Sergei Zhuk: "We should publicly name those individuals who are falsifying history"

ABSTRACT. This interview with the Ukrainian-American historian Sergei (Serhii) Zhuk focuses on the role of public intellectuals in the conditions of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Researching the activities of the Soviet secret services in North America, Prof. Zhuk exposes the role of historians in promoting the ideas of the "russkiy mir" (Russian world) and the negative images and assessments of Ukraine prevailing among the members of the North American establishment. The conversation also features a dip into the past to reveal how the KGB used various academic institutions and networks of intellectuals to carry out its special operations to discredit the Ukrainian diaspora in North America. Zhuk discusses the continuity of these Soviet special operations and the persistence of KGB activities in the U.S. and Canada. Zhuk does not conceal the names of these institutions—universities, analytical centers, and historical associations—or the names of their key figures. In order to be able to counter the networks of hostile secret services, it is necessary first to identify them.

"The symbiosis of 'left-wing scholars' and 'revisionists' led to a more positive assessment of both Russian and Soviet civilization"

Prof. Zhuk, you recently announced your withdrawal from The Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies ASEEES). Could you elaborate on the situation that emerged in this organization in greater detail?

From the time of its creation during the Cold War, this organization had always had a pro-Russian bias. It was a result of the Cold War's tradition to see the Soviet Union/Russia as the main opponent of the West, and of the United States, of course. Traditionally in English-speaking academia, the USSR was always associated with Russia, the Russian empire, and the Russian culture. Until the 1980s, the major approach in Western academia to the USSR was negative: the Soviet civilization was treated as a "bad" monolithic "totalitarian system." Still, even during the Cold War, some representatives of Western academia, who had radical liberal/socialist views, developed a positive attitude toward the Soviet socialist system, which offered them a different, more humane alternative to capitalism in the West. In the 1980s, this traditional idealization of socialism among some Western academics coincided with the rise of the so-called "revisionist" school in Soviet Studies, represented by such young (in those days) scholars like Sheila Fitzpatrick and much younger Stephen Kotkin. The "revisionists" tried to "humanize" Stalinism and emphasize the social and cultural history of social society. Paradoxically, this symbiosis between the "academic Left" (Fitzpatrick came from a family of communist activists) and "revisionists" led to a more positive evaluation of both Russian and Soviet civilizations. During perestroika and the collapse of the USSR, another element was added to this rising idealization of Russia/USSR: an influx of numerous Soviet emigrants to the West, who became integrated into Western, mainly English-speaking, academia. The overwhelming majority of these Soviet emigrants were former Russian citizens (many of them still keep their Russian passports), who represented the ruling Soviet Russian political and cultural elites: mainly members of the KGB families and Communist Party apparatchiks. All these people became members of ASEEES. Moreover, the ASEEES finances numerous Russian members, giving them grants and financial awards, and inviting them to the annual ASEEES meetings. The majority of these people support Putin's regime and either openly support the Russian war against Ukraine or keep silent about this war. I complained about this situation to the ASEEES administration, beginning with the first Russian war against Ukraine in 2014, but all was in vain.

Moreover, many American, British, and Canadian Slavists developed what I call the "epistemological nostalgia" for the USSR, which was their favorite place for their research during their graduate studies in the 1970s through the 1990s. These Slavists and their former students now rule ASEEES. They still idealized "imperialistic" Russia. In such a vision, they do not accept the non-Russian interpretation of Slavic studies, they ignore the interests of non-Russian elements (including Ukraine) in such Slavic studies. As a result, despite some pro-Ukrainian declarations and some changes in ASEEES leadership, this organization still tries to protect Russian scholars against "cancel culture," ignoring the brutality of the Russian war and massive Russian support (including the position of Russian scholars) for this war against Ukraine.

In your opinion, what role is being played today by a significant number of Russian historians in Russia's war against Ukraine? Are you noticing other directions in Russian or pro-Russian historians' participation in the information war against Ukraine in the U.S. and Canada?

