War Scares

   On several occasions, the Soviet authorities used the security services to whip up war scares for international and domestic political reasons. In 1927 Joseph Stalin spoke of the imminent danger of war with Japan and Great Britain. Stalin used this fear to give the security police far greater power in arresting dissidents and deporting such figures as Leon Trotsky. In 1952 Stalin again used the threat of war with the West to create a domestic hysteria about spies and terrorists. He aimed this campaign domestically at Jews, who were called “rootless cosmopolitanites.” The Soviet people were bombarded with accounts of the Doctors’ Plot, alleging that Jewish doctors were poisoning Russians and spying for America and Israel. Stalin almost certainly would have parlayed this threat into a massive purge of the political leadership had he lived.
   Yuri Andropov approved a war scare in 1982–1984. The themes of the campaign were the threat of an American nuclear strike and the need for greater discipline and vigilance at home. Several leading dissidents were arrested, and conditions for political prisoners worsened. Soviet propaganda portrayed the West as led by a “mad” President Ronald Reagan. The war scare infected the KGB’s foreign intelligence component: under the RYaN program, KGB and GRU rezidenturas were ordered to look for (and find) proof of an American plan for nuclear war. Unlike previous war scares, this had the potential of accidentally igniting a nuclear war. The Soviet leadership abandoned this war scare following Andropov’s death in early 1984. War scares may have deceived the Soviet leadership as well, creating a “wilderness of mirrors” where it was impossible to understand the adversary’s strategy or intent. Certainly, Andropov believed much of the inflated intelligence that he demanded the KGB and the GRU collect in the early 1980s. In the end, the final war scare may have had the Soviet leadership as its victim.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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