The KGB Seizes Russia

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan , co-founders of, writing in The Moscow Times:

In December 2000, then-director of the Federal Security Service Nikolai Patrushev proudly described the FSB’s rank and file: “Our best colleagues, the honor and pride of the FSB, don’t do their work for the money,” he said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda. “They all look different, but there is one very special characteristic that unites all these people, and it is a very important quality. It is their sense of service. They are, if you like, our new nobility.”

Patrushev hit the nail on the head. Throughout the 2000s, the FSB indeed became the country’s new elite, enjoying expanded responsibilities and immunity from public oversight or parliamentary control. Putin made the FSB the main security agency in Russia, allowing it to absorb much of the former KGB and granting it the right to operate abroad, collect information and carry out special operations.

At the same time, Putin gave the FSB a new and riskier role. As a former KGB officer, Putin viewed the FSB as the only state agency he could trust. He gave the FSB a key responsibility: to protect the stability of the Kremlin’s rule — and, by extension, the stability of the country. In the 2000s, the security services became the main resource of human capital for filling positions in the state apparatus and state-controlled corporations.

Not surprisingly, for many dissidents, journalists and even members of the security service, these changes represent a revival of the Soviet-era KGB. But the reality is more complicated. The KGB was all-powerful, but it was also under the control of the political structure. Throughout the Soviet period, every KGB section, department and division answered to the Communist Party. The hierarchy and subordination was clear. But now, the FSB is impenetrable to outsiders.

As a result, the FSB has evolved into a force that is much more powerful than the KGB. Never before did an officer from the security services lead the country for a decade. By the next presidential election in 2012, Putin will have been at the helm for 12 years. Once he is re-elected — which is all but guaranteed — Putin will rule the country for another 12 years (two presidential terms of six years each). It’s worth noting that former Soviet leader Yury Andropov — the longest-

serving and most popular KGB chief among FSB rank and file — was not a trained KGB agent but a Communist Party apparatchik appointed by the Politburo to oversee state security.

Although the FSB has never tried to change economic rules in Russia, it has significantly changed the country’s political culture. The security services reduced the space available for open discussion of politics and public life. In addition, Russia’s scientific community was intimidated with a series of harsh verdicts against scientists accused of espionage, and the work of nongovernmental organizations was restricted under the false pretense that they were agents of foreign states.

But the powers that Putin has granted to the security services failed to bring the expected results. The FSB invested energy in hunting down foreign spies, but the methods it used raised questions about whether the threat was real or trumped-up. Likewise, the FSB targeted nongovernmental organizations out of fear that such groups might inspire a popular revolution against the Kremlin. This was a clear miscalculation. The organizations in question were too small to be significant threats, did not command widespread support in Russia and did not advocate an uprising against the regime. The security services meddled in politics — perhaps to demonstrate their power and loyalty to the Kremlin — but they clearly misjudged the threat of any opposition to the popular president.

Much more important though, the FSB has miscalculated the nature of the enemy in the war against terrorism. Faced with guerrilla warfare, the security services tried to eliminate a generation of Chechen warlords both within the country and abroad. But when these leaders were wiped out, new ones took their place. Over and over again, the leadership of the FSB blamed terrorist attacks on outsiders, such as al-Qaida and other Arab extremists who infiltrated Chechnya, or foreign intelligence services — including Georgia’s — which purportedly assisted al-Qaida operatives and other insurgents in the North Caucasus. But the focus on external enemies has been misplaced. Arabs were present in Chechnya, but they were always subordinate to Chechens, and the tactics and methods used by terrorists were largely masterminded by former Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

Putin opened the door to dozens of security service agents, allowing them to move up in the main institutions of the country. Putin clearly hoped that the large presence of former FSB and KGB agents would prove a vanguard of stability and order for his regime, but once they had tasted the benefits, agents began to struggle among themselves for the spoils.

FSB officers now regard themselves as the only force capable of saving the country from internal and external enemies. They also consider themselves genuine patriots who are saving a nation damaged by the chaos, corruption and servility to the West that marked the 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin. But their mindset has been undeniably shaped by Soviet history. Their excessively suspicious, inward-looking and clannish mentality has translated into weak and ineffective intelligence and counterintelligence operations. In addition, since security agents are everywhere in the government, it also undermines the effectiveness of state governance as a whole.

13 responses to “The KGB Seizes Russia

  1. To La Russophobe:
    Is this site blocked?
    I made a long comment to this valuable article, exposing the role of the FSB in the actual running of current corrupt Putin’s neo-soviet Russia, and I cannot get it posted, no matter what I do.
    Is this sabotage of your site, or what?