Yes, many of them took an anti-Ukrainian position. They are KGB/FSB people, such as Vyacheslav Nikonov and Andranik Migranyan, who became actively involved in the Russian intelligence operations against the United States, and various Slavic/Sovietologist Centers there. They became the major ideologists of Putin's regime. Now their anti-American operations have a growing financial foundation, which is connected directly to the oligarchic capitals of Viktor Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman, Alisher Usmanov and other "new-riches" of post-Soviet Russia. The KGB/FSB ideologists in Russia, like Andranik Migranian, a former director of the New York office of the Kremlin's Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, blame Americans for "creating" all domestic and international problems for the Russian state. Another Russian ideologist, Vyacheslav Nikonov, served as an Executive Director of the Russkiy Mir Foundation from 2007 to 2012, taking a publicly anti-American position, criticizing the Orange Revolution and Maidan Revolution in Ukraine as an "American conspiracy against Russia." In his textbook, whose publication was funded by Russkii Mir Foundation, Nikonov presented the United States as the major geopolitical enemy of Russia. He interpreted all events in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union as a result of "U.S. expansionism." According to Nikonov, the major goal of the United States is to "weaken" and "punish" Russia, using the recent developments in Ukraine and Russia. Moreover, Nikonov supports Russian expansionism, the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine. He justifies the Russian war in Ukraine by the "historical mission" of the Russian state to "defend" its state national interests against "American imperialism" in Eastern Europe, in the post-Soviet geopolitical space[i]. Other Russian ideologists also follow Nikonov in their criticism of U.S. "public diplomacy," criticizing Americans for "masterminding" "Ukrainian revolutions." They accuse U.S. politicians of attempts to "take out" Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe as early as 2003. According to them, U.S. "public diplomacy" focused its efforts on pro-Western Ukrainian youth, trying to organize the so-called "Orange" and other anti-Russian revolutions in Ukraine. These Russian ideologists repeat the old Soviet concepts about "American anti-Russian conspiracy." They emphasized that since 2003 "the USA was able to create [in Ukraine] a solid human potential, oriented to the West."

How can one counteract the current strategies of the Russian secret services? What role can historians play here?

Historians MUST publish their research, criticizing those Russian falsifiers, who use social media. What is more important is that we need to call those names in public.

Should Ukrainian historians set up a separate counterpropaganda front, or would they be better off applying other approaches and different kinds of activities that would have less of an impact on the objectivity and engagement of their academic studies?

Historians MUST be active in their counter-propaganda against Russian intelligence and Russian scholars, who represent the interest of the fascist regime of the Russian Federation.

Why did you decide to study KGB special operations against the U.S. and Canada in one of your latest books? In the introductory part of your book you write that you discussed this set of questions with your academic supervisor, Nikolai Bolkhovitinov. Which other historians influenced your choice of research topic?

As a former Americanist, I tried to study various spheres of Soviet-American interactions. One of my American friends, an American Ukrainian historian, Basil Dmytryshyn, Professor of History from Portland State University, suggested to me in 2014 to begin my research of those relations with a study of KGB operations against the Ukrainian Diaspora in America.

Plus, I had my personal reasons to start my research. During 2006-2007, I used the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Archive the official KGB reports to the Communist leadership of the Dnipropetrovsk Region for my book about the youth culture on Soviet Dnipropetrovsk. I realized that the Central KGB/SBU archive in Kyiv should have more precious documents on my topic than my local regional archival collection. So, in 2008 and 2009, I tried to get access to the KGB collection of the 1960s and the 1970s at the SBU archive. But I failed because the SBU archive officials did not allow me to work with those documents. So when I learned about the opening of those KGB materials in Kyiv in 2015, I decided to use the opportunity to check this archival collection again. In addition, after finishing my book about Soviet Ukrainian Americanists, I needed to check this collection to see what I missed in my research about the connections between the KGB and the Ukrainian experts in the U.S. and Canada, whom I had studied for many years. Plus, after famous scandals about the Russian attempts to support the Donald Trump presidential campaign of 2016, using the FSB (former KGB) influences, I wanted to look in the SBU archive for old KGB documents, which could demonstrate the existence of the KGB legacy to meddle in American politics.

