Frontpage Interview's guest today is Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, a former KGB agent who became one of the KGB’s harshest critics. He is the author of seven books about the KGB and Japan. His new book is KGB/FSB's New Trojan Horse: Americans of Russian Descent.
FP: Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about the possibility of Russia helping America with Iran. How realistic would the Obama administration be in thinking that it can get such help?
Preobrazhenskiy: Americans still cannot get rid of the illusion that Russians are thinking like them. For Americans it goes without saying that Iran is a dangerous country which can hurt them with its nuclear weapons. But for Russians it is not so at all. They are fine with the current situation. Weakening America is a strategic goal of the current Russian regime.
It becomes clear when you listen to General Leonid Shebarshin, the semi-official Russian speaker on Iran. He is the former Head of KGB Intelligence. Prior to this position, from 1979-83, he used to be Head of the KGB station in Tehran. In 2006, he gave a public lecture at the Moscow University. It was based on five points:
 Iran justifiably wants to get the nuclear bomb so as not to return to its previous status of semi-colony of the U.S.
 The U.S. intentionally gives mistaken translations of what Iranian President Ahmadinejad is saying about Israel. Americans are exaggerating his anti-Israeli rhetoric, which is in fact milder.
 The U.S. hates Iran for its support of Hezbollah, which it thinks is terrorist but is, in fact, a political organization.
 If Iran comes closer to America, it will lose interest in cooperation with Russia. Russian companies will be dismissed from Iranian nuclear industry by the American ones.
 But, fortunately, Americans are not so strong.
Though these five points were proclaimed three years ago, they still represent the position of the current Russian leadership. Which is not surprising, as today’s Russia is governed by the KGB.
General Shebarshin is a KGB speaker.
FP: But isn’t Russia afraid of being attacked by Iranian missiles?
Preobrazhenskiy: No, it’s not.
Just like it’s not afraid of North Korean missiles either.
Iranian missiles are aimed at America and its allies -- and Putin knows this very well. I remember that in the 1990s Russian media really expressed some concern about Iranian missiles. But at that time Russia was friendly with America. And today’s Russia has no reason to worry.
FP: Well there is always a reason to worry when it comes to Islamic fanatics with nuclear weapons.
Preobrazhenskiy: Yes, of course, there is no guarantee that Iran will never hurt Russia. But it has always been characteristic for the Kremlin to arm its potential enemies: Nazi Germany in the 1930s and China in the 1950s. Now Russia is arming China again, and is arming Iran, though Iran has never been Russia’s friend. The Soviet historical model has been reproduced. That is why it is especially hard to oppose it now.
The Kremlin has always tried to deceive and manipulate America in the Iranian issue. In 1943, prior to the Tehran Conference, Moscow successfully mounted a worldwide misinformation campaign, in which it suggested that Hitler wanted to kill President Franklin Roosevelt in Iran. The Soviets then persuaded Roosevelt to stay in the Soviet Embassy in Tehran. This enabled Soviet intelligence to monitor every word of the private talks of the unsuspecting American delegation. Stalin's efforts to manipulate the President led to America's general misunderstanding of the criminal nature of Stalin's regime.
And there are recent examples of course. Take in 2007 when Putin tried to deceive Robert Gates. Recently, Gates recounted a meeting he had that year Putin, who was Russian President at the time:
“When I first met with President Putin and talked about this, he basically dismissed the idea that the Iranians would have a missile that would have the range to reach much of Western Europe and much of Russia before 2020 or so. And he showed me a map that his intelligence guys had prepared. And I told him he needed a new intelligence service.”
Gates did not even suspect that Putin was deceiving him and that Russian intelligence guys had forged this piece of misinformation especially for him. And that Putin hardly needed a new intelligence service, as the current one has fulfilled his task very well.
But Gates reported that, more recently, the Russians have changed their assessment of the Iranian threat. “The Russians have come back to us and acknowledged that we were right in terms of the nearness of the Iranian missile threat and that they had been wrong,” he said.
But I am afraid that this is just a new stage of the Russian game with America. Soon they may say they have changed their minds once again. Remember the sad history of the American base in Kirgizia?
