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In From The Cold

At the World Economic Forum, Oleg Kalugin was listed as a Deputy of the Russian Parliament, a post he held …

At the World Economic Forum, Oleg Kalugin was listed as a Deputy of the Russian Parliament, a post he held until he became security adviser to President Boris Yeltsin. Kalugin was a KGB general, in fact, one of the most decorated and youngest to attain that rank. Until 1980, he was the KGB’s top operative in Washington. But in June 1990, he went public, advocating a wholesale reform of the “sword and shield of the state” and saying its preoccupation with internal security (i.e., spying on Soviet citizens) was inappropriate for a modern democracy. He urged Gorbachev to reorganize the service along Western lines. (A Pravda article quoted him saying that the KGB employed more manpower than the CIA, MI5, and services of France, Germany, Italy-and possibly China-combined!) Perestroika or no, Time’s Man of the Decade stripped Kalugin of his Order of Lenin, denied his pension, and broke him in rank. Kalugin later got his decorations and pension back after running for a seat in the Congress of Peoples Deputies from Krasnodar as the “reform democrat”-and winning.

The Washington-wise, articulate Kalugin is smoother than 18-year-old bourbon. A few comments on topics put to him.

Did COCOM’s technology restriction work?  Not really. Kalugin claims the KGB stole whatever it needed. Problem was, the Soviets took too long to develop the technology before the West came up with the next generation. “I told my superiors it would be better spending our resources on our own R&D rather than waste time obtaining secrets we couldn’t use properly. They told me to mind my own business.”

Which country’s service was the KGB’s most/least formidable adversary?  That’s easy: CIA, MI5, and Mossad, in that order. The French service was, ahem, a tad less secure. Basically, the KGB Paris station chief knew everything that went to the Elysee Palace. “The CIA did something we were never able to do: penetrate the upper echelons of our ranks with six double agents. Our most devastating agent was Lee Howard, followed by the Walkers.”

What further light can he shed on the coup against Gorbachev? Gorby wasn’t involved with the plotters as many Russians suspect. Kalugin was himself tipped off by virtue of being tailed a month before. “I knew [KGB] methods, so I suspected the coup would happen soon.” The week before the putsch Kalugin thought he had bought the farm when two agents followed him into the Moscow subway. On the staircase, just before reaching the train platform, a hand touched the back of his coat. Addressing him by name, a man told him not to turn around but to listen carefully. He was told to expect to be arrested. Kalugin was told to extend his hands behind his back without turning around before the agent left the subway. He did as he was told. A piece of paper was thrust into his palm. On it was written only a telephone number. The coup failed and Kalugin wasn’t arrested, but he later called the number to thank the man for the warning. “He was a very decent chap,” he says.

How long will the Commonwealth last?  The CIS is transitional, designed to ease away from the Soviet Empire. The republics may retain economic links but are destined to go their national ways.

How long will Yeltsin last? Hard to say. He could be a transitional figure but as yet no other leader has emerged to replace him. He is to some degree at the mercy of his advisers, regarding economic policy, as he doesn’t have fixed views. The democrats who have been swept into power behind him have gotten cold feet about transforming Russia to a market economy too quickly. Shock therapy advocates vie with gradualists. Yeltsin needs support from the West, which in Kalugin’s view is in its own interest to do.

About J.P. Donlon

J.P. Donlon
J.P. Donlon is Editor Emeritus of Chief Executive magazine.