The history of covert political influence abroad goes way back … before James Bond was James Bond, there was Her Majesty’s Service’s Sidney Reilly, fomenting Russian domestic unrest in attempts to topple Lenin’s still fragile, post-October Revolution (1917), Bolshevik party.
Long before Vladimir Putin was Russian President, he was a young KGB intelligence agent working in Germany. Shouldn’t be a surprise he is versed in the arts of disinformation but also, more interestingly, honed an appreciation for how popular disillusionment can be mobilized to topple political establishments:
“The experience …. left him with a huge anxiety about the frailty of political elites, and how easily they can be overthrown by the people.
“Putin had arrived in Dresden in the mid-1980s for his first foreign posting as a KGB agent. The German Democratic Republic or GDR – a communist state created out of the Soviet-occupied zone of post-Nazi Germany – was a highly significant outpost of Moscow’s power, up close to Western Europe, full of Soviet military and spies.
“Putin had wanted to join the KGB since he was a teenager, inspired by popular Soviet stories of secret service bravado in which, he recalled later, “One man’s effort could achieve what whole armies could not. One spy could decide the fate of thousands of people.”
“Initially, though, much of his work in Dresden was humdrum. Among documents in the Stasi archives in Dresden is a letter from Putin asking for help from the Stasi boss with the installation of an informer’s phone.
“But if the spy work wasn’t that exciting, Putin and his young family could at least enjoy the East German good life. Putin’s then wife, Ludmila, later recalled that life in the GDR was very different from life in the USSR. “The streets were clean. They would wash their windows once a week,” she said in an interview published in 2000, as part of First Person, a book of interviews with Russia’s new and then little-known acting president…
“He enjoyed very much this little paradise for him,” says Boris Reitschuster. East Germany, he says, “is his model of politics especially. He rebuilt some kind of East Germany in Russia now.”
“But in autumn 1989 this paradise became a kind of KGB hell. On the streets of Dresden, Putin observed people power emerging in extraordinary ways.