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Think Tank

Marvin Kalb: Spying Incident Shows Russia Torn Between Slavophiles and the West

Ever since I first started going to Russia in early 1956, I have been impressed by the fact that the Russian people, generally speaking, admire the United States.  For decades,even longer, Russia has been torn between the Slavophiles and the Westerners; those who feel Russia represents something holy and special, and those who wish to draw Russia into a closer association with the West.  Most Russians may, on any given day, feel pulls in both directions, but my sense is that they want what the West already has but wish at the same time to add their own distinctive qualities to the mix.  And who can blame them—they have much to contribute.

The recent spy saga suggests the Russian leadership still has not made up its mind about where to place its destiny.  During the 1990's, it seemed as though the Kremlin had decided to turn to the West.  Yelstin, the Westerner, for sure.  During the first Putin decade of the new century, the Kremlin has turned inward again, the political Slavophiles in the ascendancy with the Westerners waving copies of Pushkin from the sidelines.  The internal Russian debate continues.

Led by many old KGB colleagues, Putin has returned to traditional spying approaches, including the placement of "sleepers" in the US and elsewhere.  In this day of the Internet, when most secrets are open to the public, Russia does not need sleeper spies.  To continue to rely on them suggests Russia at the moment feels happier, more secure, getting information labeled "secret."

Russia still wants industrial secrets and discoveries, nothing new, and the Kremlin still wants inside dope best obtained, it feels, in the real American suburb, where inside information is exchanged over barbecues.  Foolish, of course—retrograde in fact—but this new sleeper spy drama truly represents the old Russia, stuck in the mud of autocracy, when sadly but promisingly there are so many new Russians, ready to embrace not just the West but the entire world, who are struggling for attention and power.

Marvin Kalb is the Edward R. Murrow Professor Emeritus at Harvard and founding Director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government.  He was a network news correspondent at CBS and NBC.
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