Monday, October 7, 2013

Leningrad 1985-1987 (Part One)

Draft Chapter 11.8


Leningrad 1985-1987
 (Part One)

After four years on the Soviet Desk, I was sent out to Leningrad to be Deputy Principal Officer at our Consulate General.  At the time, the post was staffed by 26 Americans and 25 Soviets.  I restructured and reorganized the post in the wake of the retaliatory Soviet government withdrawal of all of our Soviet employees, and the expulsion of several American employees, in October 1986.  At the same time, I significantly improved the Consulate’s political and economic reporting in a part of the Soviet Union first affected by Gorbachev’s policies of perestroyka and glasnost.  Awards:  Group Distinguished Honor Award for performance under conditions of extreme hardship.

Munich Interlude.
My last day on the Soviet Desk was July 2.  Rather than take leave, I decided to head out immediately to Leningrad, following an intermediate stop in Munich to celebrate July 4 with friends at the Consulate General.   On July 6, I arrived in Leningrad on the weekly Pan Am flight -- as the only passenger.  In those days, Pan Am had a unique arrangement with the Soviet authorities.  Pan Am could fly to Leningrad, but only via Moscow, and while it could let passengers off at Moscow, it could take no passengers on board, since it was technically an “international” flight.  The net result was that flights to Leningrad were virtually empty.  On my flight, I was the only passenger on the entire 707, and was waited on hand and foot by numerous stewardesses.  Is it any wonder, with such routes, that Pan Am went bankrupt?

I was met at Pulkovo Airport by Nick Burakow, the man I was to succeed as Deputy Principal Officer.  Nick was a very serious fellow, and quite a decent person.  He took me under his wing from the start and tried to help me learn the things I would need to know in order to function effectively as Deputy Principal Officer.  Nick was very anti-Soviet.  His family was of Eastern European extraction -- from Belarus, I think -- and he had spent his early childhood, at the end of World War II, in a DP camp. 

Nick told me, among other things, that the Leningrad KGB were even more active than their brethren in Moscow.  I had some idea of this, since I had followed Leningrad closely from the Soviet Desk.  After two incidents in 1984 in which one of our Consular Officers, Ron Harms, and a Marine Guard, Sgt. Ronald Campbell, had been beaten by gangs of KGB thugs, we hit on the novel punishment of putting out a travel advisory for Leningrad.  It had the desired effect: the tourist trade plummeted in the Leningrad area, and harassment of our Consulate personnel lessened as the Soviets attempted to clean up their act to get the advisory lifted.  Nick noted that there were plenty of other ways the Soviets tried to get to us as well.  He briefed me on the bugged typewriters affair, which at the time was still classified, and noted that because of that incident a whole new system of freight handling had been developed to guard against the possibility that the Soviets might bug other more innocuous-looking items. 

Millionaire's Row.  
Nick put me up at his place, which was soon to become mine.  The apartment was very luxurious by Leningrad standards: a three-bedroom flat on Ulitsa Sofiy Perovskoy.  It was located right in the center of Leningrad's historic district, one block from Nevskiy Prospekt, the Kazan Cathedral and Dom Knigi, and just across the Moika canal from the Hotel Yevropeyskaya and the Russian Museum.  In earlier times, the street had had a more normal name, Malaya Konyushennaya, and in Czarist times, it had been called “Millionaire's Row” due to its fine townhouses and posh apartments.  But after the Revolution, the street had been renamed in honor of Sofiya Perovskaya, the girlfriend of the ringleader of the bomb plot that resulted in the assassination of Czar Alexander II.  As for Millionaire's Row, it had been turned into communal apartments.  My new apartment was one of the first to be returned to its former status.  Nick told me that five families had once lived in our apartment, sharing a common kitchen and bathroom.  It seemed hard to believe, but as I got to know my neighbors the truth of Nick's remarks sunk in.  Most Leningraders still lived in squalor, although they were much better off than they had been during my first visit to the city in 1972.  I had initially thought that the neighbors might resent having an American living so close by, but no one seemed to mind.  It might have been that they appreciated the extra security afforded by the Soviet militia guard posted at the stairwell entrance, but more likely it was due to the fact that the KGB was also present in the building, and the local residents preferred not to be conspicuous in such circumstances.  I never actually identified any surveillance inside the building, but I could never shake the thought that agents were watching me all the time from the apartments above and below.  I found a few boreholes in the ceiling of the master bedroom, large enough for a miniature camera lens.  I plugged the holes and put a sheet over the ceiling, and felt somewhat better as a result.

