Nostalgic Spies Unite

Russia is a country with an insuperable social order. Officially split from communism, it still makes its foreign policy decisions under pressure from the mighty communist lobby. This lobby doesn't even bother to hide itself. It encompasses the leadership of the army, of the security services and, of course, the Foreign Ministry.

Precisely because of this influence, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reacted to news of corruption allegations surrounding the Bank of New York scandal by denouncing America and taking a nationalist line. He announced that this scandal was the work of a few political circles in the United States who were trying to portray the whole of Russian business as criminal.

Actually, it turns out that it is entirely criminal - if only for two reasons. Absolutely every Russian businessman conceals a part of his profits from our ridiculously high taxes. Also, every businessman, willingly or unwillingly, has some contact with the mafia - and doesn't tell the police about it. Both of these, according to the letter of Russian law, are crimes, and by default, all Russian businessmen, to one degree or another, are criminals.

The American punctiliousness with regard to the law irritates many Russian bosses. These bosses much prefer the methods of China, where the law is dictated by party bureaucracy - a system that makes them wax nostalgic.

In recent months, the idea of a strategic Russian partnership with China has picked up tempo. This is a partnership that would forge cooperation between not only the Chinese and Russian armies, but between their intelligence agencies as well. Is such a partnership already under way?

Before I left the KGB in 1991, I worked as the assessor for the head of the technical intelligence division on China, and such a partnership definitely doesn't seem out of the question to me. It is likely already under discussion: Currently, every series of talks and negotiations between Russia and China includes on its roster a representative of those countries' respective intelligence agencies.

Getting things going in such a joint effort would be easy. After all, both intelligence agencies grew from the same root. Right up to the beginning of the 1960s, the leading posts in Chinese intelligence were held by people from Lubyanka. Relations cooled, and the Soviets went home. But the same people that wanted them there in the first place are in power in China to this day.

The cooperation between Russian and Chinese spies would be easy from a psychological point of view as well. After all, the Chinese spies are communists. The Russians are all former members of the Communist Party, and they maintain great nostalgia for communist times, when their pay and their prestige were higher. They don't hide their communist sympathies. In Russia, that Stalin-era form of address "comrade" peppers their speech like a pet-name. It would be very easy for the Russians to find a common language with the Chinese. At the same time, Russian spies don't like America at all, and blame it, as the bulwark of world capitalism, for all the misfortunes that befell Russia after the fall of the KGB.

Furthermore, Russian espionage against China is carried out very half-heartedly. China, after all, is the last bastion of world communism, and a lot of Russia's spies and spymasters, being communists themselves, don't want to give China too hard a time.

Interestingly, it wasn't like this at all during Soviet times. The KGB worked very hard against China. KGB operatives all over the world participated in this spying mission, recruiting informants not only in China, but in many other countries as well. I, for instance, recruited Chinese scholars in Tokyo. Such far-flung operations were explained by the fact that Peking had very strong counterintelligence operations in place. Every Soviet spy in the city was tailed by literally hundreds of Chinese spies. It was impossible to get away from them. Because of this, Yury Andropov, a former spymaster himself, ordered the KGB to develop its position against China from abroad.

At times, such an approach looked absolutely ridiculous. For instance, as soon as a Russian agent would walk up to a Chinese student on the streets of Stockholm and speak to him in Chinese, the student would understand immediately he was being recruited to spy and would run away.

Some, however, would agree to the work. They would go with the Russian agent to restaurants, accept the agent's money and give him virtually worthless intelligence. Then, at the end of their business trips or school exchange programs, these contacts would return to China and disappear.

In the end, spying on the Chinese was one of the most difficult operations for the KGB. It wasn't just the hopelessness of Chinese citizens as agents, but the striking similarity of the Russian and Chinese intelligence communities that made it that way. They were like twin brothers. Nearly everything coincided - their methods, their thought and even the number of departments. That made it hard for the Russians to deceive them.

Now, such a state of affairs between the two intelligence agencies could be used to deploy cooperative intelligence against a common enemy. It was thus with Bulgaria, with whom Russia spied on Turkey. Friendly meetings of like-minded opponents of the United States will take place in Moscow and in Peking. But with Russia's foreign policy goals unclear in comparison to China's, what can Moscow expect to get from this? For Russian agents, sweet nostalgia is probably enough.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a former lieutenant colonel in the KBG. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.