Former CIA agent and creator of ‘The Americans’ says the US and Russia aren’t that different

With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian border, Moscow finds itself in one of its most tense clashes with the West since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin denies plans to invade Ukraine, but the United States and its NATO allies send military aid to the beleaguered country and the Pentagon announced that up to 8,500 US troops have been placed on alert for possible deployment to Eastern Europe.

What some are calling a new Cold War between Russia and the United States is at the center of “Russia Inside Out,” a new book by former CIA officer turned writer and television producer Joseph Weisberg.

Weisberg spent three years with the CIA – a brief stint as an espionage rookie that came in handy a few years later when he drew on his experience to craft an award-winning spy drama”Americans.” The show ran for six seasons between 2013 and 2018 on FX and told the story of two KGB spies in Reagan-era America.

Weisberg says that if Russia invades Ukraine it will be making “a terrible mistake, both strategic and moral”, but also points out that “sending US troops to Eastern Europe and the Baltics will not that increase the possibility that the [West] falls into a war with Russia.

Speaking to The Times of Israel via Zoom from a New York hotel room, the 56-year-old Chicago-born Jewish author says the “new Cold War” isn’t all that new. It has its roots, he says, in Russia’s aggressive takeover of Crimea in 2014, which sparked a proxy war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region and caught the attention of the United States. economic sanctions on Moscow which had a significant impact on the Russian economy.

14,000 people have been killed in the eight-year-old ongoing conflict between Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian military.

A Ukrainian soldier takes up his frontline position at a destroyed building in the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, November 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Vitali Komar, File)

Weisberg says “ending economic sanctions against Moscow could be a helpful step” that would help reduce growing tensions between the West and Russia.

“To deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine at this time, the United States must listen carefully to Russia’s concerns and see how far it can go to respond to reasonable ones,” he said. “I suspect that [diplomatic option] would be more likely to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine than further threats of economic sanctions.

And, he says, it’s not like Russian President Vladimir Putin is making a lot of noise about NATO’s eastward expansion.

Weisberg says that when the Cold War ended, the West deceived the Soviet Union by assuring the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, that if he allowed German unification, the NATO coalition would not move further east.

Joseph Weisberg, creator of “The Americans” and author of “Russia Upside Down”. (Courtesy/FX)

“But very soon after, NATO began to expand in the east, drawing ever closer militarily to Russia and welcoming members who were once part of the The Warsaw Pact. So it’s quite understandable that any great nation would feel threatened and encircled by this,” Weisberg says.

“Furthermore, when the United States puts an anti-defense missile system right in the middle of Russia’s backyard in Eastern Europe, how is it going to be for Russia? »

Weisberg was not always so impartial. In 1990, his warmongering anti-Communist worldview inspired him to join the CIA, where he was placed in the division that spied on the Soviet Union.

He never went on a mission and did not progress beyond the CIA recruit training program at Camp Peary in Williamsburg, Va. – but Weisberg’s time at that training facility (known as name of “The Farm”) gave him insight into how the murky underworld of international espionage actually works.

“It became clear to me reading various case studies at the CIA that 95% of them were not effective in producing useful information,” says Weisberg. “So I really started to question the value of espionage in general.”

Illustrative: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrive for a working session at the Elysee Palace on December 9, 2019 in Paris. (Ian Langsdon/Pool via AP)

One example, he says, is a recent report attributed to the UK Foreign Office which claimed Russian intelligence was in contact with Ukrainian politicians to plot a takeover of Kiev. Weisberg says that while the story “is certainly plausible, it could also be something that a source made up.”

“From the outside, it’s almost impossible to judge the reliability of this kind of intelligence reporting,” he says.

Weisberg has some advice for the Biden administration if it wants to improve relations with Moscow. On the one hand, he says, a little self-awareness would go a long way. Weisberg notes, for example, that Russia’s political and military interests in Ukraine are not so different from those of the United States in Latin America, which have caused enormous suffering in recent decades.

He also says the United States should “make a conscious decision to stop fighting Russia” and withdraw from the conflict with Ukraine. It’s a pretty radical view. The United States, after all, has military commitments to its NATO allies and partners across Europe that it cannot simply ignore.

But Weisberg insists that Washington must take a less aggressive approach if it wants lingering tensions between the West and Russia to subside in the near to medium future.

“Russia appears to be concerned about US involvement in Ukraine and aggression against Russia more broadly,” he said. “While the United States seems concerned about Russian aggression around the world, and specifically in Ukraine, and neither side seems able to back down.”

“There is an assumption that if you don’t act aggressively, you will be seen as weak and exploited,” Weisberg says. “But I don’t see a lot of evidence for that.”

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