When I first arrived in Leningrad, I had no car, so I had a choice of taking public transportation or walking to work.  My apartment on Sofiy Perovskoy was only about a mile or so from the Consulate, and it was a pleasant walk, over the Moika Canal bridge, past the Church of the Spilled Blood (the site where Alexander II was assassinated), through the Field of Mars and the Letniy Sad, past the residence of Peter III, across Liteyniy Prospekt and then just a couple of blocks to the Consulate on Ulitsa Petra Lavrova (now Furshtatskaya).  Not knowing my way around Leningrad at first, Nick drove me to work on the first day, and I decided to try and walk back.  I left the Consulate, took a wrong turn, and immediately got lost in a back alley.  It took me a couple of minutes to find my way back to the main street again, and when I did, I noticed a very funny thing.  I was surrounded by eight walking men, all trying not to look like they were keeping an eye on me, all about 20 feet away on every side.  I pretended not to notice and eventually a few of them dropped back.  I passed by the last follower at the corner of Liteyniy, as he coolly lit a cigarette and pretended not to notice me.  Apparently, Leningrad treated diplomats the same way Moscow did, and followed them around the first few days to get their pattern.  My departure from the expected route had caused some alarm, and my surveillance package closed in on my position so rapidly that I noticed them.  It was a bizarre experience.  Walking to work the next day, I studied the map carefully so that I would take no unexpected detours.

The Consulate General Building. 
The U.S. and Russia officially established diplomatic relations in 1807, but American diplomats had been working in St. Petersburg on and off for a quarter century before that, ever since 1781.  Over the years, more than a dozen different sites were used as the American Embassy.  When relations were broken off in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, most traces of America's diplomatic past were erased.  For example, the first time I visited Leningrad in 1972, I went into the biggest bookstore in town, Dom Knigi, on Nevsky Prospekt.  You could still see signs that it had once been the headquarters of the Singer Sewing Machine company, but I had no idea that it had also been the location of the last pre-revolutionary U.S. Consulate in Petrograd.

When U.S. diplomats finally returned to Leningrad in the early 1970s, an entirely new building had to be found for the Consulate.  Eventually, the site at Ulitsa Petra Lavrova 15 was chosen, just down the street from the pre-revolutionary U.S. Embassy.  Our new Consulate building had several advantages.  First, it was close to the historic center of the city and to local governmental bodies.  It was also in a relatively quiet location.  Finally, the building itself was large enough to accommodate the 20 American Consular staff, six Marines and 25 Soviet employees that eventually worked there.

The building was a recently restored turn-of-the-century office structure, U-shaped, with four stories.  The bottom of the U, which fronted on Petra Lavrova, consisted of offices, while the left side of the U contained the Marine House and staff housing, and the right a small American grade school and staff housing.  The first floor contained the Consular section and the Branch Public Affairs offices, while the second floor housed the Administrative and GSO sections.  The third floor was occupied by Post One and the Executive section, while the fourth floor contained Communications and the Mail Room.  Everyone had fairly good working conditions, at least by Embassy Moscow standards, although the building itself was constantly in a state of “remont” (remodeling) due to its aging structure.  Just before I got there, the front façade of the building had been restored, and Consul General Charlie Magee was very proud of its improved appearance (Under CG John Evans, the façade was restored again in the 1990s, and it was later found that the Soviets had implanted bugs.  I suspect they did the same thing during Charlie's restoration efforts).

Consulate or Kontslager? 
While the physical condition of the building was reasonably good, the security situation was catastrophic.  The building was one of the most vulnerable to technical penetration and surveillance that I have ever worked in, and I doubt if there was any part of the building that was entirely safe.  A little over a year into my tour, as an experiment, I decided to walk around the neighborhood and take a look at the Consulate building from the point of view of our neighbors, and do a short cable on the results.  What I found shocked even me, and I was prepared for some unpleasant surprises.

It had been generally accepted that the Consulate was in a very poor position in terms of technical security.  It had common walls on two sides, and it was generally assumed that listening devices infested the walls.  I even suspected that there might be drilling going on between the floors of the Consulate.  I never found proof of this – it’s just what I would do if I were in the Soviet position.  The Consulate was also overshadowed by tall buildings front and back, from which it was assumed the KGB manned observation posts.  I was told that when the Consulate site was first selected, a window had suddenly appeared in the solid brick apartment wall bordering on the Consulate courtyard.  In addition, the Consulate was in a bad neighborhood, at least in technical security terms.  The local KGB headquarters, aka the “Big House,” was located on Liteyniy Prospekt, just around the corner and two blocks away from the Consulate.

As I started my walk around the block, the evidence that we were under very close surveillance mounted quickly.  I tried to get into the adjoining buildings, but could not.  Apparently, the local residents valued their privacy.  Around the back of the Consulate, I got into a nearby apartment, following a local resident, and climbed the stairwell to the top floor.  From this vantage point, I was able to look out a window onto the roofs of nearby buildings.  Every roof that bordered on the Consulate was barricaded with barbed wire obstacles, and under obvious observation.  As I walked around the back of the Consulate, I came to the building where the window had mysteriously appeared and managed to get in behind a regular tenant.  I walked up the stairs as far as I could, but was stopped at the seventh floor by a steel jail door that blocked off the top two floors.  On the landing the next floor up, near the apartment where the window had appeared, I could see a guard seated behind a desk.  I had seen enough, and I descended the stairs and went back to the relative safety of the Consulate.  I was observed at numerous points during my odyssey, but none of our Soviet interlocutors ever mentioned the incident.  The title of my cable was “Consulate or Kontslager?”

