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OPERATION PAYBACK: A FASCINATING FORAY INTO THE WORLD OF SOVIET DISINFORMATION AND ESPIONAGE

Lubomyr Y. Luciuk, Operation Payback: Soviet Disinformation and Alleged Nazi War Criminals in North America. Kingston, Ontario: Kashtan Press, 2021. 244 pp, $40 (includes postage and handling)

The Ukrainian Weekly

June 3, 2022

Alexander Motyl

There are four excellent reasons for reading Professor Luciuk’s latest book.

For starters, he’s an excellent writer. His finely sculpted prose will be sure to appeal to your aesthetic tastes. It’s also perfectly attuned to convey his moral outrage at the duplicity, mendacity, and double standards of the criminal Soviet authorities and the morally obtuse Canadian and American authorities. There is no hint of insincerity or mawkishness in Luciuk’s prose.

He’s also a terrific scholar. He’s able to expose the contradictions and inconsistencies that make bad arguments bad and to suggest what it would take to make them good. In particular, Luciuk takes to task both Canadian and U.S. authorities for hunting down alleged Nazi war criminals while ignoring their equally guilty Soviet counterparts: “Most Soviet mass murderers, their collaborators, and assorted apologists were instead pensioned off, living lives of comparative comfort, even as the Gulag they once created and commanded continued to consume millions of innocents.” Indeed, states Luciuk, “There are KGB villains still around.”

Luciuk’s book is a fascinating foray into the world of Soviet disinformation and espionage. He’s assembled his own published columns, some commentary by other authors, Soviet secret police documentation, and a host of photographs and tells the story of how the Soviets managed to poison relations between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities in North America. As Professor Olga Bertelsen  puts it in her foreword, “The October 1985 KGB memorandum reproduced in this collection confirms how oft-repeated allegations about ‘thousands of Nazi war criminals’ hiding in North America were nothing but a ruse, one intended to foment friction between these two communities….”

Finally, Luciuk’s book is a perfect read for this time of war, genocide, and systemic Russian criminality. Luciuk demonstrates that barbarism was as much of a central feature of Russian behavior in World War II as today. (I suspect he would agree that Russian violence has its roots in Russian history and Russian culture.) Luciuk also shows that there’s a straight line from the demonization of Ukrainians as Nazis in the 1980s to the demonization of Ukrainians as Nazis today. Putin, who joined the KGB in the 1970s, could very well have been aware of Operation Payback.

If you want to understand how the collective mind of a criminal organization—the KGB—works, read Lubomyr Luciuk.

 

Alexander J. Motyl, professor of political science, Rutgers University-Newark