Accuracy in Media

In late January, while the U.S. continued to be focused on developments in Iraq, the Russian military launched the largest exercise of its strategic nuclear forces since 1982. Russian generals said the exercise was not intended as “saber rattling” against the U.S. or NATO. But they did admit the strategic exercise’s main theme was “averting power pressure on the Russian Federation.” And one senior Russian General Staff official told reporters that the exercise was held in response to developments in U.S. national security policy.

Colonel-General Yuri Baluyevsky said that the Russian General Staff is worried about U.S. plans to develop low-yield nuclear weapons and ballistic missile defenses. He claimed that the General Staff fears that, when combined with a new emphasis on preemption in U.S. strategic policy, these developments could “lower the threshold of nuclear weapons use.” Media reports from Moscow indicated that the exercise would feature live launches of Russian strategic missiles and mock attacks by strategic bombers.

The 1982 Soviet General Staff strategic forces exercise was the largest-ever test of Moscow’s nuclear command and control system. It also came in the midst of a huge Soviet intelligence operation codenamed “R’yan.” According to classified KGB materials given to the West by Soviet defector Vasili Mitrokhin, “R’yan” was intended to collect intelligence on the Reagan administration’s purported plans to launch a nuclear first strike against the former Soviet Union. That exercise also featured live launches by land- and sea-based strategic ballistic missiles and strategic air operations.

This time around, Russian announcements of the exercise went almost unnoticed or were buried in the U.S. media. Consumed by controversies over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the President’s military records, the import and implications of the Russian exercise have gone practically unnoticed.

The media finally took notice of the exercise after two attempted missile launches by the navy failed. A story about the failures appeared back on page 20 of the Washington Post. But a launch of a land-based ICBM was said to be successful. President Vladimir Putin, a former Soviet KGB officer, used the exercise to announce Russian plans to develop a new generation of strategic weapons, including hypersonic vehicles and maneuvering warheads. Both would be intended to defeat U.S. ballistic missile defenses, although Pentagon spokesmen said that U.S. defenses are not intended to thwart a Russian missile attack. Most reports characterized Putin’s statements as mere campaign rhetoric in advance of the March presidential election, which he was heavily favored to win.

Russian Economic Gains

Russia has made dramatic economic progress, which provides the basis for military expansion. Alexey Borodavkin, the Ambassador of Russia to Slovakia, bragged that, “The economic situation in Russia has also altered radically. Since 1999, GDP has grown by almost 30 percent. The inflation rate has fallen by two-thirds. Structural changes in the economy can be seen in increased investments in manufacturing and services and, most importantly, in the development of the domestic market?the growth of internal consumption. Financial independence and the stable exchange rate of the ruble are some of Russia’s fundamental achievements in recent years. The problem of foreign debt payments has been virtually resolved. At the same time, the gold and foreign currency reserves of the Central Bank have reached over $84 billion, the highest in the country’s entire history, including the Soviet period.”

Paul Weyrich, chairman of the conservative Washington D.C.-based Free Congress Foundation, has praised Putin for his economic and social policies. In regard to the latter, Weyrich contends that Putin is an Orthodox Christian and has presided over the revival of religious freedom in Russia. Putin “does not want Russia to become an Islamic state,” says Weyrich. “America has a great interest in the revival of Christianity in Russia.” Putin has even indicated that he would favor a visit to Russia by Pope John Paul II, who wants more freedom for the Catholic Church to attract followers. But the Orthodox Church is resisting such a visit.

Islamic terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden in Chechnya, a province of Russia, continue to stage bombings and attacks on Russian citizens. Thirty-nine people were killed on Feb. 6th in a Moscow subway bombing blamed on Chechen suicide terrorists. Their aim is to create an Islamic state in Chechnya and break away from Russia. Putin has deployed the Russian military in a brutal campaign against the terrorists that has alarmed some human rights advocates. 

Duranty-style Coverage?

While conceding that Putin is ruling Russia with an “iron fist,” Weyrich says this is what most Russians want at this time in history. Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of Chronicles of Culture Magazine, says that Putin is trying to hold Russia together in the face of social disintegration. He contends that controversial billionaire George Soros is “out to deconstruct” Russia by supporting homosexuality, abortion and other causes that will continue to tear the country’s social fabric apart. He notes that Soros has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars and established Soros Foundations in Russia and throughout the region for the purpose of what Soros calls an “open society.” Soros, whose offices were raided in Moscow last November, contends that “Russia can no longer be considered a democracy.”

It would be understandable for Putin to resist the Soros influence in Russia, just as many Americans are exposing and countering his influence here. But Putin seems opposed to Western-style political democracy in general. Some even contend that Putin is destroying Russia’s fledgling democracy and that the U.S. media are ignoring that story altogether. Masha Gessen, former U.S. News and World Report’s Moscow bureau chief, suggests that the media’s coverage of Putin has come to resemble the New York Times’ favorable reporting on Stalin’s Soviet Russia in the early 1930s by correspondent Walter Duranty.

