September 27, 2005

Demystifying Mitrokhin

By N.S. Rajaram

To those familiar with the history of the KGB, the latest revelations in the just released book The Mitrokhin Archive II alleging payments to Congress and CPI politicians during the Indira Gandhi era will come as no surprise. This is only the latest in a series of revelations going back to 1991—the year in which the Soviet Union collapsed and the KGB archives became open. Actually, much more damaging information has been around, but the Indian media has failed to sufficiently highlight it.

To a skeptical person, the 'revelations' smack of a controlled leak meant to protect more important interests. The amounts and the people involved—a few million roubles given to a few minor league politicians like Lalit Narayan Mishra—are of no great consequence or even relevance today.

All this pales into insignificance when we look at what was already known. In her book The State Within A State- The KGB and Its Hold on Russia, Dr Yevgenia Albats, a Russian scholar at Harvard revealed that Soviet trading companies were making payments to a firm controlled by Rajiv Gandhi as far back as 1982.

(The memo on page 223 of the book cited by the author dates to 1982 when Indira Gandhi was still Prime Minister. So the 'Premier's son R. Gandhi' in the KGB memo can refer only to Rajiv Gandhi and not to his son Rahul as has been mistakenly identified.)

Another indicator is Sonia Gandhi's four-day visit to Moscow at Putin's invitation beginning June 13. This happened to coincide with the five-day Paris Air Show that also began on the same day.

Who is this Dr. Albats by the way? She is a noted Russian scholar at Harvard and a member of the KGB Commission set up by President Boris Yeltsin in August 1991. So she cannot be dismissed as a disgruntled non-entity as the Congress and CPI have tried to dismiss the now dead Mitorkhin.

As if this were not serious enough, the Swiss newsmagazine Schweizer Illustrierte gave more details. Again citing newly opened KGB archives, it reported in November 1991 that Sonia Gandhi was controlling a secret account worth 2.5 billion Swiss francs (about two billion dollars) in her minor son's name. This was a few months after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination by LTTE militants. The Dynasty is sitting on this largesse.

None of this is new. What Mitrokhin's Archive reveals is little more than payments of relatively small amounts to some unimportant politicians. Some experts are suggesting that the release of the book is part of a strategy to put pressure on more important and influential leaders in the Indian political establishment—a warning signal.

What could be the motive? To understand it, we need to recognise that with the ending of the Cold War, the area of conflict has shifted from geopolitics to economics, more particularly to arms trade.

Cold War to cold cash

Once we recognise this basic reality, two facts stand out: India is awash in hard currency (dollars) and the Russians are desperately short of it. The Russians have only two things that they can export—oil and military hardware. In today's market they can sell oil anywhere. It is different with arms sale. Russians seem to be faring badly in the world arms market. It may soon get worse.

On June 18, 2005, Sergei Malinin reported in Pravda (English edition) that under American urging, India might stop buying Russian military aircraft and air defence systems altogether and opt for American equipment. India has typically gone for Russian and French fighters, but now Americans have offered highly favorable terms with F16 and F18 fighters including their manufacture in India.

Such a deal is being offered for the first time to a country that is neither a NATO member nor has any American troops deployed on its soil. The fear is that it might only be the beginning. The US deal, as seen from Russia, is only the first step in gradually forcing out Russian, Ukrainian, and Chinese arms suppliers out of the region by offering India its state-of-the-art weapons at a reasonable price, as well as their manufacture.

Russia can ill-afford losing the Indian market, for its export is limited to the Asia-Pacific region. As Pravda also noted: "Russia's defence industry heavily depends on export deals. …should Russia leave the traditional markets of the Asian Pacific region (high profitability and capacity being the main features of the region's markets), the scale of the Russian defence industry will shrink significantly. Besides, the move would signify a final devaluation of Russia's foreign influence in the region."

If Russia loses its largest customer, several of its defence industries will face bankruptcy leading to massive unemployment. In the circumstances, it is only to be expected that the Russians will do everything possible to ensure they get a large share of the lucrative Indian market. While their products may not be the best in the world, their intelligence network in India, going back to the KGB days is unequalled, including its lavish generosity towards the Dynasty going back to Indira Gandhi.

India has typically gone with Russian and French fighters, but now Americans have offered highly favorable terms with F16 and F18 fighters including their manufacture in India.

In the circumstances, it will not be surprising if they try to use their hard earned influence to swing defence deals in their favour. There are a few indicators. When the UPA government controlled by Sonia Gandhi assumed office, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB official himself, appointed Vyacheslav Trubnikov as the Russian Ambassador in Delhi. It turns out that Trubnikov is a KGB veteran, with extensive Indian experience in Kolkatta and Delhi.

Another indicator is Sonia Gandhi's four-day visit to Moscow at Putin's invitation beginning June 13. This happened to coincide with the five-day Paris Air Show that also began on the same day. Was this a coincidence? It was reported that India was the most sought after customer at the Air Show, courted by the Americans, the French, the Swedes and the Russians.

Here is a poser: Why did Sonia Gandhi cancel her trip to the US, which she had accepted at the invitation of former president Bill Clinton for a conference of international leaders? Even the Indian Embassy in Washington had put in a request to the White House for a personal meeting with President Bush. Canceling a Washington trip so soon after a high profile visit to Russia was at least a major diplomatic gaffe.

We have not seen the last of the KGB revelations. There are far too many loose ends. But India should be wary of arms dealers trying to dump inferior equipment using political influence. National security should have the highest priority.

(The writer is a historian and can be contacted at email: >navarat@bgl.vsnl.net.in>)

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