Today I am not posting an analysis, but a recollection of an episode of my past. I hope that you, dear readers, will not mind. If you do, let me know and this will be the last one.
Anyway, this is how one night I met a quite remarkable officer who later became a good friend.
I first met Igor Morozov in 1991, in Moscow. I had never been to Russia before (I was blacklisted by the KGB as a “dangerous anti-Soviet activist” and “provocateur”; deservedly so I would add). But as soon as the GKChP coup was over I jumped in the first plane and left for Moscow; the ruins of the barricades were still blocking streets and sometimes smoldering at night. As soon as I landed, I asked a common friend to “make me meet some really top-of-the-line Spetsnaz guy – don’t care what kind, just pick the best you can” as one of the main goals of my first trip to Russia was to interview everybody and anybody willing to talk to me (“bad guys” and “good guys” – that did not matter to me) and, boy – I was not disappointed by that trip or my subsequent trips in 1992-1994: these were the most amazing, interesting and enriching years of my professional life. For that very first “exotic” interview, my friend did deliver, but he did not want to tell me in advance who I would meet or which outfit this person would be affiliated with. I was given a time and a place – nothing else. That is how I met my first ever Spetsnaz officer. Later, I met many more, but this one really stood out and I still think that he was one of the most interesting officers I ever met.
Here is a (machine translated) bio of the Morozov. To me, a descendant of White Russian emigrés, raised as a *rabid* anti-Communist, Igor represented something like “my personal ultimate enemy”. Why? Well, not only was Igor a bona fide KGB Colonel, he was a KGB Colonel in the most secret and most elite type of Spetsnaz force the Soviet Union ever had: the so-called Vympel team, a highly trained a secretive special operation force specializing in covert operations – including the assassination of foreign leaders – abroad with no “diplomatic cover” which is why this unit was, logically, subordinated to the KGB’s foreign intelligence branch (called PGU KGB SSSR – usually just PGU).
Before my first trip to Russia I had assumed that all KGB officers were the kind of a**holes I had some most unpleasant interaction with in Europe (nevermind the circumstances). As for the KGB, I saw it simply as the organization which murdered millions of innocent Russians including millions of Orthodox Christians (who are now glorified as New Martyrs of Russia). To say that Igor did not fit my stereotype at all would be an understatement! Not only did he look like a typical Russian rytsar (medieval knight), but he was apparently as interested in meeting a “not yet killed White Bandit” (недобитый белобандит) as I was eager to face off with a real “KGB oppressor” (чекистский палач). It appears that we were both equally amazed by what we saw 🙂
For one thing, PGU KGB officers had nothing to do with dissidents, repressions, ideologies or Gulags. As for Vympel officers, they were truly a unique breed in that they had to wear two very different “hats” at the same time: first, they were fully trained intelligence officers of the KGB’s foreign intelligence branch, but on top of that they were also fully trained special forces operators.
To be fully honest, I did know that the PGU was a very different beast than the rest of the KGB. What I did not realize at the time was how dramatic this difference was. Much later I would come to realize that PGU officers were mostly real patriots, few of them ever believed in the Marxist dogma, and being separated from the rest of the KGB (the PGU even has its own headquarters and separate training facilities around Moscow like Iasenevo and Balashikha). To those interested in the reality of the PGU I highly recommend the book by Victor Cherkashin “Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer – The True Story of the Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames” – probably the best book on the topic I have read (and, for goodness sake’s, please do not read memoirs by so-called “defectors” who all 1) lie 2) exaggerate 3) make up stories and 4) try to be forgotten at all costs; leave the reading of this kind of crap to western journalists, foreign service drones and “experts”!).
My first meeting with Igor was to interview him for a Russian emigré newspaper, but we very rapidly became friends (by the way, I later saw our emigré newspaper on display at the KGB museum at the historical KGB HQ on Dzerzhinsky square – it was nice to see that they kept tabs on us just as we kept tabs on them!). After the “official” interview, we started talking and soon we could not stop. Igor then invited me to his modest apartment (no, KGB officers did not always live in luxury, especially not the best ones!). A few hours later, he asked me “want to meet some more PGU officers?”. I obviously enthusiastically agreed, Igor invited another 2 of his PGU friends (what kind exactly was not explained to me and I did not ask) who showed up around 0200 (2am), this is Moscow after all. Igor’s wife made a superb dinner and soon we were eating, drinking, singing, playing guitar and, of course, talking about history and politics. That evening changed a lot of my views about many things.
