Odd Man Out

Breaking with Moscow

by Arkady N. Shevchenko
Knopf, 378 pp., $18.95

Shevchenko was the senior Soviet citizen in the United Nations Secretariat, with the rank of undersecretary general, when he defected to the United States in April 1978. For several years before that—since 1973 apparently—he had been reporting to the CIA on matters coming to his knowledge in the course of his work as a senior Soviet diplomat, working within the United Nations, and as a trusted protégé of the Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko.

During at least the last five years of his official career, Shevchenko was living at least three kinds of a lie. First of all, he was (as required of him by his Soviet superiors) a liar in his relationship to the international organization he had pledged himself to serve. This he acknowledges in Breaking with Moscow. He quotes the oath or declaration required of all UN servants:

I solemnly swear…to exercise in all loyalty, discretion, and conscience the functions entrusted to me as an international civil servant of the United Nations, to discharge these functions and regulate my conduct with the interests of the United Nations only in view, and not to seek or accept instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any Government or other authority external to the Organization.

Commenting on this, the former undersecretary general says:

I knew many people who fulfilled these obligations with integrity and diligence. But of course the UN is filled with vested interests, private and national. The U.S.S.R. and the Soviet bloc are not unique in their disregard of its international purpose. But in the UN the Soviet Union is alone in one respect among the other nations on earth: its mendacity and cynicism are fully institutionalized. Every Soviet national who takes the organization’s oath must commit perjury. Before an individual’s candidature is submitted by the Soviet Union to the Secretariat’s Office of Personnel Services, that individual undertakes an obligation to do his or her best in the interests of the Soviet Union and to use his or her prospective job to achieve this purpose.

With his defection, Shevchenko started lying to his real employers, as well as to his ostensible ones. He was also now lying to his family (wife, son, daughter), concealing from them to the last his intention to defect. Shortly after Shevchenko’s defection, Moscow reported the suicide of the defector’s wife, Lina. Shevchenko believes that in fact Lina was murdered by the KGB. Either way, her death would appear to have been the result of her husband’s defection. According to him, she heard about it only after it had happened, and so too late to save herself.

Even years before the decision to defect, Shevchenko’s life was a lie, as he now copiously acknowledges:

So I had become part of the stratum that tried to portray itself as fighting what it coveted. While criticizing the bourgeois way of life, its only passion was to possess it; while condemning consumerism as a manifestation of philistine psychology,…

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