I recently published an article explaining to the readers that Dimitri Simes, a Director of the Center for the National Interest and a publisher of the eponymous journal (The National Interest) is the agent of the Kremlin.
The last straw that exhausted my patience and made me break the many years of silence on this issue was the recent revelation that Maria Butina, who was arrested on July 15, 2018, named two people as her Russian handlers in the US – Dimitri Simes and Anton Fedyashin.
Publication of this article appears to have created dramatic consequences. Simes immediately left the United States and flew to Moscow where, starting September 3 (as noted in his Russian-language Wikipedia page, but which is omitted in the English-language version), he became a moderator of a political program "Big Game" on the official Russian TV Channel 1. The second moderator of the program is Vyacheslav Nikonov. The fact that it was Nikonov who became Simes' "partner" in the propagandist program of the Russian Government is noteworthy. These two have known each other personally for a long time. Nikonov frequently visited US, and upon his arrival in Washington, he would typically go straight to Simes. Who was handling whom and who was whose boss is difficult to ascertain. It appears that in the Kremlin-FSB hierarchy, these two were equals.
Vyacheslav Nikonov is a grandson of Vyasheslav Molotov, a faithful ally and confidante of Stalin, a People's Commissar (i.e., Minister) of Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of the Soviet Government. Nikonov's father, Alexey Nikonov (1917-1992) was an NKVD (the internal secret police under Lavrenty Beria) operative, Communist Party Secretary of the KGB, professor of MGIMO (the Moscow State Institute of International Relations) and an editor of the leading Communist Party publication titled Communist.
Vyacheslav Nikonov who started studying at the History Department of the Moscow State University in 1973, joined the Communist Party and became a secretary of the Party committee at the History Department, and, after the graduation in 1978, became the Head of the Department in the Communist Party. In 1991, he became a Deputy of Vadim Bakatin – the KGB Chairman. In 1993, Nikonov added to his list of achievements a title of a member of the Russian Duma and a member of the Bureau of the General Council of the United Russia party, the ruling party of Russia. In addition, in 2017, he was appointed an Executive Director of the Governing Board of the Russkiy Mir (the Russian World) Foundation by President Putin's decree, and in 2011 became the Chairman of the Board of this Foundation. The Russkiy Mir Foundation, through its approximately 100 branches around the world, serves as the main propaganda and recruiting tool for the Russian Government.
As noted by a mutual acquaintance of both Nikonov and me, "Nikonov is very dangerous." And it is Nikonov with whom Simes is now moderating a propagandistic political program on the main Russia TV channel – Channel 1.
It was only when Butina mentioned Fedyashin that I heard about him for the first time. It made me curious to learn more about this person.
Fedyashin is a historian specializing in Russian history. On the website of the American University in Washington, D.C. where he teaches, one can see that his professional biography follows the typical trajectory of someone who ends up with a history professorship at a prestigious academic institution.
Of course, Anton Fedyashin is being overly modest and neglects to mention in his professional bio a lot of background details. There is no mention of the fact that he was born in the USSR and came to the US as a child with his father, Andrey Fedyashin. His father was a graduate of MGIMO and a staff reporter at TASS – first in London and later in Washington, where he moved with Anton in the mid-1980s. Those familiar with the Soviet reality understand that MGIMO only accepted children of the high-level Soviet nomenklatura. As for the job abroad – e.g., as a TASS reporter in “capitalist countries,” especially in the US and UK – that type of an assignment could be bestowed only upon the most trusted Soviet journalists, who typically would have been both the Communist Party members and KGB operatives. Adding to all this the fact that Andrey Fedyashin was sent on a plum job assignment abroad with a child, one can only conclude that the Soviet Government trusted him deeply and that he earned that trust. (In the former USSR, when a person was sent on a work assignment abroad, their children usually were left behind for leverage.)
To add to the readers’ thrill and make them really curious about this fantastic story that is so atypical of a Soviet citizen at that time, let us point out that upon his return to Moscow from Washington, Andrey Fedyashin was allowed to leave his son in the United States to continue his studies here, with Anton Fedyashin ultimately receiving professorship at the American University and becoming natively bilingual (English and Russian).
It is possible that Anton’s grandfather and Andrey’s father – Georgy Fedyashin – played an important role in this incredible story. Georgy Fedyashin was a General at the First Chief Directorate of the KGB – i.e., a KGB General at the main directorate of KGB that focused on foreign intelligence. Just like his son Andrey and later his grandson Anton, Georgy Fedyashin also worked abroad until he was outed as a Soviet spy and sent back to the motherland where he has been employed at the Press Agency Novosti (APN) since 1965. At APN, he was both a deputy chief editor for the section of Western Europe and simultaneously was a KGB “curator” (handler) for the agency.
Again, those familiar with the Soviet reality would know that APN was practically a department of KGB and a place of employment for KGB, GRU and SVR officers who either were re-called from abroad or resigned. Still, Georgy Fedyashin soon left APN and returned to the active KGB service.