    The system did not register your comment, must have been a technical glitch. Always good practice to save long comments before posting so you can re-post if necessary. Sorry about that!

    • Man, we are so depressed by the fact we would not be able to see your comment “exposing the role of the FSB in the actual running of current corrupt Putin’s neo-soviet Russia”…

    • Pending 100 trillion VS KREMLIN PUTIN genocidal bandits , scamming US for 1 trillion a year for labor rackets, genocidal MD- doctor healer working for Health Ministry and killer working for KGB/FSB, over 60 years under KGB siege, and over 3000 attacks on Arthur Guziel, biochemical arsenal in USA, corruption of RTD bus drivers,LAPD,

  2. Thanks, my pals, ‘Dmitry’ and ‘AT’, or whatever are your real names…..

    Your air-headed and silly ‘comments’ here, are proof that the FSB paid-operatives, ARE busy, everywhere, just doing their disinformation job, trying to stiffle or thwart any truth from getting out to the world, about the mess that your FSB is doing to Russia.
    But what counts are not your stupid pure propaganda remarks here, but what is in the above head article.
    Especially in the west, we really need to finally understand the basics of what happened after Gorbachev and the short Yeltzin period, about the current neo-soviet Putin’s FSB controled/FSB-ruined Russia. We need to learn the wisdom that is in this brief but powerful explanation: that now it is no longer the official Communist Party which calls the shots, but rather the revitalized KGB/FSB gangsters, (at one time, subservient apparachniks of that party,) who are NOW both at the top of the power elite (in the Kremlin), and….at all levels of government, running the whole show, and, destroying the nation and it’s resources, and it’s people.
    Those, ‘our new nobility’ (ha! ha!), murderous/thieving criminals, hold a loaded gun at the head of every Russian, and THAT is how they control the masses.
    Hence, what can the average educated/intelligent Russian do? ..LEAVE! the country, as they are doing, in the many thousands, every day.
    Because, they see no future for them or their children in this FSB-Police- hell-on-earth, being run and supervised by this soviet-era hangover regime, this KGB/FSB, ‘new nobility’, this Russian MINDLESS mafia criminal gang of murderous cuthroat moronic destroyers of the Russian people, and an everpresent military threat to the neighbors of Russia, and a threat to world peace.
    But, ‘comrades’, your day is coming, when it may be YOU who have to flee to some far away land, for refuge from the revolution.
    Rots of ruck!

    • My real name is Colonel Psalomschik, his/ her name is Colonel-Leutenant Psalomschik.

      Se, he’s almost my namesake, just the second half of the first name differs. When you get your next promotion, you’ll be our namesake too, Captain.

      Yes, we all are from FSB. I’m waving at you right now from my cubicle, stand up and you’ll see me.

      I can’t see what “West” you are talking about? You’re closer to the Western wing of our facility?

      As to the wisdom-learning, and all those visions you have after: man, you should have quitted those pills long ago – they won’t make you no good…

      And yes, stop scaring people with revolution here – there’s no need to, General is not screening the thread.

    • Psalomschik, you may rejoice: I “fled” Russia to some far away land some 10 years ago, just before the “FSB regime” came to place. If I were to return to the country today, I will be returning to a much more comfortable place to live than I left. Its as simple as that. That what you not appear to be getting. Yes, the criminals are murderous, but there are much fewer murders, the police is hell-on-earth, but much less so than it was in the 1990s, the revolution is possible, but not as much as it was when people had to line up for bread and live on $100/month. Is Russia a paragon of democracy and economic development? Far from this, but its the direction in which the country is going that matters the most. Most people are better off today than they were in the past, and are more empowered for that matter. So really, neither Dimitry nor I have to be paid by the state to point out that your idea of the country you discuss so much here is somewhat different from reality.

      • “its the direction in which the country is going that matters the most” – that’s where I fully agree with you.

      • Funny but I denied to go to Dubai lately and work at a good position for one of our competitors lately. Reasons are simple, as always: no sex, no money, no rock&roll. I mean lower wages, burqas and islam.

        • dymasha wrote;

          Funny but I denied to go to Dubai lately

          What a ‘perfect’ English!! Where did you study English at Lysenko Institute or Lumumba University??

          I thought you are retired KGB

          • Both, and yes, I am (a) “retired KGB”. All the “KGB retired” – that’s me.

            And AT is “retired Democrat party” on this site.

            And yet, they invited me to lead their team there there – not you. A reason for you to think a little, I guess.

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