liberal reform: the Decembrists, inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, were defeated; the reformers who backed Alexander II when he freed the serfs were thwarted; the Mensheviks were killed by the Bolsheviks; and the liberal reformers who surrounded Yeltsin have now lost to

Putin and the siloviki.  


I would say, unlike Mr. Yarim-Agaev, that one big problem with our own behavior in the nineties was that we ignored Russian history and assumed that once the Berlin Wall was down and good ol’ Boris was in the Kremlin everything would be fine on the political side – and indeed that it was our over-fixation on the death of the communist ideology that led us astray.     

Frank Fukayama wrote a fascinating book much more nuanced than the title he took from Hegel, but far too many people thought we in fact had reached something like “The End of History”. In my judgment we failed to take some steps to help Russia that we could have (and took some of the wrong ones) because we assumed the politics would be fine and focused so heavily on economics that we ignored the necessity of such things as establishing an independent judiciary and encouraging some checks and balances. In the last analysis, however, we couldn’t excise the totalitarian/security service tumor mainly because – unlike the situations in Japan and Germany after WW II – we never controlled the patient and he never gave consent to the operation.  

Maybe one of these days the Russian liberal reformers will win, but you can’t blame them

for being discouraged.

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