Today the KGB does not exist (you would never know that if you only listened to the Anglo press): it was broken up into the SVR, the successor of the PGU, and the FSB, the successor to those KGB directorates and departments which were abolished (including the infamous 5th Directorate which dealt with political dissent; some want it back and, frankly, I cannot say I disagree, as long as the new 5th has nothing in common with the old one, which was both totally corrupt and lead by absolute idiots). One special department (9th) charged with protection of officials was transformed into the FSO (which, for some reason, western journos never mention when they describe “Putin’s Mordor”). As for Vympel, it still exists today, but it as a different mission and has partially been replaced by the new (2009) Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (SSO).
Anyway, my post today is not about the KGB or its successors, it’s about what meeting Igor Morozov meant to me: I realized that there are many, probably millions of Russians out there who did not share my views about the past or my ideological leanings, but who were true, faithful sons of Russia and they were just as willing to serve Russia (as opposed to the defunct USSR) as I or my emigré friends did. As for Igor and I, we exchanged a few books, did some reading, and came to the conclusion that we were not ideologically different at all. We were both equally amazed, I think.
Igor is a prolific songwriter (as are many Russian soldiers including special operators), but my absolute favorite song of his is “The Midnight Toast“. I realize that the video below is old and the sound is terrible, but that is still the best recorded version I know of. The lyrics have the following line “We slept and dreamt about Russia“. While Igor was dreaming about Russia in Afghanistan, I was having the same dream in the West. Yes, my conditions were much better than Igor’s, but my pain and longing was no less heartfelt than his. I felt this very strongly that night, and that feeling never left me since. I also remember a thought: do Igor and I have more in common or are our differences bigger than all what we have in common? Following that epic night, over the course of several years, Igor and I met often, he even took me to visit his father, a GRU special forces operator. We often discussed our dramatically different fates, and we both agreed that what we had in common was much bigger than what separated us. I still believe that today.
I have not seen Igor in years, life happened, and I lost his contact info. I miss him a lot. So all I want to do is simply leave you with him (and another soldier bard who joins him at the end of the video) and one of his best songs (tears burn my eyes every time I listen to it). I don’t know how much this old video and translation conveys, it is impossible for me to feel that, but I hope that at least *something* precious will be conveyed to all of you, my friends, from this small song.
Kind regards to all,
PS: If by some miracle somebody who knows Igor can put me in contact with him, I would be most grateful. Who knows? Maybe somebody will?!
ПС: Если каким – то чудом кто-то из знакомых Игоря прочтет эти строчки то, очень прошу, передайте Игорю, что я его разыскиваю! Заранее спасибо!
Lyrics translated by Sasha and subtitled by Leo.
I raise this toast to an old friend of mine
With whom I went through the war
The ground was smouldering, ablaze
But we dreamt of listening to silence
I raise this toast to my faithful friend
To a stern brother of mine
I likely wouldn’t have returned from that war alive
Had he not been beside me
Were it the last rounds or cigarettes to light
We shared between us half and half
Stayed warm under one tent cloak for the night
We slept and dreamt about Russia
However many days are left in life for me
Wherever I’d be tossed by fate
I’ll remember how on the Afghan path it came to be
That I was brought together with my friend
An old and amateur photograph on hand
Not yet cooled down from a recent attack
The two of us paratroopers from Vitebsk stand there
Smiling wearily into the lens
And I stare at this memory from the past
The candle’s burning, the stearin is melting
Alyosha and I believed the final day’d be cast
That day did come… but I am celebrating alone…
Outside my window the night is heaving
I look at the photograph as I smoke
And I hear my friend’s hoarse voice yelling:
“Live on! And I’ll cover you like in battle!”
A fiery dawn above the city skyline
Trams ring along the street
I drink wine to the old comrade of mine
Had he survived, he’d drink to me