When in January 2019, I went to this SBU archive, I was shocked. I found more interesting KGB documents, which provided me with rich historical material about a secret side of Soviet-American relations during the Cold War — from the point of view of the intelligence service, the KGB in Soviet Ukraine, which targeted as their major enemy two capitalist countries — the United States and Canada. The major reason for this KGB operations' focus was, of course, the Ukrainian diaspora in North America — in the U.S. and Canada. After a year of working with the KGB documents in Kyiv, I began writing my new book, which to some extent became a sequel to my previous books on the cultural Cold War. Concentrating on the period of the Cold War after Stalin and combining the counterintelligence documents from the KGB archive with the official KGB correspondence and reports to the political leadership of Soviet Ukraine, my new book will offer an experimental view of the political and cultural history of the relations between Soviet Ukraine and "capitalist America" through a prism of KGB operations against the U.S. and Canada. Written from a "hidden" perspective of KGB operations from 1953 to the end of the 1980s, this book covers intelligence and counter-intelligence operations and the active measures of the KGB, but also various problems of anti-American cultural campaigns in Soviet Ukraine, sponsored by the KGB, involving the issues of cultural consumption, knowledge production, youth culture, and national identity.

"The FSB — the Russian successor to the Soviet KGB — still follows the same strategy it used in the 1970s against 'capitalist America'"

Could you provide more details about the policy of "active measures" that the KGB carried out in the U.S. and Canada? Why did the secret services of the USSR regard this region as one of the main "testing grounds" for unfolding special operations during the Cold War?

The major goal of those KGB operations was 1) to divide and rule: to undermine and make weaker American society from the inside; 2) to present and promote the positive good images of the Soviet realities and the Soviet/Russian past and support the USSR/Russia on the international arena.

In 1968 the KGB organized financial support for Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, Vice President to Lyndon Johnson, because the Soviet administration was afraid of the anti-Soviet rhetoric of Richard Nixon and the Republican Party. Everything changed after Nixon tried to establish friendly relations with the Soviet leadership. Arbatov and other "KGB People" from Moscow and Kyiv tried to help the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal, and later on, they attempted to collect "compromising information" about the "Anti-Soviet hardliner" National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and disseminate this material in American media. All these actions of the KGB people were part of an old Soviet tradition from Stalin's times to meddle in American politics and discredit the United States.

These actions included not only various efforts to support and finance American communists and other anti-establishment political groups, but also to spread disinformation ("faked news"), forgeries of documents and visual materials, and active propaganda "through sympathetic individuals and front organizations." The major goals of Soviet meddling in American politics were to undermine and discredit the American democratic political order and, at the same time, to undermine the international prestige and influential role of the United States in world affairs.

According to my own research in the KGB Archive in Kyiv, Ukraine, through the entire period of post-Stalin socialism, the KGB operatives still dealt mainly with intelligence from the "main adversary," the United States. According to the official counter-intelligence research of the KGB in Kyiv, the number of spies from the U.S. always dominated the number of spies from other capitalist countries. Thus, in January-August of 1969, there were 133 cases of espionage in Soviet Ukraine, committed by foreigners. 74 of them were committed by Americans, 12 — by Englishmen, 19 — by French, and 11— by West Germans. This was the typical ratio for the KGB operations against Western intelligence in the Soviet Union. During the 1970s and the 1980s, more than 60 percent of all recorded and reported KGB counter-intelligence operations in Soviet Ukraine targeted the U.S. and Canada only. Before my own archival findings, let's start with the most famous scandalous "operations of disruption" by the KGB against "capitalist America," which in the KGB taxonomy included both the U.S. and Canada. The most famous anti-American KGB operations included the following:

  • "Operation Cedar" of disrupting the power supply of both the U.S. and Canada in 1959-1973;
  • Discrediting the CIA in 1973-78, using a historian Philip Agee, who was codenamed Pont (in 1974, according to KGB statistics, over 250 active measures were targeted against the CIA alone, leading to denunciations of Agency abuses);
  • "Operation Pandora," which planned to stir up racial tensions in the United States between Afro-Americans and Jews in 1971 by mailing bogus letters from the Ku Klux Klan, placing an explosive package in "the Negro section" of New York City;
  • Planting and promoting claims that both John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated by the CIA;
  • Discrediting U.S. military aid to the El Salvador government in 1981-84, trying to make it so unpopular within the United States that public opinion would demand that it be halted (as a result, 150 committees were created in the U.S., which spoke out against U.S. interference in El Salvador, and the direct contacts were made with U.S. Senators);
  • Starting rumors that fluoridated drinking water was in fact a plot by the U.S. government to affect population control;
  • Fabrication of the story that the AIDS virus was manufactured by U.S. scientists at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland.