Anton Fedyashin has his own niche in Washington – namely, he serves as a director of the Institute of the Russian History and Culture, which is also known in the US as the Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC) or as the Carmel Institute. Here is what one of the journalists, Ilya Zaslavsky, had to say about this institution:
“The Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History at American University (AU) is funded by Washington socialite Susan Carmel Lehrman, who has been close to [now former] Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian diplomats for many years. The Institute sponsors screenings of Soviet classics and modern Russian films at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington, D.C., and hosts big social events: galas, parties, dinners and evenings geared toward networking. Susan is also the main financier of the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation (ARCCF), which also sponsors large and varied networking events, concerts, exhibitions and commemorative meetings that almost invariably happen with the support of the Russian Embassy. […]
The executive director of the ARCCF is Alexander Potemkin, a former Soviet diplomat. As he was a cultural attaché to the U.S. under the USSR, it is very likely that he was an officer or some affiliate of KGB. He retired in 1990s and decided to stay in Washington, D.C. In 1997 he was already a director of the U.S.-Russian Cultural Fund, a non-diplomatic entity that organized exhibitions from Russia in the U.S. […] The most important implication of the ARCCF and the IRC’s activity in Washington, D.C., however, is the fact that they have invariably attracted only staunch supporters of Putin. […].
Anton Fedyashin seems to be fond of the topic of whether or not the U.S. should abandon its Cold War mentality vis-à-vis Putin’s regime. For example, the Russian State Institute of International Relations, which is very close to Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, praised Anton for his assistance with a series of lectures on this topic in 2012. This theme is repeated often in his numerous television appearances where he is invited as an American academic. […] When Fedyashin takes U.S. students to Russia, they also habitually get to meet only Putin apologists.”
The concerns voiced by Zaslavsky are hardly exaggerated. Incidents involving Russian diplomats attempting to recruit American students have been surfacing in Washington from time to time and were covered by the media. In October 2013, FBI accused a Russian diplomat named Yury Zaytsev of recruiting Americans as potential intelligence assets. Zaytsev, as it happens, was a head of the Washington-based Russian Cultural Centre, which is a part of Rossotrudnichestvo, an entity established by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also known as the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation.
According to the FBI, Yury Zaytsev was “a Russian Foreign Intelligence officer and a professional spy, acting as the Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. […] only so that he can maintain a residence here in the United States.” In fact, the FBI alleged that part of Zaytsev's mission was “sending young professionals from the United States to Russia as part of a cultural program wherein participants are evaluated and/or assessed for Russian counterintelligence purposes.”
The two-year Russian youth program described as a series of short educational trips to the Russian Federation reminds of an old anecdote regarding free cheese being available only in the mousetrap. According to one of the publications, "Rossotrudnichestvo paid for meals, travel, lodging, and every other expense associated with the trip, down to the visa fee. During the St. Petersburg leg of a June 2012 trip, participants stayed at the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge, a luxury hotel that has hosted delegations for the G8 and G20 summits. Participants on that trip met with the governors of Moscow and St. Petersburg and with Aleksander Torshin, a high-ranking member of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. Since 2011, Rossotrudnichestvo has organized six trips.
The purpose of the two-year-old program for young professionals, said Zaitsev, was to show American youth the culture of modern Russia. “The first group of 50 people departed for Russia in December 2011 and spent two weeks in Moscow and St. Petersburg, completely at the expense of the Russian Federation. In 2012, we were able to send two groups of 25 people, but, this time, one of the groups was able to visit not only Moscow but also Kazan. On August 6, there was one more delegation that had the chance to visit Moscow and Kaluga,” said Zaitsev. “The average age of our candidates is 25–35 years […]. It is interesting that most of them have nothing to do with Russia: They often work as assistants to mayors, senators, in the administration of cities and states. […] Participants were chosen based on applications. After the trip, the center asked them to share their impressions of Russia.”
Based on the information provided by the Russia’s Ministry of the Foreign Affairs, over 1,000 young people from 50 countries had visited Russia under the auspices of this program since 2011.
FBI became interested in the Russian cultural exchange program. From September 2013, the FBI personnel interviewed about 12 young American professionals who participated in this program run by Zaytsev. Notably, since he enjoyed diplomatic immunity, Zaytsev continued to work in the US for another year, while giving critical interviews to the press regarding investigation.
In addition to these trips for “young professionals,” the Russian Cultural Center took to Russia “winners” of different contests. “A while ago, we organized an essay contest on the following topic: ‘400 years of the Romanov family.’ Nine laureates and one professor from the American University came to St. Petersburg in August to see for themselves the places of the czar's family,” said Zaitsev.
We are talking about the very university where Anton Fedyashin is teaching. Who could have been that “one professor” who came to St. Petersburg?
With respect to those who stood out in some promising way, the Russian “hosts” would start building a dossier as potential intelligence assets. Finally, in 2014, Zaytsev left the United States. A new director of the same Russian Cultural Center, Oleg Zhiganov, was deported from the United States for the same reason at the end of March 2018, as part of the group of 60 Russian diplomats who were accused of espionage.
Joel Brenner, who served as inspector general of the National Security Agency, hypothesized that the intelligence community may have set its sights on Zhiganov over activities related to recruiting, or "spotting talent." "A person like that would be spotting potential recruits—people who might be willing to compromise their own positions and ultimately, even become traitors," Brenner said. "A guy who is in a position like that […] builds influence and meets people in what look like benign circumstances in which he can turn people." "What you have to remember is that the use of that spot for spying has everything to do with diplomatic privileges and immunities, and nothing to do with the job role itself," said Scott Olson, whose two decades at the FBI included running counterintelligence operations. "The reality of it is, he would not be on the list of 60 that is being sent home if he had not been categorized as a known intelligence officer."
