By Patricia H Kushlis
The April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing was made to order
television drama operating in nearly Aristotelian time from the beginning through
the bizarre car chase, shoot out and round-up of the one suspect still alive.
The script was almost all too 24/7 media friendly. Perhaps because of this alone, conspiracy
theorists abound. So do a myriad of
unanswered questions as well as the display of peculiar naivety displayed by several
members of Congress who embarked on a recent “fact-finding mission” to the
Russian Federation where the highlight of their visit was apparently a high
level briefing at Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters (otherwise known
as the KGB). This according to The New
Moscow is normally at its best in late May and early June
unless one has an allergy to cottonwood pollen. Then it is not. But presumably our intrepid Congressional
delegation either didn’t have such allergies or avoided them by spending the
time in the city on the Moscow River encased in air conditioned office
buildings, cars (likely from the Embassy motor pool) and luxury hotel rooms also
paid for at US taxpayer expense.
Nevertheless, besides a press conference at the US Embassy
– as well as perhaps some disappointment – and maybe unexpressed relief because
their planned trip to the North Caucasus to have been improbably arranged by
action film star Steve Seagal was cancelled at the last minute for unspecified “logistical
reasons” – there is no indication that this trip of Republicans and Democrats accomplished
much of anything. That is from the American standpoint.
Their FSB briefing reminds me a bit of the story of
Catherine the Great viewing a proverbial Potemkin Village in the 18th
century. She saw what she wanted to see.
The unidentified FSB briefer filled in no unknown blanks about Tamerlan
Tsarnaev’s whereabouts, his activities in Russia, the circumstances under which
he had left the country or the reasons for his return to the United States
before collecting a new passport – purportedly his reason for visiting Russia
in the first place. But the members of Congress seemed so thrilled to have had
this briefing in and of itself that they seemingly failed to probe deeper.
Question of Competency or Cover Up?
On the one hand, the continued sketchiness of the information
makes me question the competency of the FSB in these post-Cold War days
unless, of course, on the other hand, it is, er um, hiding something. If the latter’s the case, the meeting with
this group of incredibly gullible Congressional representatives was well used
for Putin’s own propagandistic purposes.
That’s certainly how I read through the nearly cellophane lines of Dale
Herszenhorn’s New York Times report
of the Congressional press conference at the American Embassy thereafter.
The Cold War Is Over
– Long Live the Cold War
When I worked in Moscow a decade before the Cold War’s end –
then at the American Embassy in Helsinki as the Soviet Union collapsed and the
Cold War really did end – it was hard to distinguish between what was uniquely
Soviet and what was actually Russian.
The old saying “scratch a Russian, find a Tatar” has credence, but I also
think that much of what was characterized as Soviet at that time was, in
reality, Russian under a different name.
After all, the Soviet Union was – with a few exceptions like Stalin who
hailed from Georgia – ruled by Slavs and in particular Russians.
The Soviets – like their Russian ancestors – were terrific
at creating ruses and engaging in subterfuge. Such devices surely fooled many short
term tourists. But for anyone who lived there the reality was a different story.
The Soviets didn’t even try to hide it.
So when I read that Congressman Dana Rohrabacher claimed that Vladimir
Putin has been “unfairly maligned in the US” because some Americans still
maintained a Cold War mentality that “prevents a level of cooperation that is
justified” my hat’s off to the Russian propaganda machine – or possibly even
the Russian disinformation machine depending on what was actually transmitted.
The fact of the matter is that the crude exposure and public
expulsion on May 13 by the Russians of Ryan Foyle, a CIA operative under US
Embassy cover, whose beat was the North Caucasus suggests to me that U.S.
intelligence was perhaps dissatisfied with the FSB’s information on Tsarnaev and
had begun to probe beyond the official Russian government story, a tale so full
of holes and memory lapses it would have immediately sunk to the bottom if it
were a ship.
One has to wonder
whether the visiting Congressional delegation raised the expulsion issue with
the Putin Government. Doesn’t sound like they even delicately asked this question
because it would have only gotten in the way of their era-of-good-feelings-at-any-cost
Then there’s the tragic Magnitsky affair. Ironically, it was the US Congress itself that
initiated and then enacted sanctions (ultimately barring all of 18 Russian
officials from travel to the US and prohibiting them from using the US banking
system). These individuals – including
high level Interior Ministry officials were said to be responsible for whistleblower,
lawyer and accountant Sergei Magnitsky’s apparent torture and certainly unwarranted
and tragic death in prison in 2009. The Magnitsky Act signed by President Obama
in December 2012 – even though it repealed Jackson-Vanik (which the Russians –
at the time of its passage the Soviets – had hated from day one). The Putin government should have thanked
Congress and the administration for the law’s albeit belated repeal rather than
throwing an adolescent temper tantrum because 18 Russian officials were barred
from the US (that number could have been much larger) which is what happened.
To date, the Russians have never come clean on Magnitsky’s arrest
or treatment thereafter – his trial was a tragic farce, the kind caricatured in
the 1930s Bulgakov novel The Master and Margarita in which the devil
comes to Moscow and whose storyline and characters every educated Russian
likely knows by heart.
Putin’s response to the Magnitsky Act? To ban Russian children from adoption by
Americans. But just who loses most in this strange game of tit-for-tat? And then to play a childish and badly
done spy games – a blond wig, ancient spy equipment, and a contract to sign – whose kidding whom
– in which they also publicly named the US Station Chief at the US Embassy and
continue to be less than forthcoming about the information they have on
Tsarnaev. This is enough to make one wonder whether they’re looking for an era of
good feelings or not.
Hopefully, the Obama
administration has had enough experience in dealing with the Russians that it
will represent American interests far better than these gullible members of