Sergei Ivanov is President Vladimir Putin’s closest adviser–his Colonel House, his Harry Hopkins, his Sherman Adams. Moscow is filled with rumors that Putin wants to revive the office of vice president, extinct since 1993, just so he can make Ivanov his Dick Cheney as well.
Ivanov–no relation to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov–is a 48-year-old intelligence officer whose career closely tracks Putin’s. A Leningrader, he rose through the Soviet KGB, the post-Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service, and the Federal Security Service to achieve the rank of lieutenant general. He was deputy director of the Federal Security Service while Putin was director, and when Putin left the post of secretary of the National Security Council to become prime minister in late 1999, Ivanov resigned his commission and succeeded him.
It was as security council secretary that Ivanov attended last week’s Munich Conference on Security Policy, a gabfest for officials from NATO members, would-be members, and won’t-be member Russia. Press gypsies came to the conference in greater numbers, to read the tea leaves of the first meeting between a high Russian official and a senior member of the new American administration, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The press reported the sharp Russian challenge to Secretary Rumsfeld’s statement of American intentions to “develop and deploy” a national missile-defense system. Ivanov said the United States position threatens the “the annihilation of the whole structure of strategic stability” and a new arms race. From one fork of the tongue he offered Russian participation in the multilateral missile-technology-control regime if the United States would back away from missile defense; from the other he rejected controls that amount to “groundless denial of access to advanced technologies.”
The press generally ignored Ivanov’s vicious and dishonest attacks on Western policies. NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia, he said, created the refugee crisis in Kosovo, a crisis compounded by a “Chernobyl-like disaster” he blamed on depleted uranium supposedly contained in NATO’s weapons. He linked Russia’s rapprochement with Cuba, North Korea and Iran to Russian indebtedness–forgive us our debts, he implied, and we won’t trespass against you.
His discussion of Russian policies in the former Soviet states was largely fabrication. Russia has “already closed down” two bases in Georgia and is negotiating on two others, he asserted. But the two bases to be closed are still open, and Russia’s negotiating objective is permanent basing rights in Georgia. He blamed the Russian puppet government in Transdniester for delays in Russian troop withdrawal from Moldova, now seven years overdue. He waxed Kiplingesque about Russia’s thin red line in Tajikistan, protecting the comfortable West from the drugs and terrorism of lesser breeds without the law. But Russian forces in Tajikistan provide safe haven to the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Uzbekistan, without Russian troops, has a far better record than Tajikistan on interdicting the flow of drugs.
When President Putin and President Bush had their first contact by telephone last week, Putin reportedly said he wanted to establish an “intense dialogue” that would find “rational, mutually acceptable solutions” to disputes. So far, so bad.