Spy Dust.
In mid-August, 1985, Embassy Moscow and Con Gen Leningrad received a NODIS cable warning us of the possibility that the Soviets, specifically the KGB, had been using an invisible powder called NPPD (nitrophenylpentadienal) to track the movements of U.S. diplomats.  The powder was apparently sprayed on doorknobs, car door handles, and other spots that might be touched, and would fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light.  We had of course assumed that we were being followed, and that the KGB was devoting special efforts to those Americans they suspected of working for the U.S. intelligence agencies.  The new wrinkle in the picture, however, was that the powder was being widely used in both Moscow and Leningrad, and was thought to be carcinogenic.  I called a country team meeting (our CG Charlie Magee was out of the country), and briefed everyone on the situation.  Most seemed to take the news well, although I heard later that a lot of the spouses were rather upset when told.  The news was out in the Western press quickly, along with Soviet denials.  We took what precautions we could, and tested likely areas periodically to see if we were being subjected to “spy dust,” as the press was calling it.  Eventually, the issue receded into the background as other crises took its place, and early the following year, the USG decided that NPPD was not carcinogenic after all, so there was nothing to worry about.  Still, it gave us quite a scare.

The Consul General in Leningrad. 
The position of Consul General in Leningrad had long been a prized assignment.  In the past, it was often viewed as a reward to old Soviet hands who had served loyally, and were on the verge of retirement, but had never made it to Ambassador.  Bill Shinn, Culver Gleysteen and Chris Squire all fit this mold, but the one who epitomized the “modern Consul General” was another old Soviet hand of my acquaintance, Tom Buchanan.  Serving at the end of the 1970s under his good friend, Ambassador Malcolm Toon, Tom was the quintessential Consul General of that era.  I remember meeting him in Moscow at Sheremetyevo Airport as he arrived in October 1977 to assume his new duties.  He got off the plane dressed to the nines in a tweed three-piece suit, accompanied by his attractive wife, Nancy, and his pedigreed Irish setter.  He had arrived in style, and his tenure in Leningrad would be equally stylish.  In those days, Consuls General were not expected to be particularly active in reporting on developments in the Leningrad area, although many tried.  The truth was that no one back in Washington much cared anyway, as all the political action took place in Moscow.  Leningrad was a backwater, although a very culturally advanced one, ruled by Soviet-era dinosaurs.  While political commentary was politely welcomed, what the Consul General was really expected to do was to run the Consulate with no controversy, put up a good front on the social scene, and provide a base for Embassy Moscow, mostly its Naval Attachés, to explore the points of actual interest in the Leningrad area, namely its military facilities.  It was not until the advent of Ed Hurwitz and Dick Miles in the late-1980s, and later on, the rise of Leningrad's native political power that this pattern was broken.

Charlie Magee was Consul General in Leningrad from 1983 until 1986, and was my first boss in Leningrad.  He and his wife, Maideh, fit the Leningrad mold perfectly.  Charlie was in his 50s at the time, tall and thin, with a slightly florid complexion and hair graying at the temples.  He usually dressed Ivy League casual, in a sport jacket, tie and slacks.  He was genial and friendly, and constantly went around with a big smile on his face, which tended to compress his eyes into slits.  He set great store by style and image, and not much on political reporting.  At the end of a long and honorable career, he had arrived in Leningrad determined to fulfill the image of a proper Consul General.  He held frequent receptions at the CG Residence, a former nobleman's mansion, and did so in great style.  He became an aficionado of the Kirov Ballet, probably the best ballet company in the world, and entered into a friendly competition with his Japanese colleague to see how frequently one could attend Kirov productions at the Mariinskiy Theater.  From his staff, he demanded little, other than that the Consulate be kept operating smoothly, and the steady stream of official visitors to Leningrad be given good service.  Charlie was a committed liberal Democrat, and personally took charge of visitors to whom he was politically attuned.  When former Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro came to town, he squired her around in high fashion, and treated her with a certain adulatory respect.  Similarly, when San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein paid a visit in late 1985, Charlie took personal charge of visit arrangements, ensuring that she got the best possible exposure to Leningrad's cultural life.  All other visitors Charlie left in our capable hands. 

 Charlie's wife, Maideh, was from the Iranian community in Baku.  She had exquisite taste, and amassed vast collections of headgear, Palekh boxes and other souvenirs during her three years in Leningrad.  She did not have a security clearance, which led to some uncomfortable moments with the Marine Guards from time to time, but all in all, she was the perfect match for a person of Charlie's temperament.

Charlie and I became good friends and colleagues during the year that we served together in Leningrad.  My role was clear:  I managed the Consulate, took care of visitors, and oversaw our reporting, such as it was, and Charlie represented the Consulate to the outside world.  We had a perfect partnership and my year with Charlie fairly whizzed by.  Before I knew it, on July 29, 1986, we were seeing him and Maideh off at the VIP lounge at Pulkovo, and I was already getting ready for my next Consul General.  As for Charlie, I got the impression that his years in Leningrad were some of the happiest of his career, and that he very much regretted leaving.

