Who was Yuri Bezmenov, the Soviet Defector Featured in the “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” Trailer?

In August, Activision released the reveal trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which included actual footage from a 1984 interview with Soviet defector Yuri Bezmenov. Many younger gamers may be surprised that Bezmenov was in fact a very real person, though some enthusiastic fans have already rediscovered this political personality from a bygone era, as is evidenced by the number of the YouTube comment sections attached to videos of his lectures and interviews which now have messages of “Who’s here because of the CoD trailer?”

But who was Yuri Bezmenov (Юрий Безменов)? And how do his words of warning remain as resonant today as ever?

Born in 1939, Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov was the son of a high-ranking Soviet Army officer. Bezmenov’s education included foreign languages, interrogation, and military training. After his graduation, he worked as a translator and public relations officer before joining a classified program staffed largely by KGB (Soviet secret police) officers. Bezmenov’s work included editing and planting Communist propaganda in foreign media, along with accompanying foreign delegations who were visiting the Soviet Union while concurrently acting as an government informant on the activities of these visiting delegations.

After years of working in Soviet propaganda, Bezmenov was ultimately promoted to the position of deputy chief of the “Research and Counter-Propaganda Group”, a secret subversion initiative based out of the Soviet Union’s embassy in India.

Bezmenov eventually became increasingly disillusioned with his work in Soviet propaganda and chose to defect to the West. He managed to escape to Greece in 1970 before successfully obtaining political asylum in Canada. In 1973, Bezmenov was hired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and three years later he left to become a freelance journalist.

He moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, where he gave his famous interview with G. Edward Griffin in 1984, which Activision used in the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War trailer.

In the interview, Bezmenov explained the KGB’s methods of ideological subversion in great detail. Termed “Active Measures”, these included the KGB’s strategy for undermining a country’s society and political system, both in the United States and elsewhere. This was done by means of infiltrating and manipulating a variety of public and private institutions, including government, media, and even churches. The Soviets also established front organizations, subversive political parties, as well as underground, revolutionary and criminal groups, all to spread disinformation, propaganda, and to enforce a “politically correct” interpretation of world events. The end goal was to confuse and demoralize an enemy society, paving the way for domestic unrest and – eventually – a Soviet-style Communist revolution.

According to Bezmenov, this was a four-step process:

  • Demoralization (15-20 years)
  • Destabilization (2-5 years)
  • Crisis (2-6 months)
  • Normalization (“indefinite”)

You can watch the full interview below.

“Exposure to true information does not matter anymore. A person who is demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell him nothing, even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents and pictures…. he will refuse to believe it… That’s the tragedy of the situation of demoralization.”  -Yuri Bezmenov

His words remain hauntingly relevant now, so it’s not surprising that the Call of Duty: Black Ops developers at Treyarch and Raven Software chose to use Bezmenov’s comments as a backdrop for Cold War. It should also come as no surprise that Communist China banned the Black Ops Cold War trailer for featuring a one-second clip of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and the trailer has since been censored worldwide as a result. (Way to stick to your guns, Activision) Despite the Soviet collapse thirty years ago, it seems that totalitarian regimes are still very aware of how media can be manipulated as a critical and effective means of control.

Bezmenov would go on to lecture for several years and he wrote several books, including World Thought Police, and Black Is Beautiful, Communism Is Not. Yuri Bezmenov passed away on 5 January 1993 at the age of 54, though his commentary on the Soviet subversion model remains influential and is widely studied by historians and political scientists alike.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is slated for release later in 2020.

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