The Same Old KGB

Paul Goble reports:

The central apparatus of the Russian security services has been subject to numerous reforms since 1991, but the FSB “provincial empire” is little changed from Soviet times, when the KGB and its predecessors sought to impose “total control over the population through repression,” according to a leading Russian specialist.

In an article in Yezhednevny Zhurnal Andrey Soldatov, the head of which tracks the activities of the security services, says that this lack of change in the regions “not only defines the spirit of the FSB” but creates serious problems for the Russian powers that be. Soldatov notes that the provincial offices of the FSB seldom attract much attention, except on two occasions: when officers are involved in the struggle with terrorism or on Chekist day when these bodies make their “traditional annual reports” that often cross the border of “absurdity.”

Thus, he says, this year, the Novosibirsk FSB reported that it has identified “more than 100 foreigners who are attached to the cadres and agent apparatus of the special services of foreign governments,” and the Volgograd office reported finding “the interest of foreign special services about social-political issues on the territory of the oblast.” The FSB, Soldatov continues, currently “consisted of two unequal parts” – the central apparatus, “the number of whose officers never exceeded several thousand employees” and the regional FSB administrations which have several hundred thousand officers” and which “define the spirit” of the central administration, despite its reforms, as a result.

According to Soldatov, “the structure and even the official rules of the regional administrations remain unchanged from the middle of the last century,” when the OGBPU and NKVD, operating under the terms of the Communist party-state, were charged with maintaining “total control through repression.” That charge, he says, “required corresponding resources in the localities, and since the task everywhere was one and the same, thus the structures of state security were not very different one from another,” although they were divided into three categories defined by the size of the offices, something in turn defined by the size of the population under their control.

That pattern remains in force, and as a result, “the regional administrations of the FSB one way or another are copies of one another,” whether they are in relatively peaceful backwaters in Siberia, situated in areas of genuine foreign intelligence interests, or working with anti-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus This “absurd situation” is being reproduced to this day, Soldatov writes, even though “it is obvious that the FSB administrations are not directed toward those tasks which they fulfilled under Stalin” and even though it has contributed to reducing the effectiveness of these provincial structures “almost to zero.”

That might not be a tragedy but for one fact, Soldatov says. “It is not secret that in the FSB, there exists a system of the rotation of cadres: colonels and generals are transferred from one regional administration to another and at the end of this process, they receive posts in the central apparatus.”

“As a result of this policy, officers from regions where there is no flow of foreigners comparable to the capital are advanced to the posts of key services [in the central apparatus] and preserve there an almost Soviet level of suspiciousness” and style of work with various parts of the population.

At the same time, while FSB officials in Moscow may sometimes have dealings with rights activists now, “in regional administrations of the FSB they respect in an uncompromising fashion the traditions of their predecessors,” attitudes that mean the approach of the security services outside of Moscow is harsher and more authoritarian than would otherwise be the case. It is quite clear, Soldatov writes, that the country cannot “completely” do away with the territorial organs of the FSB: “the country is big, all around are enemies or competitors, as the text of President Medvedev’s message on Chekist Day put it.” But one could hope for a different arrangement.

One step would be to move the FSB regional offices from the oblasts and krays to the federal districts. Efforts were made in that direction earlier in the decade, Soldatov says, but “then the affair ended with the establishment of completely senseless councils of chiefs of organs of the FSB in each federal district.”

Until something is changed, Soldatov concludes, the “provincial” spirit will continue to dominate the FSB even in Moscow, and regional FSB offices will continue to “unmask hundreds of suspected spies every year” or “increase the struggle with terrorism,” although no one is likely to publish the names of these “spies” or specify what “terrorists” are being fought.

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