Still, according to the Russian news agency Sputnik, the Russian Cultural Center in Washington will continue its work despite Zhiganov’s deportation. It surely will continue its work since, in reality, the Center serves a center for the Russian intelligence recruitment in Washington (as observed by one of the former Soviet intelligence officers who now resides in Washington).
Nevertheless, Zhiganov managed to do one “good deed” prior to his departure: he “made” Maria Butina, with whom he met several times. The exact number and frequency of these meetings is not clear yet. Several of the meetings between Zhiganov and Butina occurred in the Russian Cultural Center and in the Russian Embassy in Washington where Zhiganov served as First Secretary. At least one of the meetings in January 2018 occurred not in the Russian Embassy but in a French bistro where Butina went on Zhiganov’s invitation and where they were photographed by the FBI operatives.
There was no risk for Zhiganov given his diplomatic status. Butina did not have that status. She was arrested and accused of being in the United States since 2015 “as a covert Kremlin agent under the direction of a top Russian government official and central banker.” A “government official and banker” was none other than Alexander Torshin, whom Butina knew well both from her Russian days and from their common activities in the United States – that same Torshin, to whom Zhiganov’s predecessor at the Russian Cultural Center Yury Zaytsev sent American youth for recruitment.
It is not surprising that the 29-year-old Butina remains in a protective custody in a Washington, D.C. detention center. During her arrest on July 15, 2018, the federal authorities confiscated 12 terabytes of data containing an amount of information equal to three million documents, and her diary. She certainly has something to share with investigators. Indeed, she turned out to be a link between everyone: her Russian curator Torshin and Zaytsev who was sending to him the Americans to be recruited; the head of the Russian Cultural Center and the First Secretary of the Russian Embassy Zhiganov, Zaytsev’s successor; Dimitri Simes, who organized on April 7, 2015, through The Center for National Interest the meeting among Maria Butina, Stanley Fischer, then-US Federal Reserve Vice Chairman, and Nathan Sheets, then-Treasury Department Undersecretary for International Affairs. It was exactly at that time that Butina was accompanying Torshin during his trip to the US, who was then the Deputy Governor of Russia’s Central Bank and who was Butina’s Russian handler.
Among the items confiscated during Butina’s arrest, there is, of course, a publication by Anton Fedyashin from April 6, 2017, on the American University’s website. Butina was an MA student at that very university’s School of International Service (SIS), with her career being moved along and useful connection being made for her by all of the relevant actors: Torshin (with whom she tagged along as an interpreter to all of the high-level meetings), Simes (who published her primitive article in his journal The National Interest, with Butina signing her “masterpiece” with a misleading title “The Founding Chairman, The Right To Bear Arms, a Russian version of the NRA,” and Fedyashin (with whom Butina, it seems, was engaged in, among other things, the selection of potential Russian intelligence recruits from the University’s student body).
Here are these unsuspecting students, with Fedyashin and Butina featured prominently on all of the photos. On the first one, the group is flanked by them – Fedyashin on the left, Butina on the right. On some other ones, Butina is in the audience together with her handler Fedyashin and other students. Still, do not attempt to click on this link. It is already impossible to access the online album with Butina’s photos as the site’s internet address no longer works. Since I copied these pictures before the links were disabled, you can see the pictures here.
Things also started disappearing gradually from Fedyashin’s publication of April 6, 2017 titled “East Meets West in Gettysburg." First, the part about Butina disappeared. Again, I copied the entire text previously – see the text below in italic letters:
“The picturesque town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, has a distinguished place in the American tradition of overcoming profound divisions. On the weekend of February 11-12, 2017, it witnessed a remarkable dialog between two distant worlds—the American and the post-Soviet. The Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College invited students from the Carmel Institute for a weekend of seminars and cultural immersion organized by Ms. Susan Eisenhower, the Institute's Chairman Emeritus. Dr. Anton Fedyashin, Director of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History, and Ms. Eisenhower led the seminars. The meeting of young minds aimed at breaking through the seemingly impenetrable wall of stereotypes that has sprung up between Russia and America over the past few years. […]
SIS [The School of International Service] MA student Maria Butina put it this way: ‘Our trip was like a time machine that took us through the present, the future and the past of U.S./Russia/Ukraine/Belarus/Azerbaijan relations. We had a great time learning about each other – students from all of these countries (and two American universities!) that represented different generations and cultures. It helped us to focus on similarities that unite us more than on the differences that divide us.’
Anna Rud, a native of Ukraine and an AU junior summed it up nicely: ‘If we talk to each other and get to truly know each other's culture, there is no way we cannot achieve compromise and get along even on the global arena. The future is ours and our generation is very ambitious to change the relations between Russia and the US in a positive direction and I think we can do it.’”
Butina was substituted for another Russian student – Yulia Melnikova:
“Yulia Melnikova, an exchange student from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations noted that ‘so far, the trip to Gettysburg has been the first and most fascinating experience of mine in the USA. The fact that we could agree on certain issues and have an argument on the others; listen, understand and teach each other made me believe in feasibility of improvement of mutual relations between our countries. Since in the end, we are the same people, who have similar problems, complaints, aspirations and dreams; whilst conferences like this once again prove it to be true.’
