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Spies: Just Like in the Movies

Russian spies are back in vogue, it seems. The question is, has anything changed?

Last week, Yours Truly was treated to the Brisbane preview of the gripping French spy thriller, “Farewell”. This week, it was almost as if life were imitating art, with the dramatic arrests of alleged Russian spies or sleeper agents, on American soil: Russian Spy Ring.

“Farewell” is an engaging and intelligent film, which is easy to watch and hard to forget. It even pokes fun at the French, which makes it laugh-out-loud funny in places (early in the film). The chilling realism of that era in Communist Russia, however, is deeply unsettling. Anyone who’s feeling apathetic about democracy should see the film.

The movie is based on fact (Google: “The Farewell Dossier”) and gives viewers an eye-opening understanding of the why and how of the Soviet Union’s rapid collapse at the end of the Cold War. For more detail, see Farewell Movie review. Please note that the scriptwriters took some liberties with the characterization of the hero (Vladimir Vetrov, who is Grigoriev in the movie), making him much nicer than he probably was.The film ignores that he likely stabbed his mistress to death (in the car scene) while intoxicated and that his imprisonment related to this rather than to the much nobler reason presented in the film. Still, as far as anyone can tell, before being imprisoned for murder, he did leak the information to the French and Americans, which in turn helped unhinge the Soviet Union. The reason the world had the opportunity to find out the truth or approximate truth about this point in history, may have a lot to do with the hero’s bragging in prison. After all, what’s success, when nobody else can admire you for it? But then, how can we ever know for sure when the lives of spies are built lie upon lie and oppressive regimes are lies grown large?

The agents who were arrested in America this week, had been embedded in communities and working towards a singular goal for about a decade – that the government admits to knowing of, anyway. In the context of having seen “Farewell” and read some of the historical background to the film, I’ll admit to feeling a tad nervous about this new turn of events. I’ll also confess to feeling some concern about the timing of the arrests. Was it a case of QUICK LOOK OVER THERE!? while the flailing Obama administration tries to look tough and pull itself together on other unpopular domestic disasters? After all, these agents were under observation for about a decade. Why the sudden rush to make it public (not that I’m suggesting America starts arresting people in cognito)? Maybe Obama needed a clear excuse to back away from the difficult relationship between the countries, which was compromising America’s moral authority as well as its geo-political supremacy. Handing olive branch after olive branch to a big bear is going to get you eaten, eventually, even if the big bear seems a thin shadow of its former self. On the back of Russia’s growing mineral wealth and strategic alliances, the Putin bear is bulking up again…

Politicians know there’s nothing like a well-timed, stage-managed crisis to get the public behind them. But how could I say such a thing? Of course, Mr Obama just had hamburgers with the Russian Premier this week. Maybe it was Obama’s sense of humour as well as his sense of timing, in offering his visitor what is known as a “Hell Dog” or “Hell Burger” (because of the chillies) only days before busting this spy ring in the open. Mr Obama, the Hell Burgers will go down a treat in the film adaptation of your presidency. I’ll buy popcorn for that one…

I guess the world can only hope that Mr Obama knows what he’s doing and that he’s getting better advice than Hillary did when she gave the Russians a box with a red button in it and a dodgy translation. “Reset” indeed. It’s certainly starting to feel cold again….

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