Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Boris Yeltsin, the LTTE & the Indian Gumshoes

by Sachi Sri Kantha

My source is none other than the Madras Hindu newspaper, which prides itself in having strong pipelines to the movers and shakers of Indian policy and diplomacy. To chew on this ‘cooked-up’ Yeltsin-LTTE connection, please rewind the time to 1993...

It's now an open secret that Boris Yeltsin never warmed up to India in the 1990s, mainly due to the inept bungling of Indian Poo-Bahs of how they handled the botched plot of Soviet Communists against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991....The non-existent Yeltsin assassination plot by the LTTE in 1993 was a clear example of how the Indian gumshoes operated to curry some cheap favor from...Yeltsin.

Finally, on April 23, 2007 (Monday), 76 year-old Boris Yeltsin, the former President of Russia, fell to a fatal hit – not from the LTTE, but from the Grim Reaper. Those who wonder when did the LTTE have designs on Yeltsin’s life have to believe this. My source is none other than the Madras Hindu newspaper, which prides itself in having strong pipelines to the movers and shakers of Indian policy and diplomacy. To chew on this ‘cooked-up’ Yeltsin-LTTE connection, please rewind the time to 1993.

Deceit of Indian gumshoes

In that pre-internet era, the Madras Hindu (International edition – a weekly broadsheet) was on my subscription list. In the February 27, 1993 issue of this broadsheet, I was amused to read a news brief date-lined “Moscow, Feb.19, 1993”, which informed the readers, under the titillating caption ‘Tamil militants tried to kill Yeltsin: aide’:

“The Indian security service in coordination with Russian VIP security department officials foiled a plot by Sri Lankan militants to assassinate the President, Mr. Boris Yeltsin, during his visit to India last month, according to the chief of the presidential security, Lt.Gen. Mikhail Barsukov. He told the influential daily Nezavisimoya Gazeta in an interview that the Tamil terrorists had undergone special training and had had combat experience in Lebanon. The terrorists had wanted to attract international attention and force some of their conditions on India, including the release of arrested terrorists, Lt.Gen. Barsukov said.”

In my Pirabhakaran Phenomenon (2005) book, I provided a brief deconstruction of this cockamamy ‘plant’ provided by the Indian gumshoes to the Madras Hindu paper. To quote,

“Though LTTE was not mentioned by name, other tangential references such as the use of euphemistic term ‘terrorist’ and the phrase ‘Sri Lankan Tamil militants’ in the news release indicated that the RAW operatives had fed the story to be planted in the Moscow daily. Only quoted named source was Lt.Gen. Mikhail Barsukov, who in all probability would have been a toady to Yeltsin, the then Russian leader. What was missing in the planned assassination-plot story was, answers to questions, ‘Who was the assassin?’, ‘Where the assassin was captured’ and ‘How the assassin attempted to kill Yeltsin?’” [page 350]

Whenever feasible, I always double check my past assertions from more than one source. If this unbelievable LTTE assassination plot on Yeltsin in 1993 was indeed true, it should have appeared in other mainstream news sources from the West as well. After hearing of the death of Yeltsin, I checked the Lexis Nexis database for the year 1993 with the key search phrases ‘Boris Yeltsin’ and ‘LTTE’ or its other variants such as ‘Tamil Tigers.’ Not a single item turned up. To confirm this search, I then did a second search using the key search phrases ‘Boris Yeltsin’ and ‘assassination’ for the period covering 1980 to 2007. In this search, 9 items were retrieved, but not a single one was related to India or Sri Lanka or the LTTE. Thus, score one for the electronics revolution and the easy access of multiple databases, which enables analysts like me to detect deceit in the ‘news plants’ of Indian gumshoes.

