Spies Like Us
photos by Jane Hoffer
“I have something very important in my pocket,” former K.G.B. announced toward the end of the Adda Bozeman lecture, “Russia, Putin, and the Specter of the K.G.B.,” in April. He pulled out a clipping of a recent Washington Post editorial commenting on Putin’s appointment of the warlord Ramzan Kadyrov as the new president of Chechnya, and read the following sentence from its conclusion: “By installing him, Mr. Putin is telling the world that Russia has become a place where the most sadistic criminals can be political leaders, where the murder of opponents is openly sanctioned, and where the only qualification that matters is loyalty to Mr. Putin.”
Looking up, Kalugin remarked, “Well, I think that summarizes well what I have been saying so far, right?”
A longtime critic of the Soviet system, Kalugin has firsthand experience with Putin’s crackdown on political dissent. In 2000, he wrote an open letter denouncing Putin. Two years later, he was convicted of treason at an in absentia trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In a move that speaks to the dissolution of a long-standing intelligence rivalry, the country that granted Kalugin political asylum was the United States.
Kalugin, who began his remarks by discussing the poisonings of Putin opponents Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, and ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, argued that Putin’s intolerance for dissent and his bullying economic policies toward former Soviet republics have led to a “return of the Russian authoritarian state.”
Kalugin spent 12 years in the United States in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, conducting K.G.B. assignments while working as a press secretary and a radio correspondent. “I was spoiled by this country,” he said. “I learned you have a right to choose, you have a right to speak.”