After Leningrad, Charlie did a short stint in Mayor Feinstein's office, and then moved on to retirement, which included leading a few tour groups on ship cruises to St. Petersburg.  I would imagine that if Charlie had any regrets about his career, his biggest might have been that, while he had headed a Mission as Consul General, he had never been an Ambassador.  If so, this matter was rectified a few years later.  In the mid-1990's, Charlie was appointed to head the OSCE Mission in Latvia, a position which carried with it the rank of Ambassador.
In 1996, while I was serving as DCM in Kiev, Charlie was appointed to head the OSCE Mission in Ukraine, which dealt with Crimean Tatar matters.  During our first meeting in Kiev, Charlie proudly presented me with the largest visiting card I have ever seen, with the word “Ambassador” featured prominently on it.  He seemed very happy to be an OSCE Ambassador, although the Mission itself was not particularly active, and was closed down in 1999, to be replaced by the OSCE Project Coordinator's Office in 2000, which I was eventually appointed to head.  After my return to Kyiv in 2005, Charlie turned up in Ukraine every now and again when I was the OSCE's Ambassador there, and I had had him over for dinner quite often. He still looked the same, and had the same irrepressible smile.  Maideh passed away in 2012, and Charlie followed her on January 25, 2017.

The Consul General's Residence.  
The Residence, located at Grodnenskiy Pereulok 4, was just a short walk from the Consulate General.  It was built around the turn of the century, and its last imperial owner, Grand Duke Konstantin, reputedly housed one of his lovers there.  According to legend, a secret door connected it through a common wall to the neighboring mansion at Grodnenskiy Pereulok 2, so that the Grand Duke could come and go discreetly.  In our time, the Residence had just been restored, and in many ways, it was a far better place for receptions and parties than Spaso House, the Ambassador's residence in Moscow.  Charlie took maximum advantage of the opportunity to entertain his Soviet hosts, and with the help of the Public Affairs section, he also screened first-run movies in the large basement theater.  On the first floor, there was also a separate apartment, dubbed the “Nixon Suite,” because the former President had reputedly overnighted there once, and Charlie invited all high-ranking American visitors to stay there.  The second and third floors of the Residence were the private quarters of the Consul General.

Note:  The actual story behind the “Nixon Suite” is somewhat at variance with legend, for it appears that President Nixon never actually stayed there.  Nixon did visit Leningrad on May 27, 1972 as part of his history-making trip to the USSR, but he and the First Lady did not overnight.  There was one Nixon who did overnight at the CG Residence, however.  According to Bob Barry, who in 1972 was one of four Foreign Service Officers preparing the Consulate for its official opening, Tricia Nixon Cox and her new husband, Edward, visited Leningrad in early 1973 while on a European tour, and stayed in the downstairs guest suite.  According to those who dealt with her at the time, Tricia displayed an extremely difficult personality, and hardly emerged from her room during the entire visit.  In “honor” of her visit, the room was sarcastically nicknamed the “Nixon Suite.”  Over the years, the true identity of the person who overnighted at the CG Residence was forgotten, and the assumption was made, erroneously as it turns out, that the term “Nixon Suite” referred to the former President.

In October, 2009, in honor of the 200th Anniversary of U.S.-Russian relations, St. Petersburg’s newest Consul General, Sheila Gwaltney, renamed the Nixon Suite the “John Quincy Adams Suite,” after the first American Ambassador to Imperial Russia (Adams is perhaps slightly better known as America’s sixth President).  This is of course a more appropriate name for the room, but it is nonetheless sad that in the process yet another Leningrad legend has bitten the dust.

The Leningrad Diplomatic Agency.
Our principal hosts were the staff of the Leningrad Diplomatic Agency, the branch office of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up in Leningrad to deal with locally-based Consulates.  The Agency was not very big, comprising just a couple of dozen people, but it performed a key function in helping us operate in the Leningrad Consular District, particularly in view of the fact that at this time most of the Soviet Government was still off-limits to us.  The head of the LDA was Mikhail Aleksandrovich Yefimov, an aging Communist warhorse.  Yefimov was a loyal party man, and extremely cautious in his contacts with us, but he still tried to treat us
fairly, and I always respected him, despite his rather hidebound views.  His principal deputy was Mark Vybornov.  Vybornov, in his early 40s, was a Leningrad native.  A German
specialist, he had spent some time in the GDR.  He and his attractive Central Asian wife spoke little English, but they approached Americans with a friendly and open attitude.  Yefimov’s secretary was Marina Kalinina, a beautiful young girl whom I never got to know very well, but whom I sensed was in some way well connected.

Although Vybornov was my opposite number in protocol terms, I found myself having much more contact with his younger deputies, Viktor Sukhanov and Yevgeniy Lukyanov.  I was much closer in age to Viktor and Yevgeniy, and we shared a number of common interests, hitting it off right away.  Some of my Consulate colleagues looked askance at my getting so cozy with LDA personnel, who were all assumed to be working for the KGB, but I found the contacts to be quite useful, not just because cultivating them was a part of my job, but also because “Mr. Lu and Mr. Su,” as they were nicknamed, were genuinely likeable characters.