Anna Rud, a native of Ukraine and an AU junior summed it up nicely: ‘If we talk to each other and get to truly know each other's culture, there is no way we cannot achieve compromise and get along even on the global arena. The future is ours and our generation is very ambitious to change the relations between Russia and the US in a positive direction and I think we can do it.’”
During an interim period, the above paragraph disappeared in its entirety – about Butina and about the Ukrainian student Anna Rud. Later, the paragraph reappeared, with Rud still featured but with the reference to Butina replaced by the reference to Melnikova.
As for the photo that accompanied the publication and featuring Fedyashin and Butina, it just disappeared. Here is that photo since I copied it from Fedyashin’s publication prior to its disappearance: Butina is marked with an arrow, and Fedyashin is depicted on the left. Here is that same picture as copied by someone to Twitter prior to its disappearance.
The publication of April 6, 2017, also disappeared from Fedyashin’s detailed 20-page CV, which covers his professional activities up until December 2017 and features each of his professional accomplishments.
It is not mentioned in the listing of his publications either. But the CV does mention that in March of 2015, 2016 and 2017, Fedyashin was a visiting lecturer at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations – that very higher education institution from which his father Andrey graduated.
We can add a few words about Torshin, Butina’s handler in Russia. He was introduced into US politics in 2010 by Edward Lozansky, yet another agent of Kremlin in Washington, D.C. and “the main Russian lobbyist in US,” as he was called by the Russian media. The first meeting between Lozansky and Torshin that was featured in the press occurred in Moscow on November 6, 2009, as noted on the website of the Russian Federation Council:
“At the meeting of the First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Federation Alexander Torshin and the President of the World Russian Forum Edward Lozansky, the possibility of holding a joint Russian-American event in the framework of celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War and World War II was discussed. In particular, E. Lozansky said that for already 28 years in the United States in honor of Victory Day a ‘meeting on the Elbe’ for the veterans participating in this historic event has been held. He proposed in the anniversary 2010 to hold a similar meeting in Washington, on April 25, with the participation of Russian officials. […] In turn, Alexander Torshin supported this idea and promised to discuss the possibility of participation of the Russian side in this project.”
Since 2010, Torshin remains a “permanent presence” in the US, thanks to Lozansky.
Of course, it was not necessary to use the 65th anniversary of the “Meeting on the Elbe” as the occasion for the first visit to the US by the Kremlin’s agent Torshin; one could find other occasions. But this is an example of the workings of the mentality of the Russian intelligence services: a template that has been approved by the bureaucratic apparatus (in this case, the “Meeting on the Elbe” anniversary) becomes a standard and well-traveled path for the future activities of the intelligence personnel (and one can “make” quite a few of the intelligence agents by following that path). For example, five years later, on April 25, 2015, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the invasion into Eastern Ukraine, on the occasion of commemorating the 70th anniversary of the “Meeting on the Elbe,” the Russian Embassy again organized an event, now with Anton Fedyashin being one of the main participants. Here is the report about this “active measure” by the Kremlin as described by the Russian TASS:
“Washington, May 15. Another commemoration symbol of the anniversary of the ‘Meeting on the Elbe’ in honor of the American and Soviet brothers-in-arms during the Second World War was made public at the US capital. On Thursday evening, it was gifted by the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Fund to the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History that was recently established at the American University in Washington, D.C.
The transfer of a small bronze sculpture took place at the Russian Embassy in the US, at the gala reception held in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. In creating the sculpture, the famous Moscow artist Alexander Burganov used a wartime photograph depicting the meeting of the Soviet and American troops at the Elbe near the German city of Torgau on April 25, 1945.
[…] Burganov’s sculpture will be exhibited not in a public place but at the American University. ‘It’s a great gift in that it symbolizes the friendship between the people of two countries and serves as a reminder of the period when they were allies,’ Anton Fedyashin, the Director of the Carmel Institute and, until recently, a head of the ‘Initiative for the Advancement of the Russian Culture’ in Washington, D.C. noted in his conversation with the TASS reporter.
Sergei Kislyak, a Russian Ambassador in the United States, also touched upon the mutual assistance of the anti-Hitler coalition allies while giving a speech at the gala. The gala concluded with the concert […]. One of the loudest rounds of applause followed the performance by Anton Fedyashin and James Simington, a head of the Russian-American Cultural Cooperation Fund, of the song with music written by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics by Harold Adamson titled ‘Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer’ that became popular in the Soviet Union […] Fedyashin and Simington performed it in both languages.”
So, as we can see, Fedyashin can even sing in two languages.
Exploiting the terrible losses suffered by the Soviet people during the Second World War was a favorite pastime of the Soviets, and remains such for the current Kremlin promoters.
“World War II of course was the most destructive conflict in the history of our species. To forget the Second World War, to forget the Soviet and Russian contribution to the allied victory, is really to overlook a large part of 20th century history, especially the second half of that,” Fedyashin explained during the visit to Moscow of the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China. He must have forgotten at that moment about the help from the allies, which he remembered well and sung about when he was being presented with the sculpture by the “famous Moscow artist.”