Yeltsin’s coolness to Indian bungling

It's now an open secret that Boris Yeltsin never warmed up to India in the 1990s, mainly due to the inept bungling of Indian Poo-Bahs of how they handled the botched plot of Soviet Communists against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991. That was when Yeltsin delivered his prime-time bravura performance to the world. But the Indian Poo-Bahs were applauding the wrong team, by sending a premature ‘diplomatic recognition’ to the inept Communist coup plotters. One can easily infer that Yeltsin never forgave India’s foreign policy-makers for this false step. Here are two excerpts from the cover-story ‘India’s Foreign Policy Losing Direction’, which appeared in the India Today magazine of December 15, 1991, by Shekhar Gupta and Shahnaz Anklesaria Aiyar. To quote,

“Beginning with Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s immortal homily to ‘over-enthusiastic reformers’ on the day of the abortive coup in Moscow, the last three months have seen an unprecedented degree of drift in foreign policy…”

“Soviet sources express exasperation at India’s lingering nostalgia for ‘the good old days’ of the Cold War – when Mrs Gandhi could ask Leonid Brezhnev for five million tonnes of crude at a banquet table, and get it…

Solanki’s [the then Minister of External Affairs - MEA] Moscow visit and India’s belated approach to Yeltsin raised further questions. First of all, India showed pragmatism in making Solanki meet Yeltsin as an envoy of the prime minister and Mikhail Gorbachev as a mere foreign minister. The distinction was noted in Moscow. But Yeltsin was abrupt and wanted India to sign a treaty directly with him, decisively acknowledging Russia as the rightful inheritor to the power and position of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin and the new Russian leadership seem to have a poor understanding of India and India has done little to remedy that. Shockingly, it was the first time an Indian official met Yeltsin after the coup. Ignoring Yeltsin all this while, before and after the coup, is one of MEA’s greatest failures. Analysts blame it on a nostalgic commitment to the Kremlin old guard. Having been so close to the Soviets, India should have had a better sense of the impending changes. But knowing that a united Communist USSR was in India’s long-term interest, the MEA became a prisoner of wishful thinking.”

One can surely add a rejoinder that the Ministry of External Affairs in India is not an exception to have suffered (and continues to suffer) from this malaise of wishful thinking. India’s other institutions, including the Intelligence Agencies and House of Hindu publishers also suffered from the same malady. The non-existent Yeltsin assassination plot by the LTTE in 1993 was a clear example of how the Indian gumshoes operated to curry some cheap favor from the then toadies of Yeltsin.

Another Yeltsin ‘death-watch’ story

While on the theme of Yeltsin death-watch, I provide the following excerpts from a 2004 commentary by Stephen Sestanovich (professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University, and US ambassador at large for the former Soviet Union from 1997 to 2001) which I trawled from the New York Times archives. It’s something to savor and confirms the open secret that even the American gumshoes don’t get it correct – with all their high tech snooping potential. To quote Prof.Sestanovich,

“My favorite is from August 1998 when, with Bill Clinton just three days away from a trip to Moscow, the Central Intelligence Agency reported that President Boris Yeltsin of Russia is dead.

In 1998 the news that Mr.Yeltsin had died was, of course, no more surprising than the news, in 2003, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It matched what we knew of his health and habits, and the secretive handling of his earlier illnesses. Nor was anyone puzzled by the lack of an announcement. Russia’s financial crash 10 days earlier had set off a political crisis, and we assumed a fierce Kremlin succession struggle was raging behind the scenes.

In the agonizing conference calls that ensued, all government agencies played their usual parts. The CIA stood by its sources but was uncomfortable making any recommendation. National Security Council officials, knowing Mr.Clinton wasn’t eager for the trip, wanted to pull the plug immediately. The State Department (in this case, me) insisted we’d look pretty ridiculous canceling the meeting because Mr.Yeltsin was dead – only to discover that he wasn’t.

Eventually we decided that the Russians had to let the deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, who was in Moscow for pre-summit meetings, see Mr.Yeltsin within 24 hours or the trip was off. Nothing else would convince us: no phone call, no television appearance, no doctor’s testimony. The next day Mr.Yeltsin, hale and hearty, greeted Mr.Talbott in his office, and two days later Bill Clinton got on the plane to Moscow.

When the trip was over, I phoned the CIA analyst who had relayed the false report. He was apologetic – sort of. ‘You have to understand’, he said. ‘We missed the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests last spring. We’re under a lot of pressure not to miss anything else.’

Some of the lessons of this episode are the same as those emerging from the Iraq debate: sensitive intelligence is often too weak to guide important decisions; if the information fits what we already believe, or what we want to do, it gets too little scrutiny…” [New York Times, July 21, 2004]