SAN FRANCISCO - President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan took a slim blue-bound
volume off a shelf in his study and handed it to me. 'Here, this was just
given to me by the Soviet Ambassador. It contains a summary of Soviet
Zia continued, 'the ambassador told me, "Your Excellency, American foreign
policy is constantly changing. Americans are undependable allies. Russian
and Soviet policy never changes. Read this book fifteen or fifty years from
now and Russia's policy will be the same as today, no matter who rules in
That was fifteen years ago. Since then, Zia was murdered, probably by the
Soviet KGB; the Soviet Empire collapsed; the Cold War officially ended; and
the world entered a new era of cooperation and harmony.
Or so most Americans believe. Last week' s accusations of espionage against
a senior FBI agent, Philip Hanssen, shocked the nation and produced the
universal response, 'but I thought the Cold War was over!'
Hardly. Since 1991, operations by SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence
(formerly KGB) have increased 50% in North America and Europe. Moscow
Center clearly scored a remarkable coup by placing two spies, Aldrich Ames
and Philip Hanssen, at the very nerve center of both CIA and FBI. Each was
able to provide enormous amounts of top secret data, confirm the validity
of the other's information, unmask western agents in Russia, and sabotage
US counterintelligence operations. The USSR/Russia reportedly executed at
least eleven American agents exposed by Ames and Hanssen.
Moscow Center, in spite of a far smaller budget than CIA, scored a grand
slam. But there is nothing novel or shocking about this triumph. Americans
are being naive when they believe spying and US-Russian rivalry is a thing
of the past.
In a recent poll, Americans were asked to rate the greatest national
security threat to their nation. Thirty- six percent named China; 15% cited
Iraq. Amazingly, only 8% named Russia.
China has only a handful of primitive ICBM' S pointed at the United States.
Iraq's military forces are about equal to Romania's during World War I and,
contrary to propaganda, have zero offensive capability.
By contrast, Russia has thousands of nuclear warheads targeted on the US
and is modernizing its sea and land-based ICBM missiles. But during the
Clinton era, Russia was portrayed as a friendly power, or even ally, by the
White House and much of North America's media. Boris Yeltsin's 'democratic'
Russia was given US $120 billion in western aid to keep the communists at
bay, withdraw the Red Army from Germany and Eastern Europe, and allow the
US to keep bashing Iraq. Most of this money was stolen.
Under veteran KGB-agent Vladimir Putin, Russia is quickly dropping its
pretense of being an American partner and reverting back to traditional
national geopolitical interests. With the Kremlin firmly in the hands of
KGB's Young Turks and the military, Moscow is flexing its muscles,
particularly across the expanse of the former Soviet Union.
In the Caucasus, Moscow is waging a second brutal, criminal war against the
Chechen. The Russians are arming Armenia while destabilizing Georgia and
Azerbaijan. Independence movements in Ingushetia and Dagestan have been
In Central Asia, 25,000 Russian troops are battling Muslim insurgents in
Tajikistan. KGB security forces keep the communist rulers of Uzbekistan,
Kazakhstan, and Kyrgystan in power. Moscow is accelerating support for its
long-time henchman in war-torn Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Massoud, sending him
arms, money, troops, and advisors. Russia appears determined to reassert
its influence over Afghanistan, where it was defeated a decade ago.
Moscow has revived its old Cold War strategic alliance with India,
providing Delhi with billions in bargain-priced arms and with missile and
nuclear weapons technology. Russia is helping Indian scientists develop an
ICBM that will eventually be able to hit North America. Russia is selling
arms to China to counter American Pacific forces.
In Europe, Russia continues to back Serbia with oil, arms, and money,
destabilize Ukraine, and to intimidate the tiny Baltic states and East
Europe's new NATO members. KGB is especially active in Ukraine and Poland,
sowing political unrest and preparing for a one-day return of Russian
But all of this is natural. Russia is merely returning to its usual habits
after ten years of temporary political coma and rampant gangsterism under
Yeltsin. Putin has made clear his intention to rebuild Russia's military
and political power, and restore his rundown nation to its former
greatness. As this column has been saying for a decade, it is Russia's
manifest geopolitical destiny to keep expanding its spheres of interest
into East Europe, the Baltic, Mideast, South Asia, and North Asia - and to
inevitably clash with its natural superpower foe, the United States and its
Russia and the United States, as it was said of the late British Empire,
have no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. The great
Russian-US rivalry we called the Cold War did not end. It was merely
suspended for ten years and is now returning with renewed vigor. The words
and faces are different, but the song remains the same. Americans should
not be surprised that Russians are acting... like Russians.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2001