An Open Letter to Former Colleagues

17 March 2014

Colleagues – Russian diplomats, government officials, academics in the humanities, journalists! 

Though I began my career back in the times of deep Brezhnevite stagnation, and have been engaged in one way or another with government policy since 1977, I cannot but be amazed at certain aspects of the professional work of some of you today. My perplexity is deepened by the fact that I was born and grew up in the family of a highly-placed Soviet official. In other words, in some sense I never lived outside politics. Possibly, you will be able to help me clarify further my current perspective on a number of matters with which I am very familiar. 

Let me explain the reasons why I have these questions. 

Even in the most gloomy years of stagnation any person of any professional standing whatsoever could not but see that a very fierce political struggle was going on in the country between reactionaries (hawks, Stalinists – name them how you will) and those who wanted to see a reform of society, and who came to power in 1985. All those who had even the slightest relationship with politics at that time knew that in this struggle there were victims. Of course, these victims were among the reformers, not the reactionaries. Politicians, diplomats and government officials often took no small risk out of a feeling of self-respect and their desire to improve life in the country. Some of them paid for this with their lives, others, with their careers, yet others managed to remain untouched. 

No matter how paradoxical it may seem, the situation cardinally changed once the USSR had collapsed. I also observed this from my posts in the central apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the diplomatic representative offices in Geneva and in Brussels, and the apparatus of the Security Council of Russia, not to mention the very minor position of adviser to the Federal Human Rights Ombudsman, to which I literally ran, seeking to distance myself as far as possible from the foreign and domestic policies of Mr Putin, which were for me completely unacceptable. 

I must say, that I never saw anywhere (including within the apparatus of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with which I interacted as part of my duties) such ubiquitous servility, elevated to the level of a norm, as under President Putin. 

I would like you to answer my question: what is happening? Do you no longer have your own view of the world? Have you lost your professional ethic? Are you afraid? What are you afraid of? Losing the positions you hold, from which you earn nothing other than eternal disgrace, your salary and the possibility of getting rich? Or are you simply engaged in such an unsavoury activity as selling yourself? After all, selling your intellect, knowledge and convictions (if, of course, you have any) is no better than selling your body. 

As for journalists, I can understand them in part: too many of them have been destroyed, in one way or another (not always physically). But no matter what, one shouldn’t lie as extensively, as cynically and openly as during the times of the totalitarian USSR. 

I have known personally and quite well all the ministers of foreign affairs of Russia (Sergei Lavrov, least of all), and have always initially been delighted on their appointments. I have known other high officials as well, many of whom have exercised great power in a manner destructive for the country. 

…I must tell you, former colleagues, that from 2000 I became ashamed to represent Russia even in lowly positions. Surely you understand just what and how you are now saying and doing? Surely you have not forgotten the most fundamental things of politics and diplomacy, not to speak of basic human decency? Are you so completely ignorant of international law and of history? Surely even common sense has not become an abstraction for you? 

Everyone to whom I am appealing, even those with the least education, must surely know that the question of the borders on the territory of the former USSR was closed once and for all by the signing the Belovezhskaya Accord and subsequent agreements concerning the Soviet inheritance. You want to take a vacation on the beaches of Abkhazia or Crimea? What stops you going there as a Russian tourist? But do not tell lies. And, most important, do not shed blood. 

I’m not comfortable explaining to my Western friends that Russians lie, and for them it’s a normal thing to do. Lying in the West is unforgivable, no matter what today’s Russian politicians, diplomats, journalists and spies may say. In the West you can keep quiet about something, but no more than that. 

Even in Soviet times social scientists tended to be dissidents. This I know every well from my times at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations and at the Institute of USA and Canada, where I worked immediately after graduating from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. And I should mention that in those times too there were occasionally ‘spy’ scandals. But the wise Georgy Arbatov protected his innocent staff. He acted honestly, although he took a risk. And when his successor tells me face to face that Igor Sutyagin was guilty of espionage, I am ashamed for this institute I once loved, and feel very sad about what has happened in academia, and with its ‘high priests’. 

I cannot understand Georgians, Ukrainians and others who defend Russian policy directed against the countries where they were born and grew up. I am ashamed for them. But are you, Russian politicians who come from countries ‘hostile to Russia’ - Georgia, Ukraine and others - not ashamed? 

Colleagues, I ask you to respond to my questions and help me to change my mind. I very much hope that you have not lost your conscience or your civic courage. 

And do not forget, that: 

1. Crimes against peace and humanity have no statute of limitations, and the regime you are serving is a criminal regime;

2. And that there was a certain minister of foreign affairs who was no hangman in the direct meaning of the word, but was recognized in the 20th century by an international tribunal as a military criminal, and was punished accordingly. 

If you do not respond, I shall be obliged to conclude, alas, that to all the questions I have set out above, just as to all the sad assertions, I have received your disappointing answers. 

I await your reaction with curiosity. 

Andrei Kovalev 

PhD (history), essayist, 
Former official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the Secretariat of President Gorbachev and the apparatus of the Security Council of the Russian Federation

The views expressed in blogs published on Rights in Russia are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of Rights in Russia.