Not that Fedyashin’s activity in the United States did not raise suspicions or provoke criticism. In February 2009, after Russia’s invasion of Georgia, one of the publications came out with an article accusing Fedyashin of intentional misrepresentation and pro-Kremlin propaganda. Since the authors of the article have done quite a bit of research in compiling quotes from prior publications by Fedyashin, we are using the results of their research here. For the convenience of the readers, excerpts from Fedyashin’s publications are italicized below:
“’Since 2003, the White House placed its bets on Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko at the expense of its relationship with Moscow. However, last summer’s war with Georgia and the recent gas dispute between Moscow and Kiev have demonstrated how much more complicated the situation has become. It is not the black-and-white picture that the U.S. media paints of Russia’s relations with its neighbors. Saakashvili and Yushchenko have proved to be not only embarrassments, but liabilities. The Obama administration now has the chance to choose better partners in the region.’
[…] Did Russia ‘place bets on opposition figures in Georgia and Ukraine at the expense of its relationship with the U.S.? Apparently not. Did Russia attempt to murder Yushchenko with Dioxin? If so, this ‘professor’ has apparently not heard about it. Does Russian media paint an equally ‘black and white’ picture of the situation in Georgia and Ukraine? If so, the ‘professor’ does not call upon them to change their tactics, but rather asks for unilateral U.S. submission.
[…] ‘Unfortunately, Mr. Yushchenko has confused Ukrainian patriotism for an anti-Russian policy, which fit perfectly into the Bush administration’s containment policy towards Russia. It is true that Moscow has used its natural energy resources as a political lever. However, since Russia has subsidized Ukraine’s economy by selling it gas below market prices, it was well within its rights to expect cooperation in return. Unfortunately, President Yushchenko has equated ‘westernization’ with NATO membership, which the Bush administration encouraged and Moscow opposed.’
In this entire diatribe, there is not one single word of criticism for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, yet the ‘professor’ has no qualms about attacking Yushchenko as some sort of barbarian — even though Yuschenko repeatedly stands for election in true contests against genuine opposition parties while Putin never does. Isn’t Yushchenko ‘well within his rights’ to seek protection from NATO if Russia chooses to weaponize its energy resources? […]
‘But preventing neighbors from joining military alliances hardly constitutes imperialism or bullying. Moreover, Russia has never objected to Ukraine’s participation in the EU, the OECD, or any other non-military western institution. Mr. Saakashvili was also a Washington favorite for NATO membership. But his luck ran out when he recklessly attacked a breakaway region with internationally-approved Russian peacekeepers in it’.
It suits Moscow well that Georgia has two territories in what promises to be endless purgatory, because NATO will not accept a country without full territorial integrity.
So if Ukraine prevents Russia from joining and alliance with Belarus, that’s just fine? If Russia prevents Ukraine from joining NATO by subverting its elections and attempting to assassinate Yuschenko, that’s just fine? Which nations approved Russian peacekeepers? Which nations have recognized Russia’s annexation of Abkhazia and Ossetia? Who attacked whom? Truly, this maniac is trying to plunge us through the looking glass and back into the darkest days of Soviet oppression. We have a traitor in our midst.
[…] ‘As long as Mr. Yushchenko tried to square Ukraine’s geopolitical circle by “bringing the country into the West” via NATO–instead of via a functional and solvent economy–the gas problem persisted. Russia is willing to cooperate with a Ukraine integrated into European political and economic structures, but not with a government disdainful of its benefactor’s geopolitical interests. By suspending its unequivocal support for Ukrainian (and Georgian) membership in NATO, the Obama administration will gain a more cooperative Russian ally.’
‘Washington would do better to throw its support behind Ms. Timoshenko. She has used the gas dispute to position herself as a Ukrainian patriot, a European-minded politician, and someone able to negotiate with Moscow. […] Ms. Timoshenko will most likely soften her stance on Ukraine’s bid to join NATO and restore a stable and lucrative relationship with Russia. Indeed, she has already been negotiating the Russian loan. The end of the gas crisis signals the beginning of the Ukrainian presidential campaign in which Ms. Timoshenko has a head start. One only hopes that Georgia will also produce as practical a politician. […] This spring offers President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton a chance to restore Washington’s relationship with Russia by supporting more reliable politicians in Georgia and Ukraine. Ms. Timoshenko is a tough negotiator, but she does not equate Ukrainian interests with anti-Russian policies that create more problems than they solve. With plans to increase U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the White House and the State Department would do well to restore cooperation with Moscow.’
[…] Is that what passes for ‘scholarship’ at American University these days? […] Is this ‘professor’ speaking directly on behalf of the Kremlin as its proxy?”
The answer to this rhetorical question is “yes.” It is very possible that Fedyashin is “speaking directly on behalf of the Kremlin as its proxy.”
One would struggle to find in Fedyashin’s publications a single critical word regarding Putin, Kremlin, or Russia’s domestic or foreign policy - and this statement is not rhetorical but factual. Only positive references to Putin. For example, Fedyashin notes what a wonderful impression Putin made on Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 2000 (Fedyashin published this article in 2009):
“The Solzhenitsyns hosted President Vladimir Putin and his wife at their home outside of Moscow on September 20, 2000, after which Solzhenitsyn admitted in a televised interview that the new president’s ‘active mind and quick wit’ impressed him. He also spoke highly of Putin’s genuine concern with the country’s fate instead of ‘his personal power’.”
