Korean War in Moscow

The spy war between Russia and South Korea has entered a decisive phase. Two diplomat-agents have been deported from both countries and more deportations are ahead. But there is a third participant in this war -- Pyongyang, which is acting secretly and is profiting the most.

This war started 1 1/2 years ago, not recently. The expulsion of South Korean diplomat Cho Seong-ho is only the second episode. But the first was the murder of South Korean consul Cho Do-kim in Vladivostok. He was interested in Russia's relations with North Korea, which is why soon afterwards he was found dead -- with three stab wounds cut in a small row on his body after he was already dead. This is the work of North Korean intelligence. Nobody in Vladivostok doubts that it was specifically they who killed Cho, but when local journalists contacted the regional police department over the case (which was actually being handled by the FSB), they got a cold reception.

When I studied in the Minsk counterintelligence school in the '70s, instructors knitted their eyebrows when talk turned to the spying that North Korea was doing on Russia.

"Every year nearly 100 lumbermen from the North Korean logging enterprise in the city of Chegdomyn in Khabarovsk region disappear. They all become illegal agents on the immense expanses of our motherland. But we are forced to keep quiet, so as not to spoil relations with brotherly Korea and personally with comrade Kim Il Sung ..."

It seems that such a stance is being held to this day. North Korean intelligence is freely operating in Russia, as are its colleagues from Iraq, Iran, China, Cuba and other friends of the State Duma's Communist faction. There are never any spy scandals with these agents, only with Western ones. The FSB is friends with the Communists.

The very activities of official North Korean organizations in Russia carry an obviously illegal character. At the logging enterprises rented by North Korea in Siberia and in the Far East, Russian laws are not observed, illegal tortures and executions are carried out. Russian and foreign journalists are not permitted there, and this breaks the Russian law on mass media. Lastly, these firms possess an illegal right of extraterritoriality, like an embassy. People say that the Korean lumbermen who try to escape end up getting their legs broken and sent back to North Korea in wheelchairs as victims of the labor front. Nobody knows what happens to them then.

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov has more than once criticized the human rights violations in civilized Latvia, but not once has he made any statement on the scandalous crimes against humanity in North Korea. This is also not surprising, because many former officials of the Communist Party's Central Committee have found refuge in the Foreign Ministry. And if young diplomats are apolitical enough and think not about communism so much as money, then the old men, as they did before, cherish the communist dream. They view North Korea as an ally that will support them after a communist coup d'etat happens in Russia.

It is obvious that the current spy scandal has been incited not so much by the FSB as by the Foreign Ministry. With its help, the old-guard diplomats are trying to win the love of a loyal successor of Lenin's cause, comrade Kim Jong Il. From the FSB's point of view, this spy incident is completely usual and ordinary, there is nothing especially terrible in it: From time immemorial spies have been discovered in every nation's external political departments. But not one North Korean has ever been found. Strange, isn't it?

The Soviet Union always spied on North Korea, but indecisively, afraid to cause a political scandal. The KGB first chief directorate's (intelligence) second division was in charge of this work, having worked with spying. Today this is the external intelligence service, or SVR. The second division worked on cooperating with intelligence agencies from socialist countries. But according to the Criminal Code of the Soviet Union, espionage against a socialist country was a crime, and so it was carried out against North Korea under the guise of cooperation. Incidentally, several powerful KGB divisions were officially spying on socialist China, and nobody ever thought of considering this a crime.

There was also direct cooperation, but it was unsuccessful. For example, in the beginning of the '80s, when famine in North Korea was raging, KGB border troops gave their North Korean colleagues a herd of pedigree dogs for border security. The Korean border guards immediately ate them all.

Russians have always been spying on South Korea, even when they did not have an embassy there. It was carried out from nations friendly to South Korea. It's remarkable that both Korean divisions, which were in charge of North and South Korea, were in neighboring rooms at the KGB -- and the same people worked in both.

The same thing happened in the Communist Party's Central Committee. There, bureaucrats who were in charge of both Koreas generally were in one room -- it was pretty tight in the Central Committee.

"The 38th parallel, the border between Seoul and Pyongyang, is between our desks!" they would joke.

The current spy scandal in relation to South Korea is shocking in its political short-sightedness. It's not likely to please Pyongyang, nor will it provide a lever of political influence with North Korea -- because Russia has no such levers. Furthermore, it cannot become the political influence lever on North Korea -- because Russia has no such lever.

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