Let me ask this: is it really possible to allow that Putin really did not know something about the Iranian nuclear program -- in which Russia itself has been involved? That the mammoth GRU, military intelligence, did not know the truth? Or that the Directorate “T”, with its 1000 people’s staff, managing scientific and technical intelligence in the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, was unable to make a correct evaluation of Iranian missiles program?
No. Russian intelligence has been fully aware of all that is going on in Iran. It is enough to say that in 1985, the head of Iranian Intelligence, Hossein Fardoust, was accused, by an Iranian Revolutionary Tribunal, of being a Russian spy. Fardoust was a childhood friend of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, under whom the KGB recruited many agents in Iran.
Russia has a long tradition of spying on Iran as a neighbor state. Also, Russia has great experience in infiltrating the Islamic world. Russian intelligence has its assets in all the Islamic countries and is able to dispatch them to Iran for spying. In the SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence) headquarters, there are many specialists in Farsi and other Oriental languages. They are so many, that SVR had to open its local branch of the Association of the graduates of the Institute of Asia and Africa of the Moscow University. I graduated from there.
FP: So what do you know about Russian-Iranian cooperation today?
Preobrazhenskiy: Today, the intelligence services of Russia and Iran seem to be partners. According to the Russian website, Agentura.ru, the former Iran intelligence head, Ali Yuoonesi, “has paid special attention to the development of cooperation with the special services of CIS, in particular, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. In September, 2000, he has run negotiations with that time’s head of the Security Council, Sergei Ivanov, about cooperation on Afghanistan and the struggle with the radical Sunni organizations, and in September 2001 he has negotiated with the Azerbaijani minister of security, Abbasov.”
Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The main information has been kept secret. But what does this published piece tell me as a professional intelligence analyst? It tells that the intelligence services of Russia and Iran are cooperating. Not only on Afghanistan, but on America too. And on Armenia and Azerbaijan and also on the interior situation in Russia.
The late Alexander Litvinenko told me that all anti-American rhetoric by President Ahmadinejad has actually been prompted to him by Putin.
FP: Crystallize for us some of the ingredients of the Russian-Iranian rapprochement.
Preobrazhenskiy: Russia’s rapprochement with Iran is not accidental. It has been dictated by the internal situation in Russia: the shrinking of all possible freedoms and the return of the totalitarian state. Every day Russia more and more resembles an oriental despotic state. That is why, day by day it is getting closer to Iran and more and more distant from America.
Many people now openly call the Russian national leader “Ayatollah Putin”. In 2007, Putin met the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, in Tehran. The correspondent of the Russian ‘Kommersnt” magazine has wittily remarked that Khamenei’s role has suited Putin very well. He observed that Putin went there to acquire Khamenei’s experience and to see what this role is like.
At the end of the meeting, Khamenei expressed his hope for Putin’s continued visits to Iran. “We shall come, with God’s assistance,” said Putin unexpectedly. He did not understand that it would be interpreted as “If Allah allows,” the “Kommersant” correspondent noted.
Russia’s rapprochement with Iran is also based on Putin’s anti-American philosophy. Why do you think the Kremlin elite appointed an unknown KGB Lieutenant-Colonel to rule Russia? Because in the 1990s American democracy came to Russia. The commoners became too brave. They began asking state authorities difficult questions, and even the members of President Yeltsin’s family became vulnerable to investigation and possible prosecution. Yes, in America this is all normal, but in Russia? No, we couldn’t and can’t allow it.
I was in Moscow at that time and my journalist friends told me that the Kremlin elite was especially frightened by the Monica Lewinsky case. If for such an insignificant reason (in their eyes) the President of the USA was called in for interrogation, what was awaiting them? They were and are accustomed to unrestricted sexual freedom. In Russia, there have always been very many Monica Lewinskys, but they all are keeping their mouth shut. If one opens her mouth even once, then it could trigger a Pandora’s box. An eternal amount of Monica Lewinskys could emerge. This poses a huge threat to the Russian ruling elite and it has become a huge factor in keeping Russia apart from America.
