The Current Russian Kleptocracy’s Roots Uncovered

Vladimir Bukovsky had already made history in 1978, when his autobiography, To Build a Castle, revealed how psychiatric torture was routinely used against dissenters like himself in the Soviet equivalent of Hades. Bukovsky has done it again with an exposé called Judgment in Moscow, consisting of top-secret archival materials the wily former dissident was able to obtain during the chaotic days of the early 1990s, as the USSR was disintegrating. 

When it was published in Europe in French and Russian, the book was almost an instant bestseller. The treasure trove Bukovsky uncovered includes conversations between the Soviet leader Alexei Kosygin and his cabinet about the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and the Kremlin’s support for Middle Eastern terrorists, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev’s sabotage of the European Community and the pseudo-liberalism of Gorbachev’s “perestroika.” 

In 1992, using a portable computer with a handheld scanner (a miracle of Japanese technology), Bukovsky surreptitiously smuggled out thousands of pages before being discovered by the authorities and denied further access. But by then, he already had enough for a monumental tome that will change how we view both history and the present.

Chances are you haven’t read it. The reason is simple: It has taken nearly a quarter century for it to appear in English. Implicitly reinforcing the book’s subtitle, “Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity,” Random House backed out of its contract when Bukovsky refused to rewrite “the entire book from the point of view of a leftist liberal.” Most important, he was told to omit all mention of media companies (notably ABC, the BBC, and many others, including the film director Francis Ford Coppola’s company) entering into agreements with Moscow to publish articles “under the direct editorial control of the Soviets.”

Never mind that everythingincluding all the agreements and all the archival datais scrupulously documented. At issue was the entire narrative of the Cold War. Random House’s senior editor argued that it would “also surprise American readers to learn that such ‘liberal’ foundations as Ford, Rockefellers, etc., gave ‘billions’ to the peace movement. This simply isn’t true and will lead Americans to mistrust your argument in general.” 

Alas, it is all too true. What is more, the transcripts demonstrate that the “peace movement” was at bottom a sophisticated and far-ranging propaganda effort designed to weaken Western defenses. And while some of the Western participants were merely naïve, some knew exactly who paid them and why. Today at last, thanks to a group of volunteers who worked tirelessly for several years, and a small California publisher (Ninth of November Press) willing to buck the media establishment, Judgment in Moscow is now accessible to English-speaking readers, in Alyona Kojevnikov’s fine translation. It will now be much harder to ignore.

Revolutionary Pipeline

We shouldn’t be surprised that Gorbachev, the USSR’s last leader, encouraged his fellow Communist Party members and officers of the KGB to set up joint ventures with Western businesses. “Starting with laundering party funds and transferring the resources within their grasp (old, oil, rare metals),” writes Bukovsky, “these malevolent, mafia-like structures grew like a cancer, absorbing all ‘private’ enterprise in the countries of the former USSR.” The cancer has only spread since then. 

Bukovsky also uncovered a large “special file” containing requests advanced by various Communist Parties (notably those in Argentina, Panama, El Salvador, Uruguay, and Cuba) for Soviet intelligence, counterintelligence, and military training, along with weapons and other assistance. For example, a memo responding to the Communist Party of El Salvador dated July 23, 1980, tasked the USSR’s Ministry of Civil Aviation to arrange the delivery of between 60 and 80 tons of Western-manufactured firearms and ammunition from Hanoi to Havana, “to be passed on to our Salvadorean friends via Cuban comrades.” All expenses were to be charged “to the state budget as gratis aid.” 

Similarly, assistance for Palestinian terrorists, “for which there were [and still are] vehement denials of any connection by the Soviet leadership and its western apologists,” finds support in such documents as this memo from the head of the KGB to general secretary Leonid Brezhnev: “In accordance with the decision of the Central Committee of the CPSU, on 14 May 1975 the Committee for State Security gave trusted KGB intelligence agent, W. Haddad, head of the external operations section of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a consignment of foreign-produced arms and ammunition.” It concludes: “W. Haddad is the only foreigner who knows that the arms were supplied by us.” Now we all do.

USSR’s Diplomatic and Scholarly Enablers

Some documents Bukovsky confesses he never expected to see, especially those involving the founding and subsequent work of the prestigious Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues, known as the Palme Commission. This commission, formed in 1982 as a joint East-West effort to examine international security issues, included members from the East, the West, and the Third World. Among its Western delegates were prominent political figures such as former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, former British Foreign Secretary David Owen, and Egon Bahr, the former key aide to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.  

That it served as a Soviet instrument of propaganda was manifest. What proved shocking in the extreme was that Vance, Owen, and Bahr were fully aware that most of the commission’s recommendations “reflect[ed] the Soviet position on the key issues of disarmament and security in direct or indirect form,” as the Soviet delegate Georgy Arbatov reported to his Kremlin bosses. As a result, they “tried to avoid wording which would be an exact repetition of Soviet terminology, and explained in private conversations that they had to beware of accusations that they are following ‘Moscow policies.’” 

Comments Bukovsky: “As God is my witness, ‘paranoid’ though I may be, I never would have expected such cynicism, especially from Dr. David Owen.”