My own first shocking discovery in the KGB archives was that a significant number of KGB spies were sent to the U.S. and Canada from Soviet Ukraine during the 1960s and the 1970s. According to the annual KGB reports, the most important goal of the KGB administration was to prepare well-trained agents for intelligence work abroad. In only during the year 1969, the Ukrainian KGB sent its 23 agents to various international organizations, located in the U.S.; 200 KGB agents traveled to the U.S. as research specialists, collecting intelligence information there; 40 KGB operatives worked abroad to hire foreigners as future KGB agents; 3 KGB agents had been already "implemented in the U.S. intelligence"; 2 were "implemented in the Zionist and clerical groups" in the U.S. and Israel: 292 KGB agents were engaged in counter-intelligence operations against Ukrainian nationalist centers in the U.S. and Canada. Similar numbers were reported almost every year in the 1970s as well. Almost every year during the 1970s, the KGB managed to infiltrate approximately 250-270 of their agents into various diplomatic, academic, media and business organizations in the U.S. and Canada, creating so-called "sleeping cells" there for future intelligence work of the KGB and GRU. They still exist here in America!!! Moreover, today's successor of the KGB — the Russian FSB — tries to use the Russian emigrants-Slavists and various centers of Russian Studies in America and Europe to promote the pro-Russian and pro-Putin notions. Just look at the American-Russian participants in Valdai Club or Russkii Mir Foundation, and you will find the names of some famous American and British political scientists and scholars.

My second discovery was about the KGB's influence in the domestic politics of the U.S. and Canada. It was real Soviet meddling in American politics, using the KGB office from Soviet Ukraine. In its struggle against the Ukrainian nationalists in America, the Ukrainian KGB tried to also use the American Ukrainian Left Pro-Communist activists. Ukrainian Canadians, members of the Communist Party of Canada, became the "useful tools" of Soviet KGB meddling in the Ukrainian Diaspora affairs in America as early as the 1960s. One of those communists was Peter Krawchuk (Petro Kravchuk) (1911-1997), who had visited Soviet Ukraine, as a member of the Canadian Ukrainian Communist delegations, almost every year since 1947. From the early beginning, he became connected to the KGB people among Soviet Ukrainian diplomats, such as Oleksii (Oleksa) Voina. At the same time, the KGB administration tried to attack and discredit those Ukrainian Canadian Communists, such as John Kolasky (Ivan Koliaska) (1915-1997), who became frustrated with the realities of life in Soviet Ukraine in the 1960s, witnessing Russification, the official suppression of political opposition and a rise of authoritarianism there. Peter Krawchuk, as many of his comrades, Canadian communists, profited from the material support of Soviet authorities. Their children were enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyiv. As contemporaries noted, "special arrangements were made in hospitals, sanatoria and resorts to accommodate those members who required medical treatment or rest." In 1959, using Soviet financial support, Canadian Ukrainian communist leaders, such as Krawchuk, founded their own capitalist enterprise, a new international tourist company, Globe Tours, to provide travel facilities for those wishing to visit the Soviet Union. The Soviet government granted to this company the legal rights to be the only official representative of the Soviet travel agency, Inturist, in Canada, and guaranteed it an exclusive monopoly on group travel to Soviet Ukraine.

