To say that the Cold War shaped Russian President Vladimir Putin and the 21st-century Kremlin is an understatement. Putin has consistently used the skills and contacts he developed during his KGB career to cement control internally and battle foes abroad. Putin describes himself as a proud “Chekist,” referring to Lenin’s bloody, repressive, and brutal secret police, and celebrates the organization’s birthday every December; he once commented, “There is no such thing as a former KGB man.” It is therefore fair to look at modern-day Russia as the world’s first intelligence-state, and to interpret many of Putin’s actions as those of a superpowered spy chief.
A case in point is the arrest of Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen, at an upscale Moscow hotel on December 28. The whole mess fits the profile and pattern of a Cold War KGB setup.
Espionage stings, hostage taking, and efforts to trade the innocent for the guilty were fairly common KGB ploys. When a Soviet spy without diplomatic immunity was arrested and faced prison time, the Kremlin would use its espionage services to stage-manage the taking of a hostage. Francis Jay Crawford, Frederick Barghoorn, and Nicholas Daniloff are a few of the innocent Americans who unknowingly had classified material shoved into their hands immediately prior to an arrest in Moscow. All were held in the notorious Lefortovo Prison in a shameless effort to pressure the United States into releasing guilty Russian spies. Often, this strategy worked.