Putin’s hall of mirrors

By | February 21, 2022

Timothy Snyder writes:

Vladimir Putin likes to associate today’s Russian Federation with the old Russian empire, and in one sense he is right. The Russian empire was the most repressive state of its era, with the most refined state police: the Okhrana. Russian revolutionaries, the men and women who would establish the Soviet state, were educated by its methods. It did not simply hunt them down; it ensnared them, often without their knowledge, in a complicated dance of incriminating their comrades. It specialized in provocations. It knew how to make its enemies do the work for it.

Intelligence work means finding things out. Counterintelligence means making this difficult for others. At the far fringe of counterintelligence are operations designed not just to confuse the world but to change it: in Russian, maskirovka or provokatsiia. The Cheka, as the Bolshevik state-security apparatus was known, took over and extended these methods of the Okhrana. Communist ideology lent them new life. No one was ever innocent; everyone was connected to the class struggle in one way or another; using people against one another was justified.

Thanks to tradition and ideology, Soviet organs were superior to their Western counterparts. In the early 1920s, when the Soviet state was vulnerable to outside pressure, the Cheka ran an operation called “Trust.” Its operatives went abroad to pose as members of a conspiratorial organization inside the U.S.S.R. They told European intelligence services that they could bring down the Soviet regime, and just needed money. This discouraged European states from intervening in the Soviet Union at a time when intervention would have made a difference, and secured hard currency to supplement the Cheka’s budget. [Continue reading…]

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