Another element of the meddling with overall Western political life, and especially U.S. politics, was the KGB support (including its financial funding) of various "progressive" (meaning pro-Soviet) political movements and parties in the "capitalist West." Almost every year, the KGB files provided information about the special KGB assistance to the numerous anti-war movements in the West and to the "friendly communist parties" in the West, especially to the communists in the U.S. and Canada. Even the organization of the Black Panther Party, which started in 1966 in Oakland, California, attracted the KGB' attention, because it was "a dynamic negro organization which posed a serious threat to America's ruling classes." According to the official KGB report of 1970, there was "a discernable tendency among the 'Black Panthers' to increase cooperation with progressive organizations [including communists] which are opposed to the existing system in the USA." Therefore, the KGB administration as early as 1970, suggested to the Soviet political leadership the special KGB "active measures" regarding this organization:

"Because the rise of African American protest in the USA will bring definite difficulties to the ruling classes of the USA and will distract the attention of the Nixon administration from pursuing an active foreign policy, we would consider it feasible to implement a number of measures to support this movement and assist its growth … Employing the possibilities of the KGB in New York and Washington, to influence the "Black Panthers" to address appeals to the U.N. and other international bodies for assistance in bringing the U.S. government's policy of genocide toward African Americans to an end … It is likely that by carrying out the abovementioned measures it will be possible to mobilize public opinion in the U.S. and in other countries in support of the rights of African Americans and thereby stimulate the "Black Panthers" into further activation of their struggle[ii]."

The representatives of the Ukrainian KGB took an active part in these operations by using and influencing the Afro-American followers of this organization in the KGB interests.

The KGB agents in the U.S. targeted the "historically black colleges and universities", especially in the Washington, D.C. area. They tried to find "the most radicalized" Afro-American students, who supported the "Black Panthers" movement and use them for various pro-Soviet actions, including the "anti-Vietnam war demonstrations" with the participation of the students from Howard University during the 1970s. The most successful operations by the KGB agents on Howard University's campus were devoted to various actions against the American Ukrainian meetings and demonstrations in Washington, D.C. Usually, "the KGB agitators" engaged Howard University's students in these actions by disseminating the leaflets and various literature about "the racist" and "fascist" origins of the Ukrainian diaspora in America, "ideologically discrediting" and portraying all American-Ukrainians as "the militant anti-Afro-American and Neo-Nazi group," which was "a real threat to all Afro-Americans and Jews" in the United States.

In some cases, the KGB managed to involve the "Black Panthers" followers from Howard University to disrupt and disperse the American-Ukrainians' demonstrations in downtown D.C. The most famous attempt to provoke a physical conflict between the Howard University's students, engaged by the KGB "agitators," and American-Ukrainians in downtown Washington, D.C. was prevented by the local police on September 16, 1984. The KGB agents tried to discredit the anti-Soviet actions of the American-Ukrainian activists at Taras Shevchenko monument in Washington, DC, on September 16, 1984, to mark the 20th anniversary of its official opening in the U.S. against "the forceful Russification of Ukraine." The American-Ukrainians planned even to attract the Afro-American students of Howard University, spreading among them the information about the friendship between Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), and American black actor Ira Aldridge (1807-1867). Eventually, the KGB succeeded in disrupting those plans, using disinformation about the so-called Fascist and racist nature of "Ukrainian nationalists," spreading various leaflets and pamphlets about the Ukrainian "white racists" among the black college students in their dorms. As a result of this KGB operation, the Black Panthers became involved in this conflict with the alleged Ukrainian racists and fascists in America.

At the same time, the KGB administration in Kyiv tried to monitor any political elections in both the U.S. and Canada which involved the representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in America and tried to "create a political influence for pro-Soviet candidates." On July 15, 1968, KGB agents in Canada informed their administration in Kyiv that they "focused their operation on the elections of members of the Canadian parliament," when seven Canadian-Ukrainians were on the list of possible candidates. These agents "checked the background and ideological positions of each of those candidates," and promised to "monitor thoroughly all of them to use them in the future in the interests of Soviet Ukraine." The KGB agents reported to their Kyiv administration that they "became especially interested in influencing" the Ukrainian-Canadian businessman Mark G. Smerchanski (1914-1989), from the Liberal Party of Canada (Province of Manitoba), "who was loyal to Soviet Ukraine, and assisted materially" the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Smerchanski visited the USSR in 1967, and the KGB noticed his "good behavior without any public demonstration of anti-Soviet feelings." They noted that "he expressed his strong interest in maintaining good trade relations between Canada and the Soviet Union."

