Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 201

Russian media have disseminated a severely distorted version of an interview granted by Lieutenant-General William Odom, former director of the United States National Security Agency (NSA), to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) last week. The distortions originated with Kremlin-controlled media, spread to some innocent Russian media and ultimately infected the reporting of the interview in the South Caucasus countries. A comparison of the circulating versions against the actual transcript helps reveal the “creative” contributions and interesting omissions.

The interview dealt in part with the August 1995, February 1998 and May 1999 assassination attempts against Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. A Russian connection has been suspected all along by Western and local observers, and has explicitly been condemned by Georgia. Odom’s interview noted that Russia’s former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, while in government, had been involved in the preparations of those attempts, in which Caucasus terrorist and agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service from Belarus were used. Contrary to circulating versions, however, Odom made no reference to the NSA or other U.S. intelligence agencies as having intercepted evidence of that involvement; he only referred to material supplied by Georgia to its Western friends.

The greater part of the interview, moreover, dealt not with Primakov, but with current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, leader in the brutal war against the Chechen people–as Odom pointed out–under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Odom referred to indications that elements of the Russian authorities had staged the recent explosions in Moscow and other acts to mislead Russian public opinion into accepting the war. The interview, moreover, underscored that Georgia may be the next and indeed the larger target of Moscow’s war in the Caucasus. And it noted that the Putin government’s policy is incompatible with the democratization of Russia and is severely damaging Russia’s international reputation.

That part–which formed the bulk of the interview–could hardly be found in the Moscow media’s reporting. That reporting focused on the Kremlin’s rival, Primakov while sparing the Kremlin’s current–at least, pending further notice–favorite, Putin (RFE/RL interview, October 20; see the Monitor, September 21, October 5, 6, 21, 25; and Fortnight in Review, October 22).