A catalogue of covert crimes, conspiracies, and subversion by self-serving hypocrites, the book has this question at its heart: “Are such concepts as good and evil, lies and truth, applicable to these people?” Bukovsky confesses: “I don’t know. Keep in mind that in communist newspeak such words, just as many others familiar to our ear, had a completely different meaning. The very ideas of ‘reality’ and ‘actuality’ meant something completely different in an ideological context.” What was done or not done on any given day “was known only at the top of the pyramid of power . . . . And if ideology could not rule through the law, then it becomes above the law, ruling from behind its back, as it were.”  

The secretiveness was, as it were, no secret; yet few had the courage to denounce the Soviet Emperor’s wretched nakedness.

If their own people were not fooled by propaganda and disinformation, the same cannot be said of Western journalists and other members of the elite. Some were unwilling to risk shaking their own belief in socialism’s superiority. For example, rather than castigate Gorbachev for trying to conceal the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and thereby putting at risk the health of millions, Western sympathizers chose to come away believing only that nuclear power plants are dangerous and should be opposed. 

To reach the widest possible audience with its version of what happened at Chernobyl, the Central Committee revved up an enormous machine of disinformation by the KGB’s International Department, the entity that is the main target of Judgement at Nuremberg.

Known as “active measures,” dezinformatsia relies on a whole system of “agents of influence.” Distinct from outright KGB operatives, these agents acted under varying motivations: “Some disseminated Soviet disinformation out of purely ideological motives, some to repay an old debt to that authority or because they expected a reciprocal favor or service, while others simply knew not what they did.” Among them were Sovietologists from universities in the West who were dependent on the regime for permission to travel to the USSR, on which rested their professional credentials. Conversely, Soviet citizens could not travel abroad without the approval of the KGB, which naturally expected something in return. 

Gorbachev Championed European Integration

But what about the much-touted liberalization of the 1980s? A sham. “Beyond doubt, glasnost and perestroika were a diabolical invention,” declares Bukovsky. Was Gorbachev a great “liberal”? Not according to the minutes of the Politburo meeting that was held on March 11, 1985, which show that he was the most cautious official present. What is more, his winning a “struggle for succession [as general secretary] is but one of many myths the Western media consumed without a second thought.” In fact, Gorbachev was unanimously elected general secretary.

Later, the wily leader’s decision to “pardon” some dissidents, which did much to earn him accolades from naïve Westerners, had been conditioned on their changing their tune—as many did. Meanwhile, an international seminar on human rights that was to be organized by the Glasnost Press Club (the real opposition) was forbidden by Alexander Yakovlev, the Politburo member and godfather of glasnost. Gorbachev’s regime used “the same KGB, the same ‘measures,’ the same abuse of power,” albeit in sheep’s clothing. Bukovsky has to admit that “not even Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan saw this.”

Finally, in the last chapter, comes evidence suggesting that the Iron Curtain did not fall entirely by chance. Minutes from a July 6, 1989, meeting between French Prime Minister Francois Mitterand and Gorbachev indicate that the two men had just agreed to an eventual European convergence, though hoping it would take at least another decade.  The idea was not to allow “freedom” but to simulate it, and control it.  

“The fall of the Berlin Wall and the following reunification of German came as no surprise to Moscow,” writes Bukovsky, “and did not herald a catastrophe for their ‘friends’ in the GDR [East Germany]. Immediately after [East German dictator Erich] Honecker was deposed, his successor Egon Krenz (formerly supervisor of the Stasi for the East German KGB) hurried to Moscow to report the details of the successful conspiracy to Gorbachev (1 Nov. 1989).” To which Gorbachev responded, regretfully: “I had reasonably good relations with E. Honecker, but he seems to have recently gone blind. If only he had accepted the necessary political changes on his own initiative 2-3 years ago, everything would be different now.” 

Morphing into a Post-Communist Feudal State

Maybe not entirely different. Certainly no one denies that history took a very different turn than that. And those high-level discussions resonate today: the plans and the strategy, the alliances both existing and planned. (“We have more active contacts with social circles in the USA than Europe”; we need to create “a regrouping of scientific forces. The forces are there, they just need to be regrouped.”) True, Gorbachev’s survival plan eventually went awry, for in 1991, Moscow itself succumbed, and Gorbachev lost power, for “deprived of a pivot, the country simply disintegrated into separate parts, controlled by the party mafias” that dominated regionally. The USSR had morphed into a post-communist feudal state, as “the ‘new’ political elite that had floated to the surface turned out to be the old nomenklatura which had had time to adapt itself to new conditions.” The oligarchs of today were seasoned in the putrid cauldron of yesterday. 

Echoing Judgment at Nuremberg, Judgment in Moscow (with the notable difference that nothing in it is fictional) implicitly becomes its ironic converse. That a judgment of the Marxist-Leninist tyrants in a manner comparable to their Nazi counterparts never took place was not merely a magnanimous gesture by the West to forego gloating over its alleged victory. Rather, it reflected, and reflects, the ways in which the West may not have won after all, any more than did the Russian people. 

If a trial had taken place when the Iron Curtain fell, the defendants would have had to include not only the criminal junta in the Kremlin but their co-conspirators, witting and unwitting, flirting with socialism and untruth in the decreasingly “free” world. 

But at least now we have the evidence—and in English.