Where the Kremlin gets the news, and how
THE Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe and Moscow's deplorable delay in disclosing it raised questions about the communications system in the Soviet Union; namely, how and from where the Soviet leaders get their information about what is going on in their own country and outside its borders. Ivan Stadnyuk, the official biographer of Stalin, who had access to secret Kremlin archives, acknowledges the fact that in Stalin's dining room there was a Telefunken radio set that his wife's brother had brought back to him from abroad.Skip to next paragraph
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During the war, when the Soviet news agencies were issuing doctored communiqu'es from the front, the suspicious tyrant did not put much faith in the reports from his own commanders -- he would push the button on his foreign-made radio set and, holding his ear close to it, get the war news from the Russian-language broadcasts of foreign radio stations. That was how he first learned that his son Yakov had been taken prisoner and later executed by the Germans.
We do not know whether Nikita Khrushchev listened to the Voice of America and the BBC when he was in power. But after he was removed from office and became a pensioner, he definitely became a regular, avid listener to those broadcasts. According to his closest relatives, what interested him more than international news or fascinating gossip was political information about his own country.
The Russian writer Felix Kamov, who now lives in Israel, told us (when all three of us were still living in Moscow) about a meeting in 1977 between a group of ``refuseniks'' and Leonid Brezhnev's minister of internal affairs, Gen. Nikolai Shchelokov. General Shchelokov frankly told them that he had learned from a Voice of America broadcast about a Jewish demonstration in Moscow that had been broken up by policemen -- who were of course under his own authority.
Mr. Brezhnev himself, no less than his ministers and very likely more than his predecessors, was extremely fond of listening to shortwave radio. He especially liked to do it when he was in Zavidovo, the woodland area not far from Moscow, where members of the Politburo spent time hunting, relaxing, holding sessions, and even entertaining foreign guests (for example, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were overnight guests there.)
To ensure undisturbed and ``clean'' reception of foreign radio broadcasts for the Kremlin Olympians, this area is left free of jammers -- of which we ourselves found confirmation more than once when we were in that vicinity. (We could hear the faint sounds of jammers only in adjacent areas.)
One of the superintendents of the Politburo's hunting lodges in Zavidovo told us that Brezhnev preferred Japanese-made shortwave receivers; that he tried not to miss a single evening broadcast by the Voice of America; and that he took a special interest in its analysis of the alignment of political forces in the Kremlin and in the odds put on each of his potential heirs, no doubt so that he could render the most likely one harmless in good time.