Since 1968, KGB representatives continued their monitoring of all elections in both Canada and the U.S., trying to influence the "pro-Soviet inclined politicians" and promote their political careers all the time. During the summer of 1972, KGB agents in Canada promoted in American and Canadian mass media information about Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's comparison of Ukrainian nationalists with French separatists in the Province of Quebec. Throughout the entire 1970s, any "bad and negative description of the Ukrainian diaspora in America" by Canadian politicians was disseminated by KGB representatives in various American media with the purpose of discrediting "anti-Soviet inclinations" of American-Ukrainians.

The KGB managed to recruit and infiltrate numerous agents (8 in only the year 1973) in various Ukrainian-Canadian organizations, "the Ukrainian nationalistic newspapers," and Canadian universities in the cities of Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, using them for triggering campaigns to discredit those Canadian politicians, like former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who supported the anti-Soviet slogans of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.

KGB agents focused on strengthening the split between the radical Ukrainian nationalists ("banderovtsy" in the KGB documents) and a more moderate part of the Ukrainian diaspora in America. These agents supported and helped to publicize all over America a moderate "pro-Soviet" position of Ukrainian American intellectuals, such as O. Prytsak, director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, B. Krawchenko, one of the leaders of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, and Yu. Darevich, a Physics Professor at the University of Toronto, Yu. Gaetskii, a Professor of History at the University of Chicago. They "rejected to participate in the political actions of banderovtsy," and "opposed their attitudes directed at the boycott of the scientific and cultural connections with Soviet Ukraine." "In contrast to banderovtsy," they "demanded directing the activities of the Ukrainian emigration to a preservation of the Ukrainian language, culture, and strengthening its cultural role in the social life of the country of their residence."

Some archival discoveries of mine changed my traditional perceptions of KGB activities. The first discovery was about the apparent success of the KGB operations against the American spy schools in Western Germany. According to the documents about the CIA spy school ASTRA there, which used Ukrainian refugees, the KGB aborted a majority of CIA anti-Soviet operations involving people of Ukrainian descent during 1953-1963. The second discovery was the success of the KGB feeding misinformation to the CIA, misleading American intelligence, diplomacy, and media. It was related to Soviet military operations in both Vietnam and Afghanistan. Another discovery was about the successful KGB technological espionage operations, which targeted 16 U.S. exhibitions in Soviet Ukraine, and various scientific centers in the U.S. and Canada. The exhibitions from the United States (between 1961 and 1986) took priority in all KGB active measures, which developed the special counterintelligence and counter-propagandist operations against such "American efforts of public and cultural diplomacy" in the Cold War.

As KGB documents testify, the major goal of the KGB actions regarding America "was not a fight with U.S. spying/intelligence activities, nor a protection of Soviet youth from U.S. cultural influences, but rather influencing American politicians, by creating their positive and attractive images of Soviet realities; by using those politicians as 'useful assets,' the KGB promoted Soviet political interests in American society, in fact, by meddling in U.S. politics through those (sometimes very gullible and impressive) politicians, who happened to be visiting the Soviet Union."

Paradoxically, the FSB, now a Russian successor of the Soviet KGB, still follows the same strategy of the 1970s, regarding "capitalist America."

"The KGB and its FSB successors have constantly targeted various Western Slavic/Soviet centers in an attempt to influence Western experts and historical narratives"

In one of his latest books Kent DeBenedictis argues that Russia's hybrid war in the Crimea bears a striking resemblance to KGB operations during the Cold War. Is it possible to trace the similarity between past KGB operations in North America and Russia's aggression against Ukraine today? Is there a certain inertia and continuity in this policy?

Yes, we can see a similarity. The only difference is the presence of big money from Russian oligarchs, used to bribe (successfully) Western politicians. After 1954, until the perestroika of the 1980s, the KGB used the same strategy against Ukrainian national centers in the U.S. and Canada: "compromise, divide, and weaken from inside." In 1975–1976, the KGB organized four operations against those centers, and "implanted" 28 agents in various centers of the Ukrainian diaspora abroad, including four in the U.S. and 7 in Canada.