At the same time, Fedyashin could not find anything positive to say about the Russian opposition and Alexey Navalny during the challenging times when Navalny was running for the Moscow City Mayor in September 2013 against the Kremlin candidate Sergey Sobyanin.
“Anton Fedyashin is a professor of Russian history at American University in Washington, D.C., but he's a native Muscovite who spent the summer in Moscow watching the campaign develop. He says the campaign has been a learning experience for both sides, teaching Navalny's supporters that it's one thing to protest the existing system. ‘But it's another thing to actually appeal to mass audiences, to do the pavement pounding, which the liberals have never had to do.’”
During the initial stage of the Russian occupation of Crimea, at the end of February 2014, Fedyashin called for analyzing the situation and not jumping to conclusions:
“President Barack Obama said Friday that he is ‘deeply concerned’ by reports Russia had sent troops into Ukraine’s Crimea region and warned that ‘there will be costs’ for any such military intervention. […] ‘I don’t think anyone knows exactly what is going on,’ said Anton Fedyashin, a Russia expert who directs the Initiative for Russian Culture at American University in Washington. ‘They are sending a signal without knowing what the hell is going on.’”
Even when the occupation of the Crimea and the war in the Eastern Ukraine became an actual reality, Fedyashin found a convenient explanation for these actions, “which goes back 1,000 years:”
“The Western response to the breakup of Ukraine frames Fedyashin’s argument nicely. ‘We’re seeing a reversion to Cold War language because of political expediency,’ he says, but Russian president Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric has much older roots. ‘To trace the current crisis to the Cold War is a gross oversimplification’ of a relationship between Russia and Ukraine, ‘which goes back 1,000 years,’ Fedyashin says. ‘The Ukraine situation is a geopolitical dispute largely between ancient neighbors,’ he adds.”
“Indeed, this ‘Soviet restoration’ theory has become a very popular reading of Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union. The caretaker Kiev government embraced it wholeheartedly in order to justify its ‘anti-terrorist operation’ in eastern Ukraine and the newly elected president has inherited the tradition. The mainstream Western media has portrayed Russia as a belligerent party bent on expansionism. One of the most popular forms of proof is Putin’s 2008 claim that the Soviet dissolution was ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.’ But an opinion is not a program.
[…] The Kremlin’s justification of its tactics towards Ukraine has been defensive. Russia’s absorption of Crimea was a preemptive measure against NATO expansion and the Black Sea Fleet’s expulsion from its historic homeport. Russia’s support for federalization in Ukraine was intended as a counterweight to what the Kremlin saw as a Western-backed coup d’état against a democratically elected government. Moscow’s justification was that by supporting and then recognizing the overthrow of a legitimate government, the Western signatories of the Budapest Memorandum had already violated their 1994 commitment to ‘respect the independence and sovereignty’ of Ukraine.
There have been many attempts to prove the presence of Russia’s Special Forces in eastern Ukraine, but facts have yet to support this claim. Indeed, intelligence agencies from all over the world are operating in Ukraine—the Russians have no doubt activated their sources of information, so has MI6, and the CIA’s John Brennan has visited Kiev—but the phantom Russian units have become a convenient excuse for ignoring Ukraine’s deep ethno-linguistic divisions and socio-economic implosion. Tracing all of Ukraine’s problems to Moscow and containing the Kremlin has emerged as the Western strategy.
[…] The narrative of a Kremlin-orchestrated rebellion in eastern Ukraine resulted in sanctions against Russia—preserving the appearance of Western attempts to help Ukraine—but they have done nothing to help the economic meltdown, which is the root cause of Ukraine’s current crisis. Moreover, antagonizing Russia diplomatically and hurting it economically will slow down (and may even prevent) Ukrainian economic recovery, which will inevitably depend on Russia’s participation and good will. While it has been at the forefront of the push for sanctions, Washington has also offered Ukraine the least financial and economic aid of the major foreign players in the Ukrainian drama. […]
For Europe, therefore, demonizing the Kremlin is the surest way to keep the U.S. interested in NATO and this narrative has found a sympathetic ear among American neoconservatives.”
It does not make sense to parse and analyze Fedyashin’s rhetoric, just as it did not make sense to analyze Goebbel’s speech regarding the Jewish Question or Molotov’s statements at the meeting of the Supreme Soviet in 1939 after the Soviet invasion of Poland. We are dealing with 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. In that spirit, after the occupation of Crimea and the imposition of sanctions against Russia, Fedyashin asserted that the sanctions will harm the European economy (implying that they should be lifted):
“’The Europeans are in a better position to do damage to the Russian economy,’ said Anton Fedyashin, a Russia expert at American University. But will European leaders, for all their tough talk, follow through with measures that will also inflict a cost on their own fragile economies? ‘I seriously doubt that most European countries are going to say, 'Yes, we are ready to support that plan,’’ Fedyashin said.”
