Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Colonel Khuiyovich is returning to duty

This memo was published in the Baltic Outlook (part of the Baltic Independent in whic I was the managing editor) in the summer of 1993. Now seems a good time to republish it.

It was a (perhaps lame) attempt at satire. Posted further below is an account of what happened next (published in the Spectator in February 1994)

No laughing matter

Satirising the KGB was a mistake, Edward Lucas discovered

The ambassador was in confidential mood. "Our intelligence agents have
found a secret document. The Russian secret service is planning to
destabilise the Baltic states, destroy our democracy and end our
independence," he explained. I began to feel uneasy. He started giving
details. I stopped him.

"Actually, I wrote that," I explained. "It was a joke, in a colour

His face furrowed. "Joke? No, no, this was not joke. Is true. Our
security service send it to me." I persisted. He became cross, and we
parted in a miasma of mutual incomprehension and irritation.

Humour, and particularly satire, is a rare beast in the post-communist
Baltic, where journalism (whatever its factual shortcomings), is seldom
funny on purpose. Even my own newspaper, the Baltic Independent, seldom
strayed from a strict diet of heavy politics, diplomacy and business
coverage. Last year, however, we launched a colour magazine, Outlook,
deliberately intended to to entertain readers rather than just instruct
them. It was a considerable success, rapidly overtaking the parent
paper in pages and circulation.

Our first satirical effort was `Stereo-Balts' some thumbnail sketches
of common Baltic characters, including the ne'er-do-well returned
emigre, or the know-it-all foreign correspondent. Satisfyingly, several
people, some previously unknown to us, complained that the piece was in
reality a specific attack on them.

Next came a futuristic serial about the life and loves of a Riga-based
Scottish diplomat in a putative Riga of 1995. This also made people
cross, but being overtly set in the future, it was hard for them to
treat it as if it were true.

By the autumn, it was time for a change. I had been wondering for some
time what was actually going on inside the KGB (now renamed,
technically speaking, the Russian Intelligence Service). Clearly, there
must be somebody responsible for dealing with the Baltic states. What
did he do? How much did he really understand? Could he be conscripted
into a column? of the `Dear Bill' type in Private Eye.

(Edis notes. "Dear Bill" was a series of fake letters letters written as if
coming from Mrs Thatchers husband Dennis addressed to his friend Bill Deedes.
Appearing in the fortnightly satirical magazine Private Eye it gave a
'different' view of British events to the official Governement line)

Which was how Oleg Khuiyovich, Baltic desk officer at the KGB, made his
now scandalous debut in print. His name is as any speaker of
colloquial Russian would spot instantly impossible: it means,
literally, `Son of a prick'. I envisaged using him as a base to
satirise Baltic politics, Russian misconceptions about them, and life
in general. As a stylistic device, I would pretend that his memos were
being leaked to a `deep throat', and I would be credited as the

His first (and now last) appearance was a general scene-setter, in the
form of a memo to Boris Yeltsin, describing how the `re-integration' of
the Baltic into the Russian sphere of influence was proceeding, by
means of undermining democratic institutions through crime and
corruption, and paving the way for a take-over by regimes which would,
Latin American style, be autocratic at home, but docile towards their
superpower backers.

When this was written, last autumn, it was still possible to parody
Russian behaviour towards the Baltics. Vladimir Zhirinovsky was not yet
in parliament; the Russian troop withdrawal from the Baltics seemed,
with fits and starts, to be proceeding, and a really serious threat, as
opposed to the occasional threatening mumble, seemed a long way off.

Colonel Khuiyovich's memo was published, in the usual slot for a
humourous article (more serious features included an account of the
ten-day Riga-Istanbul bus route favoured by soap traders, and
interviews with Latvians about their wartime choice between Stalin and

Distributing all 12,000 copies from Tallinn's antique printing plant
takes some time. But two weeks later, a fax from the main Baltic
lobbying group in the United States arrived, requesting us to send the
`orginal' of the `KGB document' as soon as possible, so that it could
be used in a direct mail shot alerting Baltic-Americans to the fiendish
Russian plot. We giggled at what seemed an amusing, one-off
misunderstanding by a young, overly-serious American lobbyist. Rather
less funny was a phone call from the Latvian Defence Ministry. Please
could we urgently publish a correction. The Ministry was being
bombarded with faxes and phone calls from panicky Latvian-Americans,
who wanted to know what was being done to round up Mr Khuiyovich's
agents. Somewhat embarassed, the civil servant explained: "Of course
I know it's a joke. With a name like that it's obvious. But these
Americans don't believe me when I tell them."

Next came the Lithuanian parliament's research and analysis centre.
They did not call us, but had, we heard, spent several days `analysing'
the document (which by then had been translated in Lithuanian, minus
the author's name). The country's security service had been asked to
cross-check it point by point, and the embassy in Moscow was trying to
confirm it. Via a third party, we tried to put them off the scent. "If
it's a joke, it's not very funny," snapped an official and put the
phone down.

A few days later we received a phone call from the Estonian Foreign
Ministry. Could we be a bit more specific about how the document was
leaked, the official asked. We tried to explain. He was unconvinced.
"But look at the name Khuiyovich what it means in Russian". "I
don't speak Russian," he replied sniffily. "And anyway, only a sick
person would joke about a subject as serious as this."