Putin’s Attack On The Media

Putin won a presidential election and took up his new duties in May 2000. One of his first moves was to close the only independent national television network then operating in Russia.  Since then, his attack on Russia’s independent media has been relentless. He has moved quickly to suppress any potential sources of criticism against him or his government. In shades of the Soviet period, for example, the Washington Post reported that, in September 2003, a government-run opinion-polling agency had been “purged” when it published polling results unfavorable to the Putin government. Apparently, Putin had taken exception to a recent poll showing that public support in Russia for the war in Chechnya had fallen to 28 percent.

In the aftermath of parliamentary elections last December, an analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty noted that Putin’s government had seized control of all national television networks, and potential political opponents were arrested or driven out of the country. But the election outcome was spun differently by much of the U.S. media. The New York Times editorialized that, despite the human rights violations, Russia was inching toward democracy and that it was “heartening?to see Russians voting freely.”  Contrast that with the London-based Economist’s conclusion that the election results were “a democrat’s nightmare.” 

Some in the Bush administration seem to believe that democracy in Russia is in peril. In late January, about the same time as the Russian strategic exercise began, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Moscow and chided Putin about U.S. concerns over his government’s suppression of a free media and “certain other actions.” He warned, “More can be done” to complete what he said has already been “a remarkable transformation to a democratic system of government.” In an editorial published in the Russian newspaper Izvestiya, he tiptoed around Russia’s failure to yet find “the essential balance among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.” He also wrote of “concern” over “certain aspects of internal Russian policy in Chechnya.”

Even that earned him a rebuke on the Times’ editorial page. The Times criticized Powell’s prodding as “nothing more than a play to election-year politics,” while noting at the same time that Powell had finally ended “Washington’s studied silence about Russia’s glaring faults.”

Fewer Reporters

Flaws in U.S. coverage have been attributed to the downsizing of the media presence in Moscow. This is a shortsighted policy for a country that could develop into another threat to America. Despite all the good feelings between Russia and the U.S. stemming from cooperation in the war on terrorism, the Russians continue to modernize their strategic nuclear arsenal. Russia is also reportedly developing a new strategic stealth bomber and stealth cruise missile.

We shouldn’t forget that Russia is one of only two countries that have the capability to totally annihilate us.


Two heroes of the old Cold War died recently within just a few weeks of each other. On January 23, the British government announced the death of Vasili Mitrokhin, 81, of pneumonia. He was a former Soviet KGB archivist who defected to the West in 1992, bringing with him six trunks full of notes he had copied from classified KGB files. Some of that material found its way into an expos? of KGB operations in the United States and Europe entitled, The Sword and the Shield, published in 1999. British Professor Christopher Andrew, an expert on Soviet intelligence, authored the book “in consultation” with Mitrokhin. The book identified a number of Soviet spies in both the U.S. and Britain; its publication in Britain created a scandal when it was learned that the British government had failed to move against Soviet agents first identified by Mitrokhin in the early 1990s. For U. S. readers, Mitrokhin’s documents confirmed long-held suspicions that Harry Hopkins, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most trusted aide, was a Soviet agent.

Crimes Against Humanity

According to a biography supplied by Andrew, Mitrokhin joined the Soviet foreign intelligence services in 1948. He served in East Germany, but became disillusioned with the Soviet Union after Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech in February 1956. In that speech, Khrushchev blamed the Great Terror of the 1930s on Joseph Stalin’s “cult of personality,” but Mitrokhin would later say that the question uppermost in the minds of many KGB officers was “Where was Khrushchev while all these crimes were taking place?”

Mitrokhin says that he became too outspoken for his own good and was transferring from operations to a job in the KGB’s archives. He started to follow the underground literature and especially the samizdat publications like Chronicle of Current Events in the early 1970s. He hit on the idea of creating a similar record chronicling the history of the foreign operations of the KGB and its predecessors.

In 1972, he was given the task of overseeing the movement of nearly 300,000 secret files to a new KGB building outside of Moscow. In this position, he had access to practically the entire history of the Soviet foreign intelligence services dating back to the Russian Civil War in 1918. He was able to read and review secret files only available to the most senior intelligence officials and he soon began making notes that he carried out of the building each evening. This went on for twelve years until his retirement in 1984. He says that he was never stopped or searched on exit; he hid the notes on his person and the KGB gate guards checked only his briefcase or bags. Skeptics have wondered how Mitrokhin managed to evade security for all this time and, on this basis, have questioned the authenticity of the book.

But a retired CIA counterintelligence expert labeled The Sword and The Shield “one of the most important and valuable books to date on the Cold War and espionage in general.” Paul J. Redmond spent 30 years in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations fighting the Soviet intelligence services. In his last position, he was the senior advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on counterintelligence matters. Redmond is credited by many with the unmasking of CIA mole Aldrich Ames, a claim that Redmond denies.

Moral High Ground?