Viktor Sukhanov, a professional diplomat,  lived with his wife and child at the diplomatic apartment block on Ulitsa Nakhimova, near the Pribaltiyskaya Hotel on Vasilevskiy Island, where many foreign diplomats also lived.  Viktor studied hard at MGIMO, and developed quite
good English.  His wife noted ruefully that for one whole year she “saw nothing but his back” as he studied English at his desk in the corner.  Viktor was good enough at languages to work for a time as a simultaneous English to Russian interpreter in Geneva, although he often told me he thought his talents were wasted there, as nearly every Russian speaker knew English quite well.  Every now and again, he would ask over the microphone:  Кто слышит перевод?”  (who is listening to the translation?).  Usually, only the Mongolian delegate would raise his hand.  Viktor returned to Leningrad and worked for a number of years at the Diplomatic Agency, and that's where I first met him.  Viktor had a ready sense of humor and a typical Soviet love for the Beatles (he knew several songs by heart, including “Back in the USSR”).  He also took a fraternal interest in my cultural welfare, teaching me such classics as “Мистер Твистор, Бывший Министр, Мистер Твистор, Миллионер!”  (Mister Twister, former Minister, Mr. Twister, Millionaire!).

Viktor and I became fast friends and colleagues during my tour in Leningrad and I kept up contacts with him after leaving for my next assignment.  In August 1993, Viktor pitched up on the State Department's doorstep, suffering from heat prostration.  He was in town on an exchange program, didn't have much money, and had wound up getting overheated and dehydrated while walking around town.  I was Deputy Director of ISCA (the former Soviet Desk) at the time, and sat him down in my office and fed him a few cokes to get him back in shape again.  That evening, I took him out to Kramerbooks and Afterwards, a restaurant-bookstore near his hotel on DuPont Circle.  It was clear that Viktor was saving his pennies, so when he wolfed down his dinner, I bought him another, which he finished off before I had gotten through my main course.  Just for form's sake, Viktor bought me a beer at a local bar before calling it an evening.  I lost touch with Viktor after that, although I heard through friends that he had had serious health problems in the mid-1990's.  Some years after that, Viktor was appointed the Russian Consul General in Geneva -- a tour of duty he would have certainly enjoyed very much.  In 2011, I received the tragic news from Sheila Gwaltney that Viktor had passed away from stomach cancer sometime in the early 2000’s.  He was a great colleague and friend, and will be sorely missed.

While there was no way that Viktor Sukhanov could have been working for the KGB, I was never quite so sure about my good friend Yevgeniy Lukyanov.  Yevgeniy, in his 30s, was a very gregarious and witty person.  Like Viktor, he spoke English quite well, and professed an interest in all things American.  He was also very helpful whenever possible in his work at the LDA.  

There were a few things about him that stood out, however.  The first was his lack of a Foreign Service background.  He had apparently never been overseas, at least to my knowledge.  The second was his occasional slips, which led me to believe that he knew a great deal more about what was going on in the Consulate than he should have, if he was just a diplomat.  One time, I was having a conversation with Yevgeniy about a Russian colleague's health, and Yevgeniy commented, “Well, yes, but at least he doesn't have Leukemia,” while giving me a wide-eyed quizzical look.  Just the day before I had been discussing my CLL diagnosis with Embassy Moscow's doctor, who was visiting the Consulate.  No one else knew about it, and the only way Yevgeniy could have found out was if he was listening to intercepts, or bugs in the wall of the Consulate. 

Some of my colleagues considered Yevgeniy to be a fool, and a bit hard to take.  Rivalries within the Diplomatic Agency often led to gossip and whispers of this sort.  One Diplomatic Agency official even remarked, in confidence, about Yevgeniy that "You can speak twenty foreign languages and still be an asshole!" I never considered him so.  Despite his sometimes questionable behavior, he was my friend, and he was about as pro-American as anyone in his position could have been.  After my tour in Leningrad, I lost touch with Yevgeniy, except for one brief meeting in the CG's Residence during the Ron Brown visit to St. Petersburg in 1994.  He was out of the Diplomatic Service by then, and was in “banking,” or some such line of work.

Most extraordinarily, Yevgeniy resurfaced in 2017 as the new Russian Ambassador to Latvia.  I look forward to hearing of his adventures in the two decades since the last time I saw him.
Dinners and Visits.
Viktor and Yevgeniy would come over to my apartment for dinner and drinks quite frequently and I was over at their apartments quite a bit as well.  One visit to Yevgeniy's apartment was memorable because we all drank about a full bottle of vodka each, and promptly got sick.  It was just as well -- I think the fishy zakuski would have made me sick soon enough anyway.  Yevgeniy and Viktor invited me out to Yevgeniy's dacha in the Leningrad countryside late in my tour.  Technically, I was not supposed to travel outside Leningrad unaccompanied, but I got permission from the RSO and spent the weekend with Mr. Lu and Mr. Su.  Our weekend turned largely into a drinking male-bonding exercise, but none of us got sick this time.  I later found out the dacha was in a closed area. 