Now they use so-called "sleeper cells" from those Russian agents (and their children) who stayed in Canada and the U.S. since the 1970s. I already wrote about this in one of my essays, part of which deserves to be quoted verbatim: "FSB-controlled Russian international funds, such as the Russkiy Mir Foundation, the Gorchakov Fund and Alfa Fellowship Program (from Alfa-Bank of Mikhail Fridman) provide the financial support not only to the individual Western experts in Russian studies but also to various Western academic centers and think tanks, specializing in Eurasian and Russian studies. Many American and British scholars of Russian origin, who are experts in Russian politics, economy, history, and culture from Princeton, California, Georgetown, and other universities, such "academic stars" as political scientist Andrei Tsygankov from the University of San Francisco and historian of international relations Vladislav Zubok from the London School of Economics, used money from the Russkii Mir Foundation. Many American Slavists — from Matthew Rojansky, Distinguished Fellow at the Kennan Institute in Washington, DC, to Christopher Miller, an associate professor at Tufts University, used Russian funding from such Russian sources as Alfa Fellowship for their research and academic activities. (1)

Another international "venue of influence", initiated by the former graduates from the Institute of the USA and Canada, and now by the active members of Russian intelligence, is the Valdai Discussion Club in Russia. Again, the active American participants of this venue were Matthew Rojansky and Andrei Tsygankov.(2)

Eventually, such Americans as Rojansky, became the useful assets (or "agents of influence") of the FSB in many American think tanks and Slavic/Russian Centers, such as the Wilson Center, the Kennan Institute, the Monterey Initiative in Russian Studies (MIR) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, and the Carnegie Foundation, where Rojansky served as Deputy Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (3)

The Russian FSB also uses its British connections and financial resources of Russian oligarchs who reside in London to control and manipulate the field of Russian studies in England. Thus, in 2013, the London School of Economics (LSE), whose Russian financial sponsors were not happy with the pro-Ukrainian and anti-Putin position of Anne Applebaum, who occasionally taught courses on Eastern Europe at LSE, attempted to find a historian with more a pro-Russian attitude. As a result, LSE's administration offered the permanent position of international historian, who also covered Russian-Ukrainian relations, to Vladislav Zubok — the American professor from Temple University, former Soviet Americanist from Moscow's Institute of the USA and Canada, and former student of the KGB-connected Americanist Nikolai Sivachev from Moscow University.

The most scandalous case of Russian intelligence's interference in the functioning of the American centers for Russian studies was a story of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture & History at American University in Washington, D.C. According to an analysis by Ilya Zaslavskiy, the Russian Embassy and the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak have been instrumental in promoting the image of Russia as a "cultural superpower" in Washington D.C. It is evident that Kislyak played a critical role in the opening of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History at American University. The U.S. media has characterized the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. as a "puzzling figure" in the investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Kislyak's meetings with Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and attorney general Jeff Sessions, as well as telephone calls with [former U.S. National Security Advisor] Michael Flynn, have endowed the former Russian Ambassador with "a shadowy Rasputin-like presence in the entire affair." In 2011, following Ambassador Kislyak's proposal, American philanthropist Susan Carmel Lehrman donated $2 million to American University to launch the Initiative for Russian Culture [Carmel Institute of Russian Culture & History]. Lehrman recalled she sympathized with Ambassador Kislyak's vision of enhancing greater relations between Russians and Americans, particularly among younger generations" and that, as a philanthropist, she always had a personal desire to continue to assist in creating stronger cultural bonds and greater understandings between people of different cultures. In 2012, only six months after launching the Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC), Lehrman received two diplomatic awards — the first from France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the second from the Russian Foreign Ministry. In 2015, Lehrman received a corporate citizenship award from the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute (together with Petr Aven, the Kremlin-linked oligarch and co-owner of the Alfa Group). In 2016, Lehrman was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship, which was personally handed to her by Putin at the Kremlin. She sat next to Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev at the ceremony. The IRC focused on fostering "lasting connections between Russian and American students through musical and theater performances, Russian and Soviet film screenings, conferences, academic travel, and art exhibits." Speaking at the Initiative's inaugural event at the Library of Congress in October 2011, Ambassador Kislyak indicated that his plan was to create "a consortium of American universities interested in the study of Russian culture." From 2011-2014, more than 14,000 students and guests in the Washington D.C. metro region attended the Initiative's social events, dinners, and networking evenings. In 2015, Lehrman rebranded the Initiative and turned it into the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History. In the words of its newly appointed executive director Anton Fedyashin, the Center will now endeavor to "expose American students to Russia as a cultural superpower." The figure of Anton Fedyashin deserves attention. He was born in the USSR and came to the United States as a child in the mid-1980s together with his father, Andrey Fedyashin, who was a staff reporter at the Soviet news agency TASS first in the U.K. and then in the U.S. His grandfather, Georgy Fedyashin, was a General at the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Fedyashin was a visiting lecturer at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). His publications and media interviews give an impression he is "a professional Kremlin propagandist, who is well trained in turning the logic on its head and proving to his audience that black is in reality white, and vice versa." Anton Fedyashin was linked to the alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who studied at the American University and who could work with Fedyashin (and the Rossotrudnichestvo office in Washington DC) on selecting potential Russian intelligence recruits from the university's student body. (4)

