- - Thursday, June 5, 2014

Few American journalists know how life in Vladimir Putin’s Russia embraces the atmosphere of fear, secrecy and corruption that flourished in the Soviet Union.

But David Satter does. A Moscow correspondent who lived in the former Soviet Union, he was so successful in investigating Russian corruption that Moscow expelled him from the country.

Mr. Satter’s expulsion in December marks the first time the Kremlin has expelled an American journalist since the 1991 collapse of the USSR.

Since being exiled, he has worked with the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute and Radio Free Europe to release a 108-minute documentary based on his first book, “Age of Delirium,” which examines the fall of the USSR.

The film, which won the 2013 Grand Jury Prize at the Amsterdam Film Festival, explains how the Russian people were seduced by the promise of communism.

“We believed in a radiant future, we believed in the victory of communism,” a former Soviet soldier tells Mr. Satter in the film. “It turned out we believed in a big fairy tale.”

Mr. Satter told The Washington Times that Russia’s departure from communism has reduced its influence with foreign supporters.

“The Soviet Union had many supporters in countries around the world because people believed in the communist cause,” he said. “Foreigners were willing to commit themselves to the Soviet cause, but that cause is now gone.”

In the film, Mr. Satter delves into how the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) preyed upon the hopes and dreams of idealistic young Russians who were hungry for purpose.

“People seek some source of meaning for the short interval during which they are on this planet, and communism gave people a sense that they were living for some purpose — that their life had some higher meaning, that they were participating in a great endeavor,” Mr. Satter explains in the documentary.

“They were bringing enlightenment and justice and social equality, not only to their own country, [but] they were [also] working to bring it to the whole world, and that gave a sense of meaning and purpose to what were otherwise very miserable and impoverished lives.”

Mr. Satter was a 28-year-old police reporter for the Chicago Tribune who spoke fluent Russian when, in 1976, he was sent to the USSR by the Financial Times. He later reported for The Wall Street Journal.

Even then the writing was on the wall, he said. Mr. Satter recalled taking a ride with Daily Telegraph correspondent Christopher Booker during the 1980 Moscow Olympics, when he made a prediction.

“I told him this country won’t last 10 more years,” he said. “I was off by one more year.”

The film highlights some of the correspondent’s most intriguing experiences and encounters with Soviet citizens — and intelligence.

Shortly upon his arrival to the Soviet Union in 1976, Mr. Satter had his suitcase stolen while on a train after an attractive woman made advances toward him. After filing a police report in Estonia, he arrived late to an apartment, expecting to interview local dissidents.

Mr. Satter interviewed the group but was later told by trusted sources that the “dissidents” were actually undercover KGB agents.

Their mission?

“Part of it was intimidation and part of it was to find out what I was up to,” he said.

In the documentary, Mr. Satter explains that one of his then-Soviet sources warned him: “The Soviet Union is a land of miracles, and from time to time the KGB likes to create reality.”

“Age of Delirium” also covers the harsh conditions that Ukrainian coal miners endured, the mistreatment of young Soviet soldiers and how dissidents were sent to psychiatric hospitals, where they were force-fed medications for mental illness. Others were executed and sent off for burial in towns that did not appear on Soviet maps.

“This particular way of organizing a society leads to sane people being tortured in mental hospitals, and it leads there illogically because the very deal of exchanging truth for bread means that someone who insists on truth is a blatant exception to the society,” Mr. Satter narrates.

“Age of Delirium” details the last days of the Soviet empire and how it imploded on the streets of Moscow in the wake of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost, outlining the White House rebellion and the final days of the Communist Party.

“Troops were everywhere, but the collapse of the imaginary world was already complete,” Mr. Satter says of the Soviet collapse. “The ideology was discredited even in the army of the KGB sealing the fate of the Soviet Union.”

In the wake of Russia’s recent annexation of the Crimea, “Age of Delirium” provides insight into the philosophy that molded the regime that controls the Kremlin today and the Soviet morality that enabled the USSR to flourish amid contradiction.

Despite his criticisms, Mr. Satter said he misses the Russian people and the country.

“I’ve said many times that I would like to go back,” he said with a smile. “The people can be wonderful, and there is a history of incredible talent in Russia.”

“Age of Delirium” is airing on public television stations nationwide. Broadcast times are available at ageofdelirium.com.

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a legal analyst for The Washington Times.