- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 1999

I read this Dec. 21 Reuters dispatch with a sense of horror: MOSCOW President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in line with Russia's current hard-line mood, heaped praise on the Soviet-era KGB secret service and its successors.

"Several years ago, we fell prey to an illusion that we have no enemies," Itar-Tass quoted Putin as telling a meeting of top security officials Saturday, marking the Day of Security Bodies, founded 82 years ago, Dec. 20, 1917.

"We have paid dearly for this," Putin said. "Russia has its own national interests, and we have to defend them."

On Saturday, Yeltsin sent a special message to security bodies, the Kremlin press service said.

"The history of the Federal Security Service [the biggest successor body to the KGB] is part of the country's history. Brilliant victories and bitter defeats are inseparable in it," the message said.

Dec. 25, 1991, marked the official end of the Soviet empire. What the new Russia has to show for itself after eight years is praise, as we read in the above Reuters dispatch, by Russia's president and prime minister for the Soviet secret police, before whose achievements Adolf Hitler's Gestapo were rank amateurs, and for its successor FSB.

Michael Dobbs in his book, "Down With Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire," wrote: "Big Brother may be dead, but the specter of communism will continue to haunt us for decades to come." And so eight years later we must face the reality of a resuscitated Cold War declared against the rest of Europe and, above all, the United States.

For after all, about whom was Mr. Putin talking when he told the former KGB gangsters: "Several years ago, we fell prey to an illusion that we have no enemies. We have paid dearly for this. Russia has its own national interests, and we have to defend them"? What the Russian people are being told is that Russia's "enemies," who have been ladling out billions of hard currency dollars for eight years into a Russian rathole, are the ones responsible for Russia's economic decline and everything else.

In eight years we have watched the Kremlin move from rule by a ruthless nomenklatura to a rule by an equally ruthless Mafiatura. A onetime KGB executive, whose crimes are hidden in KGB archives, is now prime minister and is a possible future president. The last time the secret police achieved such power was in December 1992 with the rise of Yuri V. Andropov, one time KGB chairman, as president of the Soviet Union.

Last year Mr. Yeltsin praised those Muscovites who after the end of the empire assembled at KGB headquarters and celebrated their new-found freedom by dragging the statue of Felix Dzerzhinski off its pedestal. But then came this frightening Yeltsin statement:

"As I look back, I realize that we nearly overdid it when we exposed the crimes committed by the security services, for there were not only dark periods, but also glorious episodes in their history, of which one may really be proud."

"… Glorious episodes in their history, of which one may really be proud"? So that's what it comes down to: Yeltsin led a counterrevolution that ended with the rehabilitation of the secret police.

We in the West have nothing yet to fear from a resurgent Russia. But there are those who have reason to fear: the countries on Russia's borders. A journalist I know from a Central European country called me yesterday to tell me that his government, which has lost what little faith they ever had in the Yeltsin regime, was worried stiff that the war in Chechnya might augur badly for the onetime Soviet satellites, NATO or no NATO.

"It's the Red Army once more and it has tasted blood," said the journalist morosely.

The impending big date for Russia is the presidential election next summer. It may be Russia's last chance and a last chance for a Europe at peace.

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