Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov was an informer of KGB (Soviet Union’s main security agency), whose official cover was as a journalist for the Soviet Novosti Press Agency. He was posted in India during the 60-70s when he gave his KGB handlers the slip and defected to the West. He flew from (then) Bombay airport to Greece where he was taken in by America’s CIA and was later settled in Canada.
Yuri was not someone considered very important in the Soviet Union. That explains why he continued to live, hold a position in a media house, pursue higher studies and later teach, and travel relatively freely before he died of a heart attack in 1993.
He was considered unimportant by the USSR probably because he was positioned too far and out; a ‘journalist’ that was only supposed to plant propaganda material is almost a peripheral appendage in the concentric rings that was the intelligence apparatus of the Union. He had no immediate information of express international consequence, no secret names, maps, or formula – he was just a workhorse, who had decided to call it quits. The USSR could live with that.
But what Yuri Bezmenov lacked in the shape of names or formulas for the CIA, he made up with his extraordinarily perceptive and cogent grasp of what he called the Soviet Model of Subversion – one of the key subjects now in the Joint Special Operations University, USA. In 1984, Bezmenov gave an interview to G. Edward Griffin, and was invited subsequently for talks and seminars (complete compilation here), where he elaborated on the model.
It remains an uneasy and scary concept – the Soviet Subversion Model. The McCarthyism propaganda and CIA’s ‘Cultural Cold War’ (later, a book by Frances Saunders) unleashed upon Europe during the 50s was aimed at providing that high pedestal to capitalism. It began with a casual display of flashy chauffeur-driven Bugatti zipping past the main roads, their occupiers dining on caviar, wine, and blinis, as the war-torn continent scavenged for cigarette butts in blind alleys, wishing and praying for a place in those cars and cafes. Though it later morphed into a different creature, as is the nature of any large-scale plan in action, the US approach predominantly blinkered itself around weakening and eventually eliminating the idea of communism from the minds of the Europeans.
In comparison, the Soviet Subversion Model is unhinged. It is not designed to destabilize a single ideology, religion, or government; it has the capacity to destroy all of them. Think of it as the old English colonial air of superiority, filtered through several sieves of mind-altering techniques perfected during the 20th century: the end result, is designed to hit the most fundamental aspect of a human being – his/her identity.
According to Bezmenov, it is divided into four stages: 1. Demoralization – takes about 20 years, during which religion, culture, media, and education is weakened through the corresponding institutions. 2. Destabilization – takes about 5 years during which the economy, foreign policy, judiciary, defence etc. is sabotaged. 3. Crisis – takes about 6 months, during which a new, pliable government is brought to power. 4. Normalization – it is when this puppet government settles the society down according to the edicts of its puppeteer(s).
This model was structured keeping primarily the USA in mind. However, there was no reason why the Soviet Union would want to preserve exclusivity. Dry runs are always a good practice; after all, Bezmenov was posted in India when he defected.
India is a geography where demoralization (orchestrated or not) has been going on for centuries; think of it as a by-product of Islamic invasion and British colonialism. Naturally, it did not take the USSR much time or effort to affect that, post-1947. The Marxist historians created synthetic school/college syllabi. The temples were weakened by the government. Local communists – rootless, unlike their Vietnamese counterparts – were bred and nurtured. Along with them came the secularists, urban naxals, and neo-Buddhists. These are just a few examples, which the likes of Rajiv Malhotra, J Sai Deepak, or Vikram Sampath – scholars eminently more qualified to talk and write about – are taking great pains to uncover and chart.
The Soviet Union did not survive the fall of the Berlin Wall. But even if it had, India was a copybook demoralized state – there was never a need to move to destabilize it.
It is only logical to assume that the 1945-50 model has since been upgraded to render it more relevant to the 21st century. Intelligence agencies – especially those that focus on projecting their influence far and wide – have most certainly developed their own versions of the old Soviet Model. At the time, the USSR crumbled and India liberalized its economy, Americans were experts in McCarthyism, plus, they had a twenty years window to dissect, analyse and restructure Bezmenov’s Model suitably.
Under that light, macro moves like the extensive usage of wokeism as a geopolitical tool, or micro, case-specific hit jobs like Shaheen Bagh, farmer riots, the Nupur Sharma episode, the recent BBC documentary on PM Modi, or the Hindenburg report on Adani appear like utilitarian tools that are part of stage two of Bezmenov’s Subversion Model: Destabilization.
Generally aimed to hit and disrupt those areas that have been tagged and marked under stage two of the Subversion Model, these riots, reports or ratings serve as a testament to the fact that the puppeteer has changed hands, but India remains a basket state for subversion.
So, this is the point where one should wonder why the Indian state has displayed a cavalier attitude towards something as colossal and ominous as the Subversion Model. A nation that aspires to be identified as a regional power in an emergent multipolar world needs a certain element of preparedness and foresight among other things. A people with such a traumatic and extensive history of subversion should ideally be so characterised by the neuroticism of their collective memory that it should take an effort for them to appear calm in front of the rest. Think Israel. And yet, a model that was created perhaps in the 40s, partially opened for scrutiny in the 70s, went selectively public in the 80s, and finally was made freely available on the internet since the turn of this century, still has the firepower to make New Delhi sweat uneasy in 2023.
What needs to change?
[Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical analyst and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed.]
Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own