Dinners at my place were a more sedate affair.  I would borrow the CG's cook, and we would have a great meal and then watch a movie or two.  It was during these dinners that Yevgeniy and Viktor loosened up and told me what they really thought.  At one point, during a discussion of U.S.-Soviet relations, they admitted freely that the Soviet adventure in Afghanistan was ill-advised and doomed to failure.  They were also relatively critical of the hidebound authorities that still ruled Leningrad.  One evening, just for fun, they gave me an oral exam similar to the one they took to get into the Soviet Diplomatic Service.  I actually did pretty well.  With work, they said, I might actually make a good Soviet diplomat!  I am pretty sure they were joking.

The Car Vandals.
Relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were pretty rocky during the last year of my tour, and paranoia on both sides needed tamping down from time to time.  People were predisposed to believe the worst about each other, and any little incident could set them off.  KGB harassment increased, particularly in Moscow, and many incidents that were just acts of common criminals often acquired a conspiratorial air.  One such incident occurred to me in the spring of 1987, when I walked outside my apartment and the guard sheepishly pointed to my car -- it had been vandalized during the night.  There was some sentiment for filing a protest, but I decided to take a little more low-key approach and talked to my friends in the LDA about the matter.  Yevgeniy and Viktor were not happy to hear about the incident, and vowed to check it out.  They came back a few days later and quietly assured me that it was just criminal behavior, and not harassment, and that the local police had opened an investigation.  A month later they accompanied me down to the local police station to get the final report, a thick dossier complete with pictures of my car, witness statements and confessions.  It turned out that two local Leningraders had gotten drunk and decided to have a good time taking an ax-handle to several cars parked nearby, and mine was one of several that were vandalized.  I told Yevgeniy and Viktor that I was satisfied and that I considered the matter closed.  Yevgeniy said that I might be compensated for damages eventually, but it would take some time to get money out of the two drunks.  I told him to forget about it.  I had already gone to Lappeenranta, Finland and gotten the necessary repairs done.  This was just a minor example, but illustrative of the general relationship we had at the time with the LDA.  Despite the cool climate in overall relations, we were still able to work quite well together.  It's a lesson I never forgot.

The Consulate had one Pol-Econ officer, Dan Grossman, whose main job was to do most of the Consulate's political and economic reporting, and to follow closely the human rights and refusenik scene in Leningrad.  Dan had been in the job for several months before I arrived, and he had proven to be a very good reporting officer who could be trusted to do his job with little supervision.  Dan was intelligent, spoke Russian well, and had developed deep contacts with the refusenik community, who viewed him sympathetically due to the fact that he was also Jewish.  I liked Dan from the start and was grateful to have someone of his talents working for me, but as time went on, I began to get the feeling that my sentiments were not reciprocated.  Dan was often sullen, and not particularly communicative.  Clearly, there was something wrong in our relationship.

One day, we had it out in the secure conference room, a soundproof bubble built out of Plexiglas blocks.  It turned out that Dan was in fact extremely unhappy with me because of what he perceived as my too-close association with Soviet diplomats.  In his view, they were the enemy, and we should have as little to do with them as possible.  My predecessor, Nick Burakow, saw this, and I should too.  I told him that my job and his were different, and that we had to have different approaches.  I had to get friendly with the Soviet authorities, because we depended on them, as our hosts, to ensure that the Consulate's administrative and other needs were taken care of, or at least not actively impeded.  I had to manage the Mission and keep it going, and a confrontational approach would get us nowhere.  Dan disagreed.  Although we never talked about it again, I got the distinct impression that he disapproved of me, and of our boss, Charlie Magee.  Truth be told, Dan probably put both of us down as time-servers more interested in a comfortable life than in helping the refusenik community, opposing the Soviets, or doing real political reporting. 

As our human rights officer, Dan had quite an adversarial relationship with the Soviet authorities, so it was no surprise when, in the wake of our October 1986 expulsions of numerous Soviet diplomats in the United States, he was on the list of those to be expelled in retaliation. He was packed out, along with the rest of our expellees, and left Leningrad on just a few days' notice.  It was the beginning of a real freeze the US-Soviet relationship that lasted until well into the following year. 

I only saw Dan one more time after our year together in Leningrad.  It was when I was just back from Kabul, having been evacuated with the rest of our Mission in a blaze of publicity.  Dan was working on the Soviet Desk then, and I believe he still had the human rights portfolio.  I stopped by to chat with him and he was civil enough, but it was clear that he still resented me.  This resentment was now mixed with jealousy, for while I wasn't exactly God's gift to the Foreign Service, my exploits in Afghanistan had enhanced my corridor reputation considerably.  It was not politic to criticize me at that point, particularly as Sandy Vershbow and John Evans were maneuvering to break my NEA assignment and get me transferred to Moscow.  A few months later, I heard that Dan had resigned from the Service, no doubt out of dissatisfaction that his own career was not advancing as fast as others who were less deserving.  He made out all right in the end, however.  He went to business school at Stanford, where he met and married his wife Linda.  They had two kids, and Dan founded the Wild Planet toy company in San Francisco, which, by all reports, has been very successful. 

