Panelists: Christopher Andrew, Cambridge University; Sunil Khilnani , Johns Hopkins University, SAIS.
Professor Christopher Andrew provided findings from his newly released book, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, Newly Revealed Secrets from the Mitrokhin Archive. The book is the second installment in a series based on the KGB files brought out of Russia by defector KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin – materials characterized by the FBI as "the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source."
Andrew pointed out that until recently "only one hand was clapping" in the secret history of the Cold War: we know and have written far more about the CIA's role than that of the KGB. In the main Soviet initiatives in the Third World, it was the KGB, however, that played the leading role. From the very beginning of the Cold War, the Soviet leaders were confident that the USSR could beat the U.S. in the Third World, and relied on the KGB as its vanguard in the area. Thus the KGB played the decisive role in Cuba, Chile, and Afghanistan (together with the Ministry of Defense in the latter case). By the early 1980s, the Soviet leaders felt that they were in good shape, helping to bring about revolutions in various parts of the developing world (Africa, Nicaragua) – a view essentially endorsed by the CIA. With Castro at the helm of the non-aligned movement, they felt indeed that the "world was going our way."
Andrew pointed out that in the 1960s and 70s the hardest intelligence target in Asia, besides North Korea, was Vietnam, even as the USSR was Vietnam's most public ally at the time. Hanoi was virtually considered a hostile target. Democracies, especially ones marked by a streak of corruption, such as India, were far easier for the KGB to penetrate. India, he argued, became the model for infiltrating a Third World government, which had already been born out by the earlier publications of former KGB operative Oleg Kalugin (who participated in the discussion). More than 5,500 articles were planted in the Indian press, and the Mitrokhin materials make clear how heavily the Indian CP relied on Soviet support, its contrary claims notwithstanding. Perhaps the only positive impact of the KGB in The Third World, Andrew argued, was the case of South Africa. When the West lacked the moral courage to support the ANC, the KGB did provide support (though of course not out of moral courage).
Andrew said he gained from the Mitrokhin archive not so much new information but a new understanding about the extraordinary gulf between a highly successful collection effort by the KGB – and the abysmal analysis by Soviet policymakers.
Sunil Khilnani granted the KGB a certain lethal efficacy in certain areas but saw its work largely as a failure – in such cases as China, Iran, Pakistan, and India. Several "foreign hands" were at work in India, and while we have always known about the CIA's role, though not its full extent, the extent of disinformation filtered into India was remarkable. Nonetheless, many of the operations, Khilnani argued, struck him as more comic than menacing. To be sure, in the 1960s the KGB became even more active in India, but the country was a "deceptively easy target": one could never be sure of the efficacy of a secret channel due to the utterly decentralized Indian political system. Overall, Khilnani felt, the KGB inflated its impact on Indian society and government.
Christian Ostermann, Director, Cold War International History Project