Later he went on to say that back in Russia, the sanctions only enhance Putin’s popularity (implying that sanctions should be lifted in order to “harm” Putin):
“Dr. Anton Fedyashin, Director of the Carmel Institute at American University, notes that economic sanctions have in fact increased Putin’s popularity in his country by allowing him to blame the West for Russia’s languishing economy despite real systemic issues at fault. Although lowering oil prices have caused a large part of the economic slowdown, this scapegoat has offered Putin a boost in approval ratings as he paints the West as the culprit for Russia’s suffering and himself as the sole leader who can counter such aggression. Lifting sanctions would thus not be in Putin’s benefit as it would leave him vulnerable to a waning Russian market with nowhere to pass the blame.”
Regarding the NATO, Fedyashin explains that the real threat for the Europeans lies not in any collusion between Putin and Trump but in the actions of the European countries themselves because of their failure to contribute the required 2% of their respective GDPs into NATO’s budget:
“Political analysts have also claimed that a meeting between the two leaders could spell certain disaster for NATO members as both Trump and Putin have never shied away from making their grievances known with the transatlantic alliance. These assertions are based on the idea that many European nations bordering Russia will feel threatened if the United States appears to be getting overly friendly with Putin all while undermining NATO’s role as their protector. According to Dr. Anton Fedyashin, however, these claims are unfounded. It is unclear at the moment what exactly Trump could concede to Russia in order to weaken the alliance and further, he notes, the biggest threat to NATO’s survival at the moment comes internally from member states that have failed to contribute their promised 2% of GDP to defense. If America’s allies want to show that their security concerns about Moscow are genuine, they should demonstrate this by investing in mutual defense and sharing the burden of funding NATO’s protection.”
At the same time it is primarily the United States who is to blame for the tension in the Russian-American relations since the Americans are not trying to improve them:
“Russia, which at the outset was ‘perfectly happy’ to go along with Obama’s reset, became disillusioned when officials perceived the reset as forcing Russia to go along with the U.S. instead of having its views taken into account,’ said Anton Fedyashin, a Russia expert who directs the Initiative for Russian Culture at American University in Washington. ‘There were high hopes for the reset but it didn’t really go well,’ Fedyashin said. ‘The expectations were unrealistic. It was a lofty goal.’ The administration didn’t pay as much as attention to Russia as Russians thought it should, Fedyashin said, […] and it affects Russian pride.”
Indeed, according to Fedyashin, it is the US Congress who should be blamed for the worsening of the Russian-American relations during the Trump Administration, and not Putin who interfered in the US Elections to help Trump, which item Fedyashin omits altogether. Instead, he speaks about “suspicions” voiced by the “US legislators” and laments the limits on Trump’s authority to be the sole arbiter in the US foreign policy matters:
“’Trump’s huge problem is the United States Congress, which tries to stonewall any attempt to better relations with the Kremlin. The Senate’s decision to tighten sanctions is in fact a signal to the White House that the administration will be under a watchful eye in the run-up to the G20 meeting and that even non-public agreements between the US and Russian presidents won’t mean a lot without Capitol Hill’s go-ahead. The legislative branch seeks the right to oversee the president’s foreign policy and this comes for the first time in the US history,’ American University History Professor Anton Fedyashin told the paper. ‘The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will be held, but behind the closed doors and without a lot of fuss, taking into consideration the allegations by American legislators against the US president,’ Fedyashin noted.”
But everyone has their weaknesses. Anton Fedyashin has a great inferiority complex with respect to the unattainable image of his great opponent whom he, Anton Fedyashin, a grandson of the KGB General Fedyashin, was supposed to defeat but failed to do so – namely, James Bond. In an article about Fedyashin, one of the authors puts it thusly:
“He’s effortlessly bicultural, speaking unaccented American English and confessing to ‘a juvenile obsession with James Bond movies,’ a trait that has endured into adulthood. […] In his view, the Bond movies were really about international crime, not the KGB. […] For Fedyashin, the spy thrillers are historical documents. In early Bond novels, set in the 1950s, ‘it is not nearly a given that the West is going to win the Cold War,’ he says. ‘China becomes Communist, the Viet Minh defeat the French, and the Soviets invade Hungary and launch Sputnik and Fidel Castro takes over Cuba.’ Five titles into the Bond series, in 1957’s ‘From Russia With Love,’ Ian Fleming portrays the Soviets as having ‘everything they need to go after world domination, whereas the British Secret Intelligence Service has nothing but a handful of dedicated heroes.’
“Where do Ian Fleming's James Bond novels fit in? Fedyashin says the Bond novels are part of his spy novel course because they illustrate the misunderstandings that were rampant during the Cold War. ‘In ‘From Russia With Love,’ published in 1957, Bond complains about the Soviets being better armed, better supplied and better funded than he and his service are,’ Fedyashin said. ‘When Fleming began to write in the early 1950s, it seemed to him and his contemporaries that the Soviet Union was actually winning the Cold War and communism was on the rise around the globe.’ That's because while the allure of Western democracy — embodied by Bond's lavish, heroic lifestyle — may seem self-evident now, many people were genuinely drawn to Soviet-style communism. “My students often ask, 'Why would anyone ever believe in communism?’” Fedyashin said.