In a recent book review, Redmond thinks the West is lucky to have come into possession of Mitrokhin’s treasures. He writes that Mitrokhin tried to defect to the CIA twice, but was turned away both times. He writes that the head of CIA’s Soviet operations told him that “The KGB is dead,” and “We must maintain the high moral ground.” The Cold War was declared over in the early 1990s and the CIA had stopped trying to recruit East Bloc intelligence officers.

That’s ironic, since it is known that during the 1990s, the Russians had more intelligence officers operating in the United States than ever before.  Travel restrictions on diplomatic personnel had been eased; so Russian spies were freer to move around at the same time that the FBI was cutting back its counterintelligence capabilities.  Redmond has reported that during this period the Defense Department’s intelligence agency issued “no escort” badges to Russian military intelligence officers that allowed these spies to roam the Pentagon hallways unhindered by “burdensome” security restrictions.

Mitrokhin’s files also revealed the stunning successes of the KGB’s operations collecting the secrets of U.S. defense industries. The combination of poor security at U.S. defense labs and contractors and the susceptibility of U.S. scientists to overtures from their counterparts in the Soviet Union enabled the Soviets to save billions of rubles and years of man-effort in their own defense industries. The Sword and the Shield is most valuable for its description of KGB operations that relied on top Soviet scientists for access to U.S. defense technology secrets.

Mitrokhin also used his files to write a paper on the KGB in Afghanistan that was published by the Cold War History Project. Mitrokhin wrote the paper in the late 1980s and considered it the first in a book series he wanted to call In the Footsteps of Filth. Like The Sword and the Shield, Mitrokhin’s manuscript provides some very embarrassing details about the interactions between American politicians and the Soviet leadership, with the KGB often acting as a go-between. For example, Mitrokhin discusses overtures made by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to the Soviets for the purpose of enhancing and advancing Kennedy’s political career. This information was conveyed to the Soviet leadership via KGB reports.

Soviet Collaborator

Herbert Romerstein, a former staff member of the House Intelligence Committee, says the evidence shows that Kennedy, a key supporter of Senator John Kerry’s presidential bid, was a “collaborationist” who “aided the KGB for his own purposes.”

The other Cold War hero to die recently was former Polish Army Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, who died February 5. Kuklinski was less well known to the American public, but he may have been one of the most important men ever to spy for the United States. CIA officials have called him “our second Penkovsky,” a reference to Soviet Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, who spied for the U.S. in the early 1960s. Penkovsky provided critical data on Soviet missile forces and intentions during the 1961 Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Kuklinski, on the other hand, worked for the U.S. for nearly ten years from his position inside the Polish General Staff. Kuklinski is best known for providing the U.S. with details of Warsaw Pact plans to impose martial law on Poland in 1980-1981. But Kuklinski is said to have also passed along details about Soviet war planning against NATO, Warsaw Pact wartime command and control procedures, information on Soviet/Warsaw Pact mobilization activities, and information on about 200 advanced weapons systems.

Along with materials from the Soviet General Staff provided by Afghans who had studied at Soviet war colleges, this information changed the way the U.S./NATO prepared for a possible Warsaw Pact invasion of Europe.

Kuklinski would say that he spied for the CIA as part of an overall resistance against Soviet domination. He said he was part of a group of Polish military patriots who were prepared to sabotage the Soviet military in the event of an invasion. Discouraged by the CIA, these patriots opted to provide the U.S. with classified details on Warsaw Pact military planning and weapons systems.

Damage To The Communists

Over the course of his spy career, he is said to have given the U.S. about 35,000 pages of documents; so much in fact, that an internal Polish damage assessment concluded that “there was no point in changing anything (in Polish military plans) because we would have had to change virtually everything.”

After his defection in 1981, he was sentenced to death in absentia, but was finally pardoned in 1997. CIA Director George J. Tenet credited Kuklinksi’s “bravery and sacrifice” as contributing to the liberation of Poland and other East European nations from Soviet domination.

Now, that liberation is threatened by the rise of an authoritarian Russian ruler, Vladimir Putin, who may be laying the groundwork for a new dictatorship.

As the March 14 Russian election was approaching, one candidate, Irina Khakamada, said the media coverage was so heavily biased in favor of Putin that she was considering pulling out. The BBC quoted her as saying that, “The election campaign is acquiring ever more features of lawlessness and lies. In this situation, a competitive contest of ideas and alternatives becomes impossible.”

Doesn’t Russia’s emergence as a potential threat?and the possible destruction of its emerging democracy?deserve more media attention?

What You Can Do

Send cards and letters to Neil Shapiro, president of NBC News, and Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe. Also, be sure to order Ed Pawlick’s new book, Libel by the New York Times, on the media push for homosexual marriage.

Mr. Thomas Oliphant

The Boston Globe

1130 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

Suite 520
Washington, D.C. 20036


Mr. Neil Shapiro


NBC News

30 Rockefeller Plaza

New York, N.Y. 10112

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