Arkhangelsk Trip.
As DPO, I usually didn't travel much, but every now and again, a trip would come along that I just couldn't pass up.  In early February, 1986, Dan Grossman told me that he was going to Arkhangelsk to do some human rights business and meet with various refuseniks, and he needed a traveling partner.  Would I come along?  I considered his proposal, and quickly decided to accept.  Arkhangelsk is a bit off the beaten track, even for a Soviet specialist, but it did have an American connection that intrigued me.  From September 1918 to July 1919 over 5,000 American troops from the 85th Division had fought the Bolsheviks in and around Arkhangelsk in an attempt to safeguard stockpiles of supplies sent to the Czarist war effort, and to link up with the Czech Legion, which was busy fighting its way eastward through Siberia.  I was curious about what Arkhangelsk actually looked like, and wanted to see whether there were any traces of the American occupation that survived.

The flight to Arkhangelsk was bumpy all the way, as our Tu-134 fought its way through a snowstorm.  We landed at the airport and were met by our protocol minders, who escorted us to our dilapidated quarters in the local Intourist Hotel.  In those days, Arkhangelsk was a bleak city.  It was a typical Soviet concrete block high rise affair, with wide deserted streets, and very little to buy anywhere.  The temperature hovered around minus 25 degrees Centigrade the whole time we were there.  It was too cold to snow, but there was already plenty on the ground.  I saw no traces of the American occupation, although there was a monument to “Victims of the Intervention” on the embankment. 

The next morning we met with the Mayor, or the Chairman of the City Executive Committee, as he was officially titled.  As usual, meetings with party officials were out.  We were ushered into his office, and invited to partake of a banquet table groaning with hundreds of zakuskis no doubt set up to impress us.  We ate a little and made polite conversation (although Dan took the opportunity to put the Mayor on the spot with various human rights questions), and then bid farewell after the obligatory 30 minutes.  Dan went off to meet his contacts, while I inspected the one bookstore that we could find in the city, and then walked the deserted streets of downtown.  That evening, we went to the provincial ballet, which was very third-rate.  Even the locals seemed to realize how bad the ballet company was, and booed and whistled from time to time.  I felt sorry for the prima ballerina, who, 20 years and 20 pounds ago had apparently danced at the Kirov.  Now she was stuck in a provincial backwater, depending on a ballet company that was terrible, and a dancing partner who wasn't strong enough to lift her properly.  It was a fitting end to our visit.  The next day, we boarded our plane back to Leningrad, and I was relieved to get back to my comfortable apartment and normal life.  I never went to Arkhangelsk again.

JFK, Jr.  
Dan had apparently been friends in college with none other than John F. Kennedy, Jr., who came out to Leningrad in 1986 for a quick visit.  Dan invited us all over to his place for snacks and to meet his famous friend.  I had always been a fan of the Kennedys, unlike my parents, who were dyed-in-the-wool Republicans and were scandalized when I put up a Kennedy for President poster on my bedroom mirror.  I was also touched deeply during the Kennedy funeral, when John-John, then only four, had timidly stepped forward to salute his father's casket.  So I should have been looking forward to meeting the younger Kennedy, but in truth, I wasn't.  I preferred the myths of the past to the present-day reality.  A bunch of us spent the evening talking about Leningrad politics and other subjects, and John impressed me as someone who was polite and personable.  But it was clear that he didn't have the mental candlepower of his father, and that he would never be able to get out of his shadow.  He left Leningrad the next day.  It was the only time I ever met him.

Lyndon K. “Mort” Allin was the BPAO in Leningrad during my two years at the Consulate.  Built like a fireplug, Mort was a very gregarious fellow, the perfect person to be a Public Affairs officer.  He had a wide circle of contacts in the cultural and dissident community, and he and Mary Ann frequently entertained at their apartment on Ulitsa Gogolya.  Along with his able colleague, Ian Kelly, he conducted significant outreach activities that were even more remarkable in view of the hostile attitude adopted by local party and governmental authorities.

Mort had served as Deputy White House Press Spokesman under Reagan, and before that had worked for Pat Buchanan under Nixon.  According to Buchanan, Mort basically invented the
Presidential News Summary, which he prepared every day for Nixon. Mort was a real Reaganaut, and jovially supported his President against the “evil empire,” but in such a way that his Soviet contacts didn't really seem to hold it against him.  I remember one July 4, we all gathered out at the Consulate Dacha (formerly Finnish general Mannerheim's dacha), which was about 25 kilometers out of town on the road to Vyborg.  Mort showed up for the festivities dressed as the Statue of Liberty, much to the amusement of the rest of us.  On another occasion, a costume party at the Marine House, he showed up dressed as a cowboy, six guns and all.  He was a fun guy to know, and always good for a laugh.  After Leningrad, Mort resigned from the service and went into private business.  He passed away from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) in 2000.  He was relatively young, only 59 years old.  Mort is long and fondly remembered by the Leningraders he knew.  Unlike many of us, he left a lasting, and positive impression.

