It's the urban legend that just won't die.
It is usually raised by Russian officials when they want to back up claims that the United States is bent on destroying Russia. Everybody states it as fact. But I was never able to find any evidence of it ever actually happening.
So what is it? It is comments that former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright allegedly made that Siberia's vast natural resources were too important to the world for Russia to unfairly control on its own.
The claim came up in Vladimir Putin's annual call-in program back in 2007 when an engineer from Novosibirsk asked about it -- giving the Kremlin leader the opportunity to deliver this line: "Such ideas are a sort of political erotica. Perhaps they give somebody pleasure, but they are unlikely to lead to anything positive."
It came up in an interview Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev gave to Kommersant just this week. The United States "really would like it if Russia did not exist as a state at all," Patrushev said.
"This is because we have a lot of resources and the Americans think we don’t deserve them or have rights to them; they think we don’t use them as we should.Remember the statement made by Madeleine Albright who claimed that neither the Far East nor Siberia belonged to Russia."
And it came up countless times in between.
So, where did it come from?
Well, back in December 2006, in an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta, retired KGB General Boris Ratnikov claimed he was involved with a top-secret occult project and had -- yep, you guessed it -- read Albright's mind.
"In Madame Albright's mind, we found a pathological hatred of Slavs," Ratnikov said. "She resented the fact that Russia had the world's largest mineral reserves. She believed that Russia should not control its reserves but that they should be shared by all of humanity under the supervision, of course, of the United States. And the war in Kosovo this was considered only a first step to establish control over Russia."
So there you have it. One nutty claim made nearly nine years ago, and it is repeated ad nauseum as fact so often that everybody believes it is true. Call it the propaganda data point that just keeps giving.
Beyond the Albright mind-reading claim, the Ratnikov interview is so surreal, so weird, so wacky, and so nuts that you need to read it over several times before you get the full scope of its utter craziness.
Ratnikov claimed he was involved with a top-secret occult project that originated in the Soviet KGB. In the Soviet Union, he said, "almost all the people with supernatural powers were controlled by the KGB" and were used by the Soviet authorities.
"You can't even imagine the war of brains that unfolded in the first half of the last century," he added. "I'm hardly exaggerating when I say that sometimes there were astral battles. And all this was kept secret and camouflaged, probably not less than the nuclear project."
Ratnikov added that in the mid-1980s, there were concerns that the Soviet Union's enemies could use "psycho-generators" to remotely read and manipulate people's minds -- and Moscow spent hundreds of millions of rubles to counter it.
After the Soviet Union broke up, Ratnikov worked in the Federal Protection Service, where he claims he used his occult skills to prevent anybody from reading and manipulating President Boris Yeltsin's mind.
In this way, Ratnikov claims he stopped Yeltsin from turning the Kurile Islands over to Japan and prevented a war with China.
He also claimed that in the early 1990s he read the mind of U.S. Ambassador Robert Strauss and concluded that the U.S. Embassy had "equipment for psychotronic influence on Muscovites."
The fact that the claims about Albright's designs on Russia's natural resources came from this surreal interview has been exposed in the English-language media, initially in an investigation by Moscow Times reporter Anna Smolchenko in 2007.
But nevertheless, it is the talking point that just won't go away.