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Gates Recalls Past Russian Encounters

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MOSCOW, Oct. 13, 2007 – Robert M. Gates, U.S. defense secretary and former Central Intelligence Agency director, knows a lot about Russia. He has spent his entire adult life studying Russia and the Soviet Union and holds a doctorate in Russian history.

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Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates signs the guest book at the Russian General Staff Academy in Moscow, Oct. 13, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

During a speech here at the 175-year-old Military Academy of the General Staff, Gates noted that he has spent nearly a quarter of a century in the same career field as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“He is considerably younger than I am and clearly his career has been more successful,” Gates joked.

Gates went on to recall some of the highlights of his past Russian encounters.

“My first encounter with the Soviet military was 36 years ago, in 1971, when I was assigned to Vienna, Austria, as an intelligence specialist to the American delegation negotiating limits on strategic armaments with the Soviet Union,” he said. “While historians can and do debate that the dialogue between our two countries on strategic issues -- doctrine, strategy, numbers and more -- it made a major contribution to avoiding misunderstandings, miscalculations and mistakes that might have resulted in a nuclear war.”

In 1979, Gates was in Vienna when the SALT II Treaty was signed. In 1987, he served as deputy director of the CIA and held the first summit meeting with the leaders of the KGB and the CIA.

“It was a dialogue intended to prevent mistakes and misunderstandings, and to offer a chance to clear the air,” he said. “It was a cordial but frank conversation. For example, when I complained to (Vladimir) Kryuchkov (head of the KGB) about all the listening devices we had taken out of our new embassy here in Moscow, he asked me if I’d like to see the warehouse where they had all the listening devices taken out of the USSR’s new embassy in Washington.”

Gates also recalled his first visit to Moscow in 1989.

“During the trip, I had been warned that my room at Spasohouse, the U.S. ambassador’s residence, would probably be bugged by the KGB,” he said. “As I prepared to go to bed, I said aloud, for the benefit of anyone listening, that I would be going right to sleep – immediately; I had no companionship planned for the evening; and that whoever was listening could take the night off. I thought I heard a chuckle, but it was undoubtedly only in my imagination.”

By 1992, Gates was the CIA director and the Cold War was history when he made a visit to Moscow. U.S. and Russian intelligence services began to cooperate in addressing threats of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, global organized crime and narcotics trafficking.

“No longer enemies, we began to look for ways in which we could cooperate and be partners,” Gates said.

During that visit, Gates said he made a special presentation to President Boris Yeltsin to symbolize the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

In the mid-1970s, the United States had recovered part of a Soviet ballistic missile submarine that had sunk deep in the Pacific Ocean. Also recovered were the remains of six Soviet sailors.

“Nearly 20 years later,” Gates said, “I presented to President Yeltsin the Soviet naval flag with which we had shrouded the coffins of the six Soviet sailors, along with a videotape of their burial at sea, complete with prayers in Russian for the dead and the playing of the Soviet national anthem -- at the height of the Cold War, a dignified and respectful burial at sea of six brave adversaries.”

Gates recapped one final encounter, in June 2007, when he had the chance to stand on the shores of Normandy, France, and pay homage to the Americans who had lost their lives there. A month earlier, Putin had marked the anniversary of the Great Patriotic War, in which more than 20 million Soviet citizens died.

“We were two old Cold Warriors -- and plain-spoken career spies -- honoring the deeds of a bygone era, deeds shared by an America and a Russia that allied against a common enemy,” Gates said. “Together, we were honoring the mass heroism of rank-and-file soldiers, the unconquerable spirit of everyday citizens, the tragedy of great nations.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of Defense Robert M. Gates talks to Russian Gen. Alexander Belousov prior to talking to servicemembers at the Russian General Staff Academy in Moscow, Oct. 13, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison   
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