And most people either don't think anything of it or just won't talk about it.
For evidence of this indifference, consider the unread Soviet archives. Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.
The Russian state cannot sue Stroilov or Bukovsky for breach of copyright, since the material was created by the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, neither of which now exists. Had he remained in Russia, however, Stroilov believes that he could have been prosecuted for disclosure of state secrets or treason. The military historian Igor Sutyagin is now serving 15 years in a hard-labor camp for the crime of collecting newspaper clippings and other open-source materials and sending them to a British consulting firm. The danger that Stroilov and Bukovsky faced was real and grave; they both assumed, one imagines, that the world would take notice of what they had risked so much to acquire.
Stroilov’s documents also contain transcripts of Gorbachev’s discussions with many Middle Eastern leaders. These suggest interesting connections between Soviet policy and contemporary trends in Russian foreign policy. Here is a fragment from a conversation reported to have taken place with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad on April 28, 1990:
H. ASSAD. To put pressure on Israel, Baghdad would need to get closer to Damascus, because Iraq has no common borders with Israel. . . .
M. S. GORBACHEV. I think so, too. . . .
H. ASSAD. Israel’s approach is different, because the Judaic religion itself states: the land of Israel spreads from Nile to Euphrates and its return is a divine predestination.
M. S. GORBACHEV. But this is racism, combined with Messianism!
H. ASSAD. This is the most dangerous form of racism.
One doesn’t need to be a fantasist to wonder whether these discussions might be relevant to our understanding of contemporary Russian policy in a region of some enduring strategic significance.
Remember it coming out that Sen. Ted Kennedy committed what amounted to treason, wanting to work with the Soviets to undermine President Reagan? Well, on the British side,
Zagladin’s records also note that the former leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, approached Gorbachev—unauthorized, while Kinnock was leader of the opposition—through a secret envoy to discuss the possibility of halting the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear-missile program. The minutes of the meeting between Gorbachev and the envoy, MP Stuart Holland, read as follows:
In [Holland’s] opinion, Soviet Union should be very interested in liquidation of “Tridents” because, apart from other things, the West—meaning the US, Britain and France—would have a serious advantage over the Soviet Union after the completion of START treaty. That advantage will need to be eliminated. . . . At the same time Holland noted that, of course, we can seriously think about realisation of that idea only if the Labour comes to power. He said Thatcher . . . would never agree to any reduction of nuclear armaments.
Kinnock was vice president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004, and his wife, Glenys, is now Britain’s minister for Europe. Gerard Batten, a member of the UK Independence Party, has noted the significance of the episode. “If the report given to Mr. Gorbachev is true, it means that Lord Kinnock approached one of Britain’s enemies in order to seek approval regarding his party’s defense policy and, had he been elected, Britain’s defense policy,” Batten said to the European Parliament in 2009. “If this report is true, then Lord Kinnock would be guilty of treason.”
And back over here,
And what of Zagladin’s description of his dealings with our own current vice president in 1979?
Unofficially, [Senator Joseph] Biden and [Senator Richard] Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for “human rights.” . . . In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.
Remarkably, the world has shown little interest in the unread Soviet archives. That paragraph about Biden is a good example. Stroilov and Bukovsky coauthored a piece about it for the online magazine FrontPage on October 10, 2008; it passed without remark. Americans considered the episode so uninteresting that even Biden’s political opponents didn’t try to turn it into political capital. Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to have spent the prime of your life in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, to know that Joe Biden is now vice president of the United States, and to know that no one gives a damn.A lot of interesting and very discouraging information; the discouraging because so few seem to care about it.