Is Monica Lewinsky’s case possible in Iran? Oh, not at all. And this lack of freedom inside an Islamist despotism is appealing to the Russian ruling elite. The ideas coming out of Iran don’t pose a threat to Russia’s oligarchy. It’s not going to implant dangerous ideas into Russian peoples’ heads, and into Monica Lewinskys’ heads, that they have individual rights and deserve autonomy, equality, a voice and respect, etc.
And so Russia’s relations with Iran are really intimate. So much so, that in 2003, on the eve of the war in Iraq, Russia was planning to move its embassy in Baghdad into Tehran. They considered this city very safe for Russian secrets. And two armed detachments of the SVR even secretly arrived in Baghad for this mission a few hours prior to American troops coming there.
Putin’s task was to destroy the first seeds of Russian democracy, to burn out the very spirit of American democracy from Russian political life. And now the U.S. wants him to help America with Iran? Did it cross Americans’ mind that maybe he would prefer to help Iran? And maybe that is precisely why Russia is doing that right now. They have even formulated the ideological foundation for it!
FP: Can you talk a bit about this ideological foundation.
Preobrazhenskiy: Russia has invented a special ideology for its union with Iran. It is “Eurasia theory.” This teaching is primitive and unconvincing. It postulates that Russia, as the main country of Eurasia, has been doomed to oppose America based on its geographical situation. Eurasia is a “land power” and America is the “Atlantic” one.
This so-called theory was authorized by a quazi-philosoper, Alexander Dugan. Also he is a leader of a political party created on the base of this theory: the “Eurasia Movement”.
Of course, it is not a theory at all, but a sort of “symbol of faith” of Russian expansion and anti-Americanism. And also it is a symbol of patriotism for the Russian ruling elite. If you share Dugin’s views, you are a real Russian patriot and may be promoted to a higher post. Your career in Russian government will be successful, as it was for the devoted Communists in the Soviet times.
Yes, Dugin has borrowed postulates of the Communist ideology: hatred of democracy, human rights and America. And also he has proclaimed Iran to be the most natural Russian ally in fighting America.
In his recent article, “The West is Afraid of Friendship between Russia and Ira,” Alexander Dugin wrote the following: “The U.S.A. and their Western allies are afraid that the establishment of solid strategic connection between Moscow and Tehran would not let them isolate Iran based on its nuclear ambitions. America hastens to be settled in Georgia so it can stop the union between Russia and Iran. That is why Russia and Iran should hurry to get together.”
Think about this: Alexander Dugin is a frequent guest on Kremlin-controlled Russian TV. Yet he cannot even speak Russian properly. He was granted a clearance for lecturing at the General Staff Academy. It is the highest Russian military school, where all the students have the rank of a General. How reliable do you think they would be might be as America’s allies a future war?
Why do you think Dugin gets all these unusual privileges? The answer is clear: The Eurasia Movement is backed by Russian intelligence. Its actual organizer is Colonel Peter Suslov, officer of the SVR. In the 1990s, Dugin’s seminars were attended by the high-positioned Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Ivanov, future Russian Minister of Defense and the current First Deputy Prime Minister. By the way, he is my former classmate at the KGB school in Minsk in the late 1970s. And he is also a very close friend of Putin.
Sergei Ivanov is said to be the leading promoter of rapprochement with Iran in the military sphere -- in spite of the U.S.A.
But where he see Ivanov, he see Putin. In fact, Sergei Ivanov is nothing but Putin’s shadow. If he visited the Eurasia seminars, it means that Putin admires the Eurasia Movement too. After Putin’s coming to power, the Eurasia Movement received the Kremlin’s support. The SVR, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, and GRU, military intelligence, have assisted Alexander Dugin in working out the long-term joint project of creating the Eurasian block. The anti-American partnership of Russia and Iran is playing the key role there.
FP: What can America to do about all of this?
Preobrazhenskiy: To try to restore Russian democracy once again.
FP: With the Obama administration in power, headed by people who don’t think the U.S. has any great values to teach anyone, that seems like quite a depressing picture.
Let’s talk about this soon.
Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, thank you for joining us.