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October 18, 2005

The Mitrokhin Archive II - Christopher Andrew & Vasili Mitrokhin

Posted by Harry Phibbs

The Mitrokhin Archive II: The KGB and the World
by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin
Pp. 704. London: Allen Lane, 2005
Hardback, 30

Vasili Mitrokhin, who worked as a senior KGB archivist, died last year. But his historical legacy remains. In 1992 then aged 70, Mitrokhin, left Russia together with his family and six large containers of KGB documents that he had secretly copied over 12 years and hidden beneath his dacha. This book, a weighty tome, and an earlier volume are the result.

The FBI has called the Mitrokhin archive:

the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source.
It is intensely embarrassing for those on the Left, who, perhaps sincerely, scorned the notion that they were being assisted by the KGB, for the full extent of it to be so thoroughly documented.

The Left are fond of complaining about the efforts of the CIA to overthrow Salvador Allende, the elected Marxist leader of Chile. But the attempt to romanticise Allende as a plucky underdog will be permanently undermined by the revelations about the support given to him and the control exercised over him by the KGB.

The historian Christopher Andrew has gone through the material to offer a fascinating synopsis:

Regular Soviet contact with Allende after his election was maintained not by the Soviet Ambassador but by his KGB case officer, Svyatoslav Kuznetsov, who was instructed by the centre to "exert a favourable influence on Chilean government policy". According to Allende's KGB file, he "was made to understand the necessity of reorganising Chile's army and intelligence services, and of setting up a relationship between Chile's and the USSR's intelligence services". Allende was said to react positively.
One reason that Allende was elected was his dapper dress sense and appreciation of the good life which the middles classes found reassuring. Of course it didn't come cheap:
In October 1971, on instructions from the Politburo, Allende was given $30,000 "in order to solidify the trusted relations" with him. Allende also mentioned to Kuznetsov his desire to acquire "one or two icons" for his private art collection. He was presented with two icons as a gift.
Kuznetsov's role in directing his charge had to be handled with some delicacy:
He arranged his regular meetings with Allende through the President's personal secretary, Miria Contreras Bell, known as La Payita and codenamed Marta by the KGB. La Payita was Allende's favourite mistress during his presidency. Kuznetsov reported that Allende was spending "a great deal of time" in her company. "His relationship with his wife has more than once been harmed as a result." Despite Allende's affairs, however, his wife, Hortensia, remained intensely loyal to him. Kuznetsov did his best to cultivate her as well as her husband.
One early coup attempt against Allende failed. The KGB briefing reported:
The column obeyed all the traffic lights and at least one tank stopped to fill up at a commercial gas station.
But Andrew goes on:
The most significant aspect of the failed coup was the apathetic response to it by Chilean workers. Allende broadcast an appeal for "the people . . . to pour into the centre of the city" to defend his Government. They did not do so. That highly significant fact was duly noted by the army chief of staff, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarre.
The latest batch from the Mitrokhin archive has also made uncomfortable reading for the Left in India, notably in the Congress Party. After Indira Gandhi signed a treaty of peace, friendship and co-operation with the Soviet Union, the KGB was anxious to do what it could to keep her in power.

Indira Gandhi was in a different category to Salvador Allende - there is no evidence that she was aware of the millions of roubles spent by the KGB in its efforts to bolster her. But like Allende she was susceptible to the odd trinket. It had started early. During her trip to Moscow in the 1950s, (when she accompanied her father the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru):

Khrushchev presented her with a mink coat which became one of the favourite items in her wardrobe - even though a few years earlier she had criticised the female Indian ambassador in Moscow for accepting a similar gift.
Certainly KGB efforts, which included getting newspapers and press agencies on their payroll, encouraged Gandhi to become paranoid about her opponents and would have encouraged her action in 1975 in introducing censorship in the media and putting opposition leaders under house arrest.

One of the weaknesses of the KGB reports was a desire to stress how effective their work was being. This would make it difficult to explain reverses such as Gandhi's defeat in the 1977 General Election.

Relations with Saddam Hussein proved more problematic. In 1972 Iraq and the Soviet Union signed a Treaty of Friendship and the Iraqi Communist Party was ordered into coalition with the Ba'ath regime. Saddam lined his bookshelves with Arabic translations of the collected works of Stalin. The KGB exploited this interest by arranging for Saddam to visit some of the villas along the Black Sea coast which had been reserved for Stalin's private use. Despite his admiration for Stalin, Saddam fell out with his own domestic Communists, although Moscow made no protest at his executions of Communist officials. The KGB had also been duplicitously secretly backing the Kurds at the same time as the Ba'athists.

Another weakness the KGB had was that nobody would trust them, certainly not Saddam. In February 1991 they showed him satellite imagery of Desert Storm showing the coalition forces about to launch a flanking attack rather than:

as was widely expected an amphibious operation directly against the occupying army in Kuwait. Saddam, however, interpreted this intelligence as an attempted Soviet deception agreed with the United States, and made no attempt to reinforce his position against the flanking attack. Partly as a result his forces were routed in only a hundred hours of ground warfare.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.


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It is slightly disappointing for Indians like me that Vasili Mitrokhin has not dwelled more thoroughly on Indian communists (how they were financed by the KGB).

But I hope that one day the nexus between the Indian Communists and the KGB can be brought out in the open in a more detailed and coherent manner.

Posted by: Anoop Verma at October 24, 2005 03:34 PM
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