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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stuck in a Tit for Tat Mentality

Once upon a time, a new person was sent in to head the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Soviet armed forces' General Staff, or GRU, in Geneva. I won't name him, but this man was the brother of a big shot in the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

On arrival, the general got down to work. He counted all the chairs in his office and all the spoons in the dining room to check that everything was there that should be, and he raised hell on finding that one of the spoons was missing.

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But what caused the most astonishment was when he called in on the cypher clerks. The cypher room was under tight security. There were seven locks on the door, and the only people allowed to clean it were the wives of the cypher clerks, who were themselves on staff.

One of the clerks arrived for work one morning and on meeting his colleagues exclaimed, "What's been going on here then?"

"What's up?" they asked.

"Well look," said the clerk. "Last night when I left I locked up. The only person who's been in there since is my wife, Lyusya, who went in there to do the cleaning. She put a new roll of toilet paper in the toilet. The only person who's been in there since then is the new boss. I went in to the toilet, and the paper's not there any longer!"

At this point you have to bear in mind that the new incumbent had at his disposal money for half the Soviet military intelligence agents in the world, a splendid apartment, money for running the operation and for his own requirements. But this man was a Soviet citizen abroad for the first time in his life. And he went into the toilet and saw this lovely toilet paper hanging there. So soft, so white -- who wouldn't want to steal it?

He eventually came to a swift and sticky end after he finally got around to meeting the agents. He made such an impression on the first agent he met that the agent immediately told all to the local counter-intelligence. So a witch hunt began. The general gave an order to have the agent sent straight back home as a traitor.

The day before the agent was due to be sent back, the general called a meeting. And as if it had been specially arranged, at that moment the very same agent came back to the headquarters. He looked around at everyone and said, "I'm just going to lock the safe." He locked it and left the premises.

The agent went home and told his wife to get ready to leave. They left the apartment block -- doing it all by the defector's rulebook -- got in the car and drove off into the woods. From the car they could see the windows of their apartment. The agent sat in the car until the light went on in the apartment at 5 a.m. At this point, he drove off and made good his defection.

His name then was Viktor Rezun. These days, he lives in England under the name of Viktor Suvorov. He is the author of dissident works in which he caused a storm for his unorthodox ideas about the reasons for the Soviet Union's involvement in World War II. After this fiasco, the boss of the Geneva directorate was recalled to Moscow and never went abroad again.

The point is that the people currently in power in the Kremlin are suffering from the same sort of kleptomania, only in a far more intense form.

Is Mikhail Khodorkovsky thumbing his nose at the president? Well then, let's take Yukos away from him! So Ukraine wants to join NATO, does it? Well then, let's make a porno movie with leading roles played by people who look suspiciously like Yulia Tymoshenko and Mikheil Saakashvili! So ABC television has shown an interview with Basayev, has it? Well then, let's strip ABC of its accreditation!

Despite the enormous power that it wields, the political elite is stuck in a Cold War-era general's way of thinking, and this petty tit-for-tat continues to influence Russia's political and economic development.

Yulia Latynina hosts a show on Ekho Moskvy radio.