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James Bond in Stalin’s Bed

James Bond in Stalin’s Bed

Monday, 19 March, 2018 - 09:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

If British intelligence officer Ian Fleming were fated to live during our time, he would have discovered that he did not exaggerate much when he came up with the character of James Bond. He would have certainly rejoiced had he known that the current Russian czar is a fan of his books, which have sold 100 million copies around the world. Fleming would have likely crowned his career with an amazing book called “James Bond in Stalin’s Bed.”

Fleming was a spy, journalist and author. There are close similarities between spies and journalists. They both go after secrets, but each in his own way. The former writes in invisible ink and sends his report to his handler at the intelligence agency. The latter writes in visible ink and sends his report to the reader. They both seek to prove the credibility of their reports to their superiors. They are both dreary professions. The spy ends up being anonymous and his tale winds up in the drawers of the agency. The journalist ends up disappointed after his work ends up being forgotten. This is why both of them, if given the chance, would seek to bring their story to the light through a book. The game is all about delusions and more delusions.

Vladimir Putin’s “take over” of the Kremlin at the beginning of the 21st century doubled my passion for stories about intelligence agents, especially the KGB. Putin came from this agency, which was more like an empire of spies that produced more than one James Bond. The name of that empire is associated with a man who ran it for a long time, Yuri Andropov, who headed the party and later the state, before he was quickly betrayed by his health. One cannot understand Putin’s behavior without returning to Andropov, who acted as his mentor, guide and inspiration.

My work in journalism allowed me over the years to get closer to this mysterious and intriguing world. I knew spies and men who managed spies. I occasionally befriended those men, whom I felt came right out of the pages of espionage books.

A few years ago, I had the chance to meet a man, who was part of the inner circle of Palestinian leader Dr. Wadi Haddad, whose name has been linked to an infamous plane hijacker and James Bond-like figure. I am here talking about Venezuelan terrorist Carlos. I urged the man to divulge to me a secret that was never published in the newspaper and had evaded nations and their agencies. After some hesitation, he told me: “The great secret that we kept from everyone is that Yuri Andropov had covertly met with Wadi Haddad in a castle in a forest in the suburbs of Moscow in 1974. During the meeting, Wadi requested arms, ammunition and time. Two weeks later and six miles off the coast of Aden, we received the complete list.”

It is from this world that is wrapped in secrets, ambushes, puzzles and mysterious blows that Putin emerged from and arrived in the Kremlin. He carried with him a deep wound that was the collapse of the Soviet Union, or what he called “the worst geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century.” Weeks ago, he revealed that he had hoped that he could have been able to prevent this fall.

Recent years revealed many indications that the Soviet spirit still controls the behavior of the master of the Kremlin as demonstrated in the disciplining of Georgia, annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine. He adopts a mixture of rapprochement and intimidation when dealing with countries that were quick to take off their Soviet cloak. He practically considers them traitors for opting for the divorce and establishing ties with the West. They are like spies who are sent out on a mission before later revealing themselves to be double agents. Intelligence agencies are not in the habit of being forgiving with those who sell their secrets for money, a nationality or a safe haven. Whoever commits this sin deserves the “final solution” or being silenced once and for all.

The West did not open up Putin’s record after former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was killed through polonium poisoning in London in 2006. Britain responded to the incident, but it did not go so far as to drag Putin himself into the case. Much uproar was made over the issue, but it was neither a turning point nor a reason for a wider confrontation. The West was still banking on the smile of the man who protected Russia from fragmentation and protected the world from the possible repercussions of that fragmentation. The crisis took place and then a mediator called time came in and treated the issue with forget and relations went back to normal.

The assassination attempt against former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain earlier this month took place at a time when Putin’s record has grown much longer. It includes his military intervention in Syria, success in steering developments in the regime’s favor and his fighter jets’ violent bombardment of opposition factions that have nothing to do with ISIS and al-Nusra Front. The hopes that a Russian Syria will weaken the possibility of the emergence of an Iranian Syria have waned. Pro-regime factions, accompanied by Russian mercenaries, clashed with US forces in Syria, prompting Washington to discipline the perpetrators and killing over a hundred Russians. Putin’s escalatory speech towards the West where he demonstrated the latest advances in the Russian missile arsenal, while using terms taken right out of the Cold War dictionary.

Many have wondered what prompted the Russian agencies to attempt to poison Skripal only weeks before the Russian presidential elections, which saw Putin succeed Putin for a fourth term. What prompted them to do so during the year that Russia is hosting the football World Cup. The British agencies have concluded that the poison used was Soviet-made and Prime Minister Theresa May severely retaliated to what she considered a hostile military act on British soil.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meanwhile threw the ball in Putin’s court. He declared: “Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin and with his decision, and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.” The Kremlin spokesman responded by saying: “Any reference to, any mentioning of, our president in this context is nothing else but a shocking, unforgivable breach of diplomatic proprieties.”

The United States, Germany and France showed solidarity with Britain in also accusing Russia. Washington took measures against Moscow as part of its investigation that it meddled in the US presidential elections.

The Cold War have been awakened and the West senses that the real problem lies with Putin and his aggressive approach. The problem is that Russia lives in the shadow of a Soviet president. Weeks ago, a Siberian ice blast attacked and conquered western capitals. The media called it the “Beast from the East.” After Skripal’s assassination attempt, talk once again centered on the “danger coming in from the East.”

The West had long forgotten that Putin originally emerged from under Andropov’s umbrella. The most important skill the KGB recruits are trained on is misdirection and hiding real intentions and purposes. They are truly confronting a Russian James Bond.

Had Ian Fleming been alive today, he would have written an amazing novel called “James Bond in Stalin’s Bed.”

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