What the Kremlin Tells Russians About America

As Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border in November and U.S. military and intelligence officials grew increasingly concerned about the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan phoned Gen. Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the national security council of Russia.

Sullivan speaks regularly with his Russian counterpart. Between the end of January and November 19, they were on the phone seven times. According to the New York Times, the reason for these chats—as well as for today’s scheduled “conversation” between Presidents Biden and Putin—is the administration’s belief that “more direct talks” are necessary to “further understand Moscow’s intentions.”

It’s not entirely inconceivable that Patrushev might have come clean about the Kremlin’s plans for Ukraine. Yet given his nearly half-century in the KGB and its successor, the FSB (including a nine-year stint as the secret service director, when he succeeded Putin in 1999), truth-telling is not likely to be among his strong suits.

So in their future chats, Sullivan might want to supplement whatever his Russian counterpart does tell him with a historically proven insight into Patrushev’s thinking. Like the top officials of the Soviet Union to which Putin and those closest to him remain unabashedly loyal (Patrushev refers to Stalin’s Soviet Union as “our country” and labels Truman and Reagan “Russophobes”), what Kremlin occupants tell the Russian people has always been a far more reliable guide to their perceptions and beliefs than what they’ve disclosed to their foreign interlocutors. And since someone of Patrushev’s bureaucratic acumen would never utter a word that the boss would not approve of, what he says reflects Vladimir Putin’s own opinions.

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