By the time of my interview with the worried Baltic ambassador, the
memo had taken on wings of its own. Translated and re-translated, most
of the clues that it was fictional had disappeared. And with what the
Balts now call, without elaboration, the `Situation' (meaning the
threat from Russia) darkening by the day, Colonel Khuiyovich's menacing
assertions seemed all too likely to be true. We published correction
after correction, but to no avail. Like the notorious Douglas Hurd memo
on the desirability of expelling of Muslims from Europe (a palpable
forgery which is widely believed in the Arab world to be authentic),
fiction was proving more believable than fact.

There is an unhappy precedent to this. Our pre-war predecessor, the
Baltic Review, unwittingly provided the excuse for Stalin's annexation
of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by printing an article about the need
for a new Baltic security pact against the Russian threat. Stalin said
that this was evidence that the Baltic States were plotting against the
non-aggression pacts into which they had just been coerced, and marched
in. It is hard to imagine Colonel Khuiyovich's memo playing such a
deadly role. But in the current climate, his first appearance in print
will be--in so far as we can influence it--positively his last.

To: Boris Yeltsin, President, Russian Federation
From: Oleg Khuiyovich, Russian Intelligence Service

Re: Developments and prospects in the near abroad (Baltics)

I am pleased to report that the renewed integration of this region in
our historic sphere of influence is proceeding satisfactorily.

As you will recall, our policy is proceeding on two levels. On the
surface, we are dragging our feet on the question of troop withdrawal,
while continuing to protest about the abuse of human rights of our
Russian brothers and sisters in Estonia and Latvia.

Our real intentions are different. You will recall the seminar I gave
two years ago on the United States' `Monroe Doctrine' in Latin America.
This is the conceptual model we are now using for the Baltic region.
Keeping an overt military presence in these countries is costly, both
in terms of cash and of criticism from abroad. It is also ineffective:
our troops are, after all, basically useless except for crude military
intervention, which is not in our interest.

Our needs in the Baltic are quite simple: we want to know what is going
on, to be able to secure specific needs, and prevent anything we
dislike. The same, in fact, as the US enjoyed for decades in Latin

In practice, this means preventing the establishment of a solid
democracy. A free press, independent-minded parliamentary deputies, an
unbribable judiciary or sound public administration would all be major
obstacles to our need to manipulate and influence what is going on.
Instead, we need a sleepy, corrupt and rather autocratic system, which
nevertheless enjoys fairly wide public support. (Both we and our
American colleagues have had considerable difficulties with allies who
were hated by their own people).

Stage one, which we are currently engaged in, is therefore to undermine
democratic institutions and public confidence in them. Stage two will
be to establish autocratic regimes, nominally independent but in fact
subservient to our interests.

Our chief weapons in undermining democracy are crime and corruption. We
have made great strides in inspiring a public dread of `the mafia'.
Bomb explosions in all the major cities of the region are now a regular
occurrence, and the police are (as one would expect given our
continuing presence in their ranks) getting nowhere. Certain
newspapers, not without some help from us, specialise in the most lurid
and sensationalist reporting of `organised crime'. As one would expect,
when it comes to `organising crime' our people are unbeatable. As a by-
product, we are now well established in sectors of the economy such as
hotels, transport, and import-export; we make a tidy profit, and when
the time comes, we will be ideally placed to make sure that our own,
and other people's criminal activities cease practically overnight. The
public will be heartily thankful, and all the more likely to believe
that the new `National Patriotic' authorities (or whatever name they
chose) were right to sacrifice the trappings of democracy on the altar
of law and order.

Another strongpoint is our manipulation of the armed forces. We have
successfully concocted two major scandals one in the Estonian
volunteer armed forces and one in the Lithuanian. We have placed well-
trusted agents in senior positions in the defence ministries of all
three countries. These two tactics produce the following beneficial
results: a) the West is highly sceptical of any serious military co-
operation with the Baltic states; b) any seriously patriotic forces in
the defence ministries or general staffs can be monitored and
sabotaged; c) public confidence in the armed forces is low, and d) when
the time comes, it will be easy to marshall them behind autocratic

We have infiltrated, with little difficulty, all the major
political parties; we also have certain groupings which are entirely in
our hands and may provide a useful platform for the seizure of power.
We have agents-in-place in the diplomatic services of all three
countries, even at the highest levels, meaning that we are minutely
informed about Western intelligence activities in the region. One of
our top agents was recently even a guest of the CIA! We have
discouraged the growth of independent broadcasters, and almost regained
our previous presence in state radio and television.

We plan to continue these activities until we are certain that an
indirect seizure of power will be both inconspicuous and completely
effective. Once we have created a climate of hopelessness, in which
both the public and most of the political elites despair of democratic
solutions to their problems, we will assist our `strongmen' into

These `strongmen' (we have several candidates) are typically well-known
politicians, somewhat disappointed by their political fortunes and with
a firm sense of their own destiny. Many of these do not fully realise
that they are serving our interests: we have flattered them into
thinking that they alone really `understand' the situation in Russia,
the threat from the `mafia' etc. Although the plan varies somewhat
between the three Baltic states, in essence it involves them, backed by
some colleagues, the army and police, declaring a state of emergency
against crime. They will then suspend parliament on suspicion of
corruption (not difficult, given our activities in this field), impose
some restrictions on the press, freeze the activities of political
parties and restrict public gatherings. There is unlikely to be much
public protest. Criminal activity will have ceased dramatically, and we
will quickly strike some preferential trade deals, creating the sense
of increasing prosperity.

We do not anticipate any serious reaction from the West. Their
expectations were never very high anyway, and they are more likely to
be grateful for the sudden return of stability than believe what will
sound like wild conspiracy theories concerning its cause.

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