Top Ex-Spies and Generals from US & Russia Pause Work Together

An exclusive look at a group of former senior American spies and military generals, who met for years with Russians of a similar background.
Posted at 9:26 PM, Mar 16, 2023

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA spy, was still on Russia's terrorist watch list in 2009, when he flew to Moscow with retired U.S. Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan.

Together they asked the former Russian Minister of the Interior and Army General, Anatoly Kulikov, a surprising question: could they work with him and other Russian adversaries?

So began a face to face collaboration between retired senior spies and three and four-star generals from the U.S. and Russia.

They call themselves the Elbe Group, named after the German river where U.S. and Soviet forces met in the last days of World War II. Its participants include the former heads of the U.S. and Russian military intelligence agencies, the former chief of Russia's nuclear forces, and the former head of U.S. Central Command: all men who had previously faced off in the Cold War.

In 2011, the Elbe Group did something that Washington and Moscow had never been able to achieve together. They wrote a groundbreaking joint report assessing that terrorists could potentially acquire material for a nuclear weapon.

The group is housed at Harvard University's Belfer Center, but over the years their meetings have been held in neutral countries and, during the pandemic, by Zoom. The participants are so esteemed, their conversations have been relayed to senior officials at the White House and Pentagon and to Vladimir Putin's closest advisers.

But the group has not gathered since Russia waged war on Ukraine. The Americans told the Russians they wouldn't meet until the war in Ukraine ended, though the former officers might have helped provide insight to hasten its end.

The Russian members declined to be interviewed for this story. And just as an end to the war remains uncertain, so is the future of this small, singular group.

A U.S. MQ-9 drone is on display / AP

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