The Moscow News (not to be confused with MosNews.com) has been carrying some provocative articles by former Prime Minister and Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov.
Apart from joining in the tedious neo-Soviet outrage at Estonia ’s statue “blasphemy” and advocating an economic blockade of the country, he also took a firm side-swipe at America in an article last week which, though many readers would not have been aware of it, reeked of hypocrisy.
Here is the opening paragraph of the piece in which he linked the current American administration with the totalitarian regime which built the Berlin Wall (the full article is reproduced below):
"The Berlin Wall separated a single nation. As I watched a jubilant crowd tear it down on my TV, I couldn't imagine that the ruthless and at the same time reckless builders of such a structure would eventually have an imitator. But they do: the U.S. occupation force in Iraq ."
“Ruthless” and “Reckless”? Well, that’s a bit rich coming from someone who is a little bit closer to the old regime than his title in the article headline (“Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences”) would indicate.
Primakov was already working as an informer for the KGB while a student in the early 1950s. While ostensibly a leading Russian journalist in the Middle East for the next 15 years he was in fact a member of the KGB, working under the code name “Maksim”. This is not an urban myth or part of some conspiracy theory – the publication of the Mitrokhin archive documented what was already well-known in the western intelligence community.
Primakov’s KGB code name would appear to be derived from his patronymic, Maksimovich, but here there is riddle: Primakov’s father, one of the many Red Army officers shot by Stalin in the 1930s, was called was actually Vitaly, not Maksim. Yevgeny’s full name, with the patronymic derived from his father’s name, should therefore be Yevgeny Vitalievich Primakov, not Yevgeny Maximovich Primakov. And yet he calls himself Yevgeny Maksimovich.
One possible reason why he changed his name was to hide his origins, knowing that, being his father’s son, he would be marked for arrest. They would have got him anyway. As it happens, he escaped the gulag, but not by luck or by keeping his head down. He joined the enemy. If we didn’t already have evidence of his collaboration with the NKVD/KGB, the fact that the son of so notable a purge victim survived the Stalin era unscathed would be enough to strongly hint, to those who know about these things, that he was working for the Lubyanka.
One of his fellow students, who ended up in the camps, remains convinced that Primakov betrayed him to KGB. In the Khrushchev era, another colleague’s career was destroyed when he was denounced by Primakov. Both would say they think Primakov was a nasty piece of work. And these are just two stories that are known. People don’t willingly broadcast dirt on a former Director of the SVR, so there may be many more stories out there that people have so far been unwilling to tell. (Why not post one on LR if you know one?)
And, before you get too sympathetic with the possibility that he collaborated under duress, Primakov didn’t just behave like this in the 50s. He was a willing participant in Soviet repression for decades. In the mid 70s, at the height of the crisis over the Jewish refusniks who were being thrown in psychiatric hospitals by the organisation he had then worked for for 20 years, Primakov had a chance meeting in the USA with one of his former victims. With a directness that would have been impossible back home in the Soviet Union the other man asked Primakov straight out why he, a Jew, so strongly supported the Soviet Government’s anti-Israel line; indeed, Primakov had contributed to it for many years – as his subsequent friendship with Saddam Hussein and his bitterness towards America when it invaded Iraq showed only too clearly. (Don’t forget that the KBG trained Saddam’s secret police. I wonder who set that up?).
Primakov’s answer was revealing. “Stalin may have murdered my father, but that doesn’t make me anti-Soviet”.
And there you have it. Although that reply was given thirty years ago, it still sums up the sheer inanity of Russian attitudes to the old days and to democratic freedom today. The direct political forbears of the current Russian president imprisoned one in seven of their own population, killed a further 7 million, shot 20,000 Poles at Katyn, trampled all over the Baltic States, and through their paranoia brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation….. but that isn’t enough to make many of today’s Russians, notaligic for the past glories of the USSR , sit up and question if their views of those days and of Russia's situation today are some surreal fantasy of their own imagining. If challenged, they would have their own equivalent of Primakov’s answer: “We may be willingly ruled by a clique of corrupt, anti-democratic silovki, but that doesn’t make us anti-Russian… So stuff the Estonians, stuff the Georgians, stuff the Poles, stuff the West, stuff everybody. Russia for the Russians!”.
Which brings me back to my original subject. Just who, of those who really know about him, does Yevgeny Maksimovich actually think he is fooling when he calls the regime that erected the Berlin Wall “ruthless” and “reckless”?
He served them. For years. And, as for idea that Primakov ever believed that Germany should have been left as one nation undivided (except wholly ruled by the Red Army), what does he think we are smoking?
And there’s another little mystery about Primakov. It probably is of no consequence. For the last six months the authors of the Wikipedia article on Primakov have been having a very typical Wikipedia dispute about his name - not his patronymic but over the suggestion that he was actually was born ‘Pinchas Finkelstein’. One month it’s in the article, the next it’s deleted. Currently, it’s back on. It seems to have originated on some on some rather unpleasant right-wing anti-Semitic websites. Does anyone know who Pinchas Finkelstein was?