As we see, the KGB and its successors, such as the FSB, targeted all the time various Western (mainly American and British) centers of Slavic Studies/Sovietology with the aim of influencing and shaping Western experts' views and historical narratives to serve the objectives of Soviet/Russian foreign policies and political interests. In the 1960s through the 1980s, Soviet intelligence had left hundreds of their agents as their future "sleeping cells" in various academic venues in the U.S. and Canada, from Harvard to Toronto. We still have no clue what happened to them. Under Putin, the same strategy with addition of the massive financial support from Russian oligarchs also contributed to the creation and growth of infrastructure of so-called "useful assets" in the Slavic Studies in the West, who promoted the geopolitical interests of Putin's Russia, ignoring and mispresenting a story of Russia's neighbors such as Ukraine, who suffered from Russian aggression[I].

References and Notes

(1) V. A. Nikonov, Sovremennyi mir i ego istoki (Moscow: Izd-vo Moskovskogo universiteta, 2015), esp. 302–4.

(2) Якщо це цитата, потрібне посилання.

(3) For a fragment of this essay, see Sergei I. Zhuk (below), “KGB Special Operations, Cultural Consumption, and the Youth Culture in Soviet Ukraine, 1968–1985,” in Russian Active Measures: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, ed. Olga Bertelsen (New York: ibidem Press and Columbia University Press, 2021), 63–92.

Sergey (Serhii) Zhuk
Professor of History at Ball State University, Indiana, USA. Educated at Oles Honchar Dnipro National University and graduated from Johns Hopkins University. His career in the U.S. began in 1997. His research interests are international relations, cultural consumption, religion, and popular culture and identity in the history of imperial Russia, Ukraine, and the Soviet Union. He has received numerous research grants, including from the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Fulbright.

His publications include: The KGB Operations against the USA and Canada in Soviet Ukraine, 1953–1991 (2022); Soviet Americana: The Cultural History of Russian and Ukrainian Americanists (2018); Nikolai Bolkhovitinov and American Studies in the USSR: People's Diplomacy in the Cold War (2017); Rock and Roll in the Rocket City: The West, Identity, and Ideology in Soviet Dniepropetrovsk, 1960–1985 (2010); Russia's Lost Reformation: Peasants, Millennialism and Radical Sects in Southern Russia and Ukraine, 1830–1917 (2004).

Related: KGB Special Operations, Cultural Consumption, and the Youth Culture in Soviet Ukraine, 1968–1985

ANNOTATION: This work examines KGB active measures and special operations against the Americanization/Westernization of the Soviet youth culture, which are analyzed through the prism of cultural consumption in the Ukrainian SSR. The author focuses on the first cases of harassment targeting "mass alien" groups of students, which in 1968 imitated the American hippies, as well as on Andropov-era campaigns against punks and neo-Nazis—high school students. Based on a thorough examination of declassified KGB documents, this study bolsters earlier attempts to analyze KGB operations aimed at the youth culture of Soviet Ukraine in the era of late socialism.

PDF of the article is available here.

Originally appeared in Ukrainian @Ukraina Moderna

This article was published as part of a project supported by the Canadian non-profit charitable organization Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.

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