As Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that Israeli and Palestinian leaders had agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow for talks, new information suggests that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may have closer links to Russia than previously known. Newly uncovered Soviet archives point to him acting as a KGB agent in the 1980s.
The new information was widely reported by the Israeli media, first by broadcaster Channel One, but Palestinian officials reacted with anger, decrying the claim as a falsehood and an attempt to smear the Palestinian leader who has presided over the West Bank since 2005.
The report says the information comes from Soviet-era documents stored in the Churchill Archives Center at the University of Cambridge after a dissident KGB archivist smuggled them out of the Soviet Union and sought refuge in Britain in 1991.
The archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin, died in 2004 and the files he had taken from the Soviet Union were made available to researchers a decade later in 2014. Two Israeli scholars, Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, subsequently requested the documents from 1983 and say they have discovered that Abbas had the nickname “Krotov,” or “Mole.”
At the end of the reference to Abbas in the document it simply says: “KGB agent.” It alleges that he was a Soviet mole in the Syrian capital, Damascus, in 1983 and worked under Mikhail Bogdanov, who is now Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Middle East. He is the figure tasked with bringing Abbas and Netanyahu together for potential peace talks in Moscow.
The timing of the revelation comes as the pair are on the verge of holding public talks for the first time since 2010. Though, there is still no date set for the meeting that Russia says has been agreed by both sides. They have only met briefly at a summit last year, shaking hands. The researchers said they had timed the release to coincide with the ongoing diplomatic back-and-forth between Moscow and Ramallah.
“We thought it was important now in the context of the Russian attempt to arrange a summit between Abbas and Netanyahu, particularly because of Abbas’s joint K.G.B. past with Putin,” Remez told the New York Times.
But Abbas’s aides said that the report was yet a further bid to hurt the Palestinian leader’s reputation by accusing him of ulterior interests. “There’s a clear trend of attempting to damage Abu Mazen by various elements, including Israel,” Mohammed al-Madani, a member of the central committee of Abbas’s Fatah political party, told Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. “This is another attempt to slander him.”