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Author Nicholas Daniloff Talks About  His Life As A Cold War Correspondent

Journalist Nicholas Daniloff, a former Moscow correspondent for UPI (1961-65) and U.S. News and World Report (1981-86), has written his memoirs, Of Spies and Spokesmen: My Life as a Cold War Correspondent. Mr. Daniloff became the focus of world attention after he was jailed by the KGB for 13 days and falsely charged with spying for the United States. He was later traded for an alleged Soviet spy picked up in New York.

In his book, Mr. Daniloff discusses the 1982 Cuban missile crisis from a Russian perspective. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now's International Press Club and with VOA Uzbek editor and television host Navbahor Imamova, he says the public perception of the crisis in Moscow differed considerably from the crisis as seen from Washington. At that time, he says, the Kremlin did not acknowledge that Soviet President Nikita Khruschev had put missiles into Cuba, and thus Russia's tightly controlled state press "placed the blame entirely on the United States." In the 1960's, Mr. Daniloff says getting information in Moscow was very difficult, and in the Stalin era it had even been regarded as "criminal" to report anything that had not already been "publicly published" in the Soviet press.

Nicholas Daniloff says that, although both sides know more about each other today, there are still many misperceptions. He says, while America tends to view Russia as a democracy and "probably a friend," for Russians, the "love-hate relationship seems to live on." He says Russians are quick to blame the United States for things that go wrong. According to Mr. Daniloff, it has become almost a "national pastime" for the U.S. press to criticize those in power, whereas in Russia those in power are suspicious of media criticism. In the post-Soviet period, he says, the regimes in the successor states, especially those in Central Asia, see little benefit in "looking problems straight in the eye" and tend to suppress dissident views. In the 1960's, Nicholas Daniloff explains, censorship was quite strict with hundreds of forbidden topics, and it was difficult for foreign journalists to have "any kind of relationship" with Soviet citizens.

But by the early 1980's, Mr. Daniloff says, that attitude had begun to change. Nonetheless, he says, the typical government response to embarrassing incidents, such as the shooting down of Korean Airliner 007 and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, was to try to "cover up" the story. When he was arrested in 1986, Nicholas Daniloff says what helped most was that his wife, contrary to the advice of the U.S. Embassy, gave "copious interviews" and mounted an "enormous publicity campaign" for his release. And six years later, he adds, President Mikhail Gorbachev publicly admitted that the arrest was a "prime example of Cold War retaliation."

Nicholas Daniloff is now a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, and he has taught many journalism students in the successor countries of the former Soviet Union. To get around repressive laws in some of those nations, he says some journalists decide to write for "foreign outlets" or even for the "desk drawer," to be published at a "better date." Daniloff acknowledges that, "if you step very far out of line, you are likely to suffer, and your family as well." Sometimes, as in Uzbekistan, he says journalists who are critical of the government are viewed as "enemies of the nation" or as liars.

Mr. Daniloff observes that the major interest all peoples and all nations share is to survive. During the Cold War, he says, the issue was: is the United States going to destroy the Soviet Union, or is the Soviet Union going to try to attack and destroy the American way of life? Although some analysts today argue that a "new cold war is upon us," Nicholas Daniloff says he does not subscribe to that view. Nonetheless, he describes current U.S.-Russian relations as "troubled." He blames two things: Russian criticism of the war in Iraq and American criticism that Russia is not a functioning democracy and has instead become more "authoritarian." However, he notes that the two nations have some important common interests – the struggle against terrorism, the effort to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the concern that Iran may develop a nuclear weapon.