I don’t mean to disqualify myself as a reviewer, but I can’t quite figure this book, or its author out. Arkady Shevchenko is by one calculus the most senior Soviet official ever to have made the leap to the West. By his own account, he ‘defected’ twice; once to the CIA, who asked him to his horror if he would mind remaining in place for a bit, and once definitively, and at the cost of his family. The first defection took place in 1973, and the second one in 1978. Pretty serious for the Soviet Union, one might think, to reflect that one of their top men had been reporting to Langley, Virginia for five years. And what a catch for the CIA, to have the most important Russian at the United Nations on their payroll. The book must have been part of the package from the very beginning. Yet its publication reveals the foreign policy of the USSR to be much more tame, and Shevchenko himself much more of a shit than the CIA can have wanted us to believe.
Shevchenko’s principal beef is that the life of a Soviet bureaucrat involves – necessitates – constant mendacity, bullying, toadying and hypocrisy. Will anybody call me blasé if I say that we did not need him to alert us to this state of affairs?