Anna Berseneva, writer
Most "it can't be!" about modern phenomena, they are pronounced with distrust or indignation only because too many people have the memory of aquarium fish and their desire for knowledge. Meanwhile, it is enough to learn about how this or that social institution is arranged in its historical perspective, and many current events that seemed inexplicable, illogical, “unprofitable” become clear as glass.
Book by Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan “Our own among strangers. Political émigrés and the Kremlin: Compatriots, Agents and Enemies of the Regime” (Moscow: Alpina Publisher. 2020. Translated from English by Irina Evstigneyeva) are among the best clarifying ones. Its authors are investigative journalists who have been writing for many years "about the methods the Kremlin uses to control our citizens". Their first book, The New Nobility, was dedicated to the special services, while the second, Battle for Runet, talked about the fight against the free Internet. “In this book we write about emigrants as a political force that the inhabitants of the Kremlin have always reckoned with - a threat, but at the same time an opportunity. Our book is also about how the West used Russians abroad during the Cold War”, - they report.
This book is almost devoid of emotion. This property could be considered a disadvantage if the content itself did not inflict such a strong emotional blow on the normal psyche that any stylistic tricks seem superfluous. A striking example of this is the description of how the attack on Trotsky was prepared and carried out on August 20, 1940, which led to his death. A year after the war, the successful organizer of this political assassination, Naum Eitingon, “was instructed to help create a new department, which was to deal with the physical elimination of the opponents of the USSR. Eitingon's new department immediately began liquidations. Among those they killed were a bishop of the Greek Catholic Church, a Polish engineer, a Ukrainian activist, and others. All these people died from injections of poison developed by a secret Soviet laboratory".
Soldatov and Borogan are not the first to write about this laboratory. Despite its secrecy, some details about it are already known - after all, there have been short periods in Russian history, during which researchers were in a hurry to disclose as much information of this kind as possible, both domestically and abroad. Therefore, in the book "Ours Among Strangers" the quintessence of this information is simply recorded: "Stalin had his own "death doctor", Grigory Mairanovsky, professor, colonel of the State Security Service, who headed the secret laboratory H1, where toxic substances were developed. He conducted his experiments with poisons on living people - mainly political prisoners. " The emotionless tone does not make the meaning of these words any less monstrous.
The book notes that after the official de-Stalinization in the late 1950s, the KGB announced that it had refused to liquidate abroad. However, the reality under study shows that the methods of his work with emigrants in the 70s did not undergo fundamental changes.
Like Trotsky forty years earlier, “no less than four Czech intelligence agents were introduced into the circle of exiled Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Zurich, who informed the KGB about every step the exile took”.
"Service "A", which was responsible for disinformation abroad - in the KGB slang" active measures", - spread dirty rumors and gossip about prominent emigrants."
Eitingon's methods also worked directly - in full accordance with them, Directorate K, one of the main KGB intelligence units dealing with the “problem” of the Russian diaspora, in 1978 organized in London the poisoning of the Bulgarian political emigrant Markov with an injection of a poisoned umbrella.
The collapse of the USSR changed a lot in the life of the country, but not that. About how active measures were carried out in post-Soviet Russia, contributing to the spread abroad of false news fabricated by the KGB, Soldatov and Borogan write in connection with the Shebarshin plan. During perestroika, this head of the First Main Directorate of the KGB formulated new tasks as follows: "Service" A "generates and formulates specific ideas, makes false papers, and publishes exposing literature on behalf of dummy authors".
It was about the manipulation of public opinion within the country by the methods that had been perfected by many years of work abroad:
“In October 1990, Shebarshin decided to redirect this weapon to his fellow citizens. Now that Service "A" was assigned such an important role, the chief of foreign intelligence found it necessary to take it under his personal tutelage. For this, he chose the usual tactics - denial and deception".
The rebranding was continued by Yevgeny Primakov, after which “the new image of the foreign intelligence service was taken seriously even by many liberal journalists. Active measures inside Russia turned out to be just as effective as abroad. Shebarshin's plan worked. Now a way had to be found to promote this new progressive image of Russian intelligence abroad, primarily in the United States”.
There have certainly been successes in this promotion, but their scale should not be exaggerated. The book quotes American Congressman James Leach, who in 1999 initiated hearings on Russian money laundering: “When we look at today's Russia and see the penetration of the former KGB into the financial system, into the economy, we ask ourselves: what makes Russia unique against the background other current kleptocracies? First, it is a large and unusual country; secondly, in many respects it is a backward economy, but incredibly developed in some areas, such as intelligence. The world has never seen such a combination of kleptocratic greed with centralized control, bureaucratization and such a historical tradition of coercion and repression".
The last part of the book is called "The Putin Project". Perhaps the author's tone in it is even more dispassionate than in the previous parts, and this helps to understand the essence of what has been written:
“Post-Soviet intelligence officers continued to adhere to old traditions and methods of work. Russian intelligence turned out to be a self-replicating system. Disinformation was and remains the most important method, a key tool in the arsenal of its means. In the 2000s, after making a small rebranding, the intelligence continued to work with the old methods and carried out active activities abroad in the same way as the KGB intelligence did during the Cold War.
The work on the adoption of the Magnitsky Law, the poisoning of journalist and politician Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., the death of Boris Nemtsov - by the time the reader gets to these terrible events, the context in which they are written is completely clear to him. He is as stunning as he is convincing.
Hollywood filmmakers, on some occasion learning about certain events in Russian history, are shocked to ask: why don't you develop all this for cinema, after all, this is a drama of great tension! The book "Ours Among Strangers" really contains episodes on which the suspense of big series could rest. What is the only story of Zoya Zarubina, who, as a child, brought her stepfather Eitingon's pistol out of the Soviet consulate in Harbin in 1929 so that he would not be arrested by the police, and then, in her youth, became a military saboteur.
But it makes sense to shoot such a series only if it is done as honestly as the book by Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan was written.
I would like to hope that someday we will wait for this honest suspense.