Defence IQ Library: "The Mitrokhin Archive Part II: The KGB and the World", by C Andrew and V Mitrokhin

Neil Waghorn

The KGB and the World is the second half of the Mitrokhin Archive, a work that offered a radically fresh view of the history of Soviet actions against Europe and the West and provided an insight into Soviet intelligence. Building on the success of the first volume, The KGB in Europe and the West, The KGB and the World extends the coverage of the Mitrokhin Archive into Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
Shining a Light on Soviet Activities in the Cold War
Due to a previous absence of information about Soviet intelligence actions in the Third World, histories of the Cold War have been tended to be unbalanced. They have neglected Soviet actions and focused instead on the well publicised schemes and activities undertaken by the CIA, such as the Bay of Pigs fiasco. While there are many books on British and American activities in the Cold War that are worth reading, (particularly The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence by Richard Aldrich), The KGB and the World shines a light on the other side of the conflict, and exposes KGB actions in Afghanistan, Egypt and Mexico to name just a few, thereby redressing the balance of Cold War analysis.
Soviet forces leaving Afghanistan in 1989. The Mitrokhin Archive exposes KGB actions in the war. [image: AFP]
As NATO troops begin to prepare to pull out of Afghanistan and hand over security to Afghan forces, the two chapters on Soviet actions and war in Afghanistan are particularly interesting and provide a comparison to current affairs. Of particular interest is the comparison to ‘a bleeding wound’ and the eventual decision to withdraw – and importantly the impact that this had on the Soviet system (and Afghanistan). Throughout the NATO campaign in Afghanistan their have been comparisons to Soviet operations there. The KGB and the World exposes KGB activities (such as running their own Special Forces and acting as Mujahedeen) and thus adds to the knowledge of Soviet activities – allowing a fuller comparison.
A Different Volume; A Different Style
While the first volume, The KGB in Europe and the West, is laid out in a chronological format, The KGB and the World, adopts a different style. The KGB and the World is broken up into four sections: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. These sections are then broken up into chapters allowing different topics and themes to be grouped by region. This difference in style from the first volume makes The KGB and the World an easier read; feeling almost like four distinct books. This feeling is compounded by the fact that each of the regions has its own introduction. This provides a background of the actions in the region and provides a historical grounding, allowing the reader a greater understanding of the text. This context is further increased by a continuation of Andrew’s style of providing a detailed notes section at the end of the book providing additional information and sources.
The KGB and the World also reveals details of Mitrokhin’s past and provides some insight into the man responsible for what the CIA called the ‘biggest CI [Counter-Intelligence] bonanza of the post-war period’. Although an overview of the story of how Mitrokhin copied out notes from the KGB’s archive and defected to Britain was provided in The KGB in Europe and the West, The KGB and the World, published after Mitrokhin’s death in 2004, reveals unprecedented information regarding Mitrokhin and his career. Mitrokhin was apparently reluctant for information about him to be published ‘for fear that the FSB would make life uncomfortable for some of his surviving relatives.’
The KGB and the World is a valuable conclusion to the Mitrokhin Archive and arguably surpasses its predecessor, The KGB in Europe and the West. KGB and the World’s comparative ease to read and engage with, coupled with its exposure of previously under-examined intelligence activities make it a recommendable read for anyone interested in the Cold War or intelligence.