Mort had two children, Lyndon and an older daughter Stephanie.  Lyndon, who was about ten years old at the time, went to a local Russian grade school, and acquired his own set of little Russian friends, as well as some very questionable textbooks still loaded down with Soviet propaganda.  Lyndon was by far the best Russian linguist in our group.  He was practically a native speaker.  In later years, he continued with Russian affairs, working in Moscow for Akin Gump Strauss, and starting his own blog “Scraps from Moscow.”  After two years in London at Skadden Arps, he returned to Washington, DC working as an attorney for Akin Gump.  Today, he is working in Chisinau, Moldova, and we are in regular contact on Facebook. 

The Capital of Finland is Stockmann.
Leningrad in the mid-1980's was still a pretty bleak place as far as creature comforts were concerned, with few restaurants and hotels coming anywhere near Western standards.  As a result, American diplomats still looked to Finland as a place of refuge, where they could take a weekend to relax and experience the pleasures of life in the West.  Every week, the Consulate would send one American family to Helsinki on the courier run, which meant that most Americans would get a morale-boosting trip out of the country two or three times a year, in addition to their normal R&R.  I took fewer courier runs than most, but I did get up to Helsinki two or three times during my tenure in Leningrad, taking the train to Helsinki, and then staying at the Intercontinental.  I can't say that I ever did anything that could be construed as exciting.  I would usually just relax in the hotel room and order room service, although every now and again I would go out on the town, as I had during my first Moscow tour.  I particularly liked to order Irish coffee at the Baltika Bar in the hotel.  It was the only time I ever drank Irish whiskey and enjoyed it.  I had a few friends at Embassy Helsinki, including my successor in Moscow, David Wagner, and so I would visit them too, and we would go out to dinner.  All in all, it was a very relaxing time.

Most people, myself included, always put the Stockmann department store on their list of places to go.  There were still no stores worthy of the name in Leningrad, and so shopping was done either by telex, or in person, with the ever-helpful personnel of Stockmann.  Sometimes, even the vaguest requests would meet with instant satisfaction.  For example, I once telexed Stockmann asking them for a small traveling alarm clock, without further specifying.  The next week, a red triangular Casio alarm clock showed up in the Stockmann shipment.  I have used it ever since, replacing the batteries about every five years, and I always pack it in my luggage when I'm going on a trip.  The people at Stockmann believed in service, particularly for those of us working in the Soviet Union.  Stockmann also had an excellent Russian-language bookstore, where you could buy rare items that were not available in the Soviet Union.  I got several books there, including Dahl's “Толковый Словарь” and the complete works of Pushkin.  In later years, Stockmann expanded to St. Petersburg and Moscow, and now the aura of the Helsinki store, which little kids at Embassy Moscow often called “the capital of Finland” by mistake, has faded.  But back then, Stockmann was something special.

Finland was also the place I would take my 1979 Chevy every six months or so to get it overhauled.  Unlike today, there were no Western car dealerships in the Soviet Union, and getting even a basic tune up in Leningrad was a chancy business.  Fortunately, just across the border in Lappeenranta there was a GM dealership, and they were only too happy to take my money and put my car into tip-top shape, while I relaxed at the Hotel Lappeenranta and watched the denizens of this very small arctic town go about their business.  Getting to Lappeenranta was a bit of an adventure.  One had to drive for about four hours up the isthmus along a pitted and badly-marked road, where the only buildings one saw were the periodic GAI stations monitoring traffic.  About 25 kilometers south of the Finnish border, I would have to stop at the Soviet border post.  The car would be inspected inside and out, and my passport would be examined minutely by the border guards.  It reminded me of the scene in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” where Jim Prideaux was driving across the Czech border, and had to wait forever.  The only difference was that usually my car was the only one at the border station.  Eventually, I would be let loose, and allowed to drive across the 25-kilometer border strip to Finland.  This border zone was undeveloped, a wildlife paradise.  It was also the only place where I found the roads in the Soviet Union to be up to Western standards.  Crossing over to the Finnish side was considerably easier, a matter of a few minutes, and one knew by the friendly attitudes of the border guards that one had once again arrived in the West.

Driving in Finland had its unique aspects.  In Leningrad, there were few cars, and the drivers were often less than proficient.  Another unique conceit of the Soviet authorities was that cities were by definition well-lit, and so one was not permitted to turn on one's headlights at night, only the parking lights.  Needless to say, this caused more than a few accidents.  On the Finnish side of the border, entirely opposite conditions applied.  There were cars everywhere, and everyone had their headlights on, even in the daytime -- a sensible precaution in a country straddling the Arctic Circle, where it was often dark during normal working hours.  I found the change refreshing. 

Lappeenranta was a very small town, but all the same it had more restaurants and nightlife than Leningrad did, a city with a population about the size of the entire country of Finland.  Because of this, I found my semi-annual jaunts to Lappeenranta to be a real morale-booster, although, looking back on it now, I realize that Lappeenranta, and even Helsinki were quite gray and bleak when compared to similar cities in Western Europe and the United States.  It was just that in comparison with Leningrad, they were infinitely brighter and happier places.

End of Part One.

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