There are many ways to answer that question. One can talk about the Stalin-era terror and Soviet propaganda. One can talk about the Soviet parents who were raising their children with the appropriate outlook and ideas (Fedyashin could tell stories about this using the example of his KGB- and TASS- devoted grandfather and father, respectively). One can also talk about naïve idealists who believed in a beautiful fairy tale or about naturally-born revolutionaries who dreamt of destroying “the world of oppression.” Yet even here, Fedyashin finds a response in which the core reason for the attractiveness of communism lies in the capitalism itself, with its condescending attitude toward “developing countries:”
“The overt racism of Live and Let Die reflects the general treatment of African Americans and other non-Caucasian ethnic groups in the United States at that time. When one remembers the difference between that and communist propaganda's racial and ethnic inclusion, one understands why communism so often appealed to Third World societies going through decolonization.”
The question posed by a student was “Why would anyone ever believe in communism?” It seems that Professor Fedyashin did not answer that question.
For a professional who is engaged in recruiting the American students, “The Cold War and the Spy Novel” course which examines the Cold War through the lens of espionage fiction, opens great possibilities. One’s political views, as well as psychological weaknesses and proclivities, can be determined easily through the discussion of spy thrillers. After that, it becomes a piece of cake for some Zaytsev, Zhiganov or Torshin to recruit their agents.
The James Bond character must have stricken some chord with them… When Dimitri Simes was tasked with writing an article in December 2006, for “damage control” after the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London, and the point was to explain that anyone could have poisoned Litvinenko except Putin, Simes’ explanation included references to James Bond, beginning with the article’s title – “The Litvinenko Matter: Kremlin Conspiracy or Blofeld Set-Up?” In the article itself, Simes was trying to convince his readers that the “theory of Litvinenko’s murder seems to have been borrowed from the plot of the movie 'You Only Live Twice', in which the head of the SPECTOR organization, Ernst Blofeld, “provokes a confrontation between USSR and US by creating an impression on each side that the other is about to seize their space aircrafts. In this case," Simes continues, “it would follow that Berezovsky, acting behind the scenes, is trying to collide the West and Great Britain on one side and Putin on the other. He has both the motive and the means to set up the Russian leader by using Litvinenko’s assassination. And anyone familiar with the history of Berezovsky’s activity in Russia would know that he would have sufficient imagination, resources and ruthlessness to sacrifice his former protégé for the sake of advancing his anti-Putin designs.”
Years later, Fedyashin was carrying out a similar operation of controlling the damage (inflicted by Putin) in connection with the poisoning in the UK of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Fedyashin should be commended here. He understood full well that no one can damage Russia more than Putin himself. “When asked about Russia's enemy during the Olympics," Fedyashin noted in one of his articles, ”President Vladimir Putin answered that, most often, Russia was her own worst enemy. The response – brutally honest and also artfully calculated – intimated a self-image problem Putin attempted to shatter.”
Since the template approved by Moscow in 2006 after Litvinenko’s murder for Simes' publication allowed the usage of the James Bond theme, Fedyashin decided against reinventing the wheel and instead also resorted to Fleming’s help. As in his prior publications, Fedyashin blamed not Putin, but one of the victims – namely, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for the international crisis created by the poisoning of the Skripals by GRU in Salisbury. However, if after the annexation of Crimea and the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine, the Professor of History had to take us back about 1,000 years, in the Skripals’ case, he limited the scope of his analysis to a few dozen years – from the present to the 1950s:
“Over the past month, Theresa May’s government has crafted a narrative that harks back to Great Britain’s greatest contributor to Cold War psychological operations — Ian Fleming. The media coverage of the Skripal case, the alleged chemical attack in Syria, and the military response to it play into London’s hands geopolitically by making Britain internationally relevant at a time when its divorce from the EU demonstrates the exact opposite.
The compensatory psychological value of ‘the Bond moment’ goes back to Britain’s rapid imperial decline during the 1950s. […] The West has spoken much about the Russians breaking international norms, but eventually history will judge how much Western border adjustments (in Kosovo), invasions (Iraq), and regime change experiments (Libya and Ukraine, to name just a few) triggered the unravelling of the world order that the West itself established on the ruins of the Second World War.
The parallels with Bond’s arch nemeses are too obvious to miss. According to London’s narrative, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to make a global statement by ordering the elimination of a former spy, although he posed no threat to Russia, having been exchanged for Russian operatives. The plot was needlessly and self-defeatingly elaborate. By one account, a military-grade poison was smothered on an outside door handle (in a country known for its rainy weather) but did not take effect until several hours after the intended victim came into contact with it.
Military grade poisons are usually designed to work instantly, to prevent the enemy from fighting for hours after being poisoned. In the end, however, the plot failed, but British intelligence reconstructed and exposed the conspiracy before the eyes of a stunned audience. And both victims recovered from a poison deadlier than VX. A happy ending indeed.”
According to Fedyashin, it is a happy end. Never mind that for some innocent bystanders in the UK this “ending” turned out not to be very “happy” (as one of them died). We also do not know everything about the impact of the incident on the Skripals’ health. But what can we have against Anton Fedyashin, both a well-trained and a legacy intelligence officer?
Just like Simes and Fedyashin before me, I, too, would like to remind the readers about a spy thriller called SALT about the Russian spies who were sent to the United States when they were still children. The student program that is run by Anton Fedyashin, a son of the Soviet nomenclature cadre and a grandson of а Soviet spy and that, as we understand, involves sending students to Russia for potential recruitment, has the title SALTT (Strategy and Leadership in Transformational Times), with extra “T” – probably to avoid any associations and in the interest of conspiracy since for the spies, it must always be a concern.