Michael Weiss writes: “People person” is not necessarily the first description that comes to mind when one thinks of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Though barely a year into his unlikely presidency of the Russian Federation, that’s more or less how he described himself to Christian Caryl, then Moscow bureau chief at Newsweek. Asked what it was about his KGB training that he believed informed his administration of a country with 11 time zones and around 8,000 nuclear warheads, Putin answered unexpectedly that it was garrulousness that he found most useful from his days in special services:
“To be able to work with people effectively, you have to be able to establish a dialogue, contact; you have to activate everything that is best in your partner. If you want to achieve results, you have to respect your partner. You need to make that person an ally; you have to make that person feel that you and he have something that unites you, that you have common goals.”
Putin was never a spy as properly understood or mythologized. In his rather shabby posting to Dresden in East Germany, during which he spent the majority of the perestroika era observing the collapse of the Soviet Union from a distance, his role was that of a case officer, a recruiter and manager of spies.
There is every indication that he not only ran West German assets who ventured into Dresden but even recruited the odd double agent in the infamous East German security service, the Stasi, between 1985 and 1989. Putin’s deployment coincided with the KGB’s “Operation Luch,” a campaign to steal technological secrets but also, allegedly, to ensure that hardliners in the East German intelligence apparatus remained loyal to the ongoing reforms taking place in Moscow and not to their putative boss, Eric Honecker. (Still the best encapsulation of the Stalinist rigidity of Honecker’s GDR is this celebrated scene from The Lives of Others.)
I’m not quite sure if it’s an irony or a tragedy that the analyst best able to understand Putin’s talent for seducing foreign agents is now beholden to a commander-in-chief believed by many to have been turned by that little man in Moscow’s high castle.
Fiona Hill, the dual British-American citizen and former national intelligence officer with the U.S. National Intelligence Council, was recently named the White House’s senior director for Europe and Russia. She is therefore the most influential Putinologist on a National Security Council that badly needs them.
Her book Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, co-written with Clifford Gaddy, distills the actuating impulses of one the most scrutinized and yet misunderstood men on the planet into six mutually inclusive categories: the Statist, the History Man, the Survivalist, the Outsider, the Free Marketeer, and the Case Officer. Although they claim no one category supersedes any other, their subtitle suggests that Putin’s training in Yuri Andropov’s KGB is the foundation upon which the other five were constructed. [Continue reading…]