"I had somewhat different perception, through my personal private contacts with these folks..." - Russian Jotman readerMy last post related to a Washington Post report which alleged that persons associated with Russia's FSB (the former KGB) have come to dominate important institutions within the Russian Federation. If you are a Westerner attempting to make sense of this trend, perhaps you conclude, as I did, that such consolidation of leadership power must render the Putin leadership far more secure. Perhaps this points to a new dawn for Russia, a renewal of totalitarianism, a resounding defeat for democracy. Dominated by secret police, one might guess that the new regime may emerge as robust as the former Soviet order.
However, as a Russian reader points out, there are good reasons to think that this may not in fact be the case. "I had somewhat different perception, through my personal private contacts with these folks..." wrote the Russian reader. First, here is another quote from the article, explaining the source of the revelation about the growing influence of the FSB (former KGB):
Kryshtanovskaya recently analyzed the official biographies of 1,016 leading political figures -- departmental heads of the presidential administration, all members of the government, all deputies of both houses of parliament, the heads of federal units and the heads of regional executive and legislative branches. She found that 26 percent had reported serving in the KGB or its successor agencies.This Russian reader of Jotman puts this development in historical context, and contemplates the implications. The reader responds:
A more microscopic look at the biographies, she said -- examining unexplained gaps in résumés, unlikely career paths or service in organizations affiliated with the KGB -- suggests the startling figure of 78 percent.
However, on a higher level, in key areas, virtually any significant position would be secured by an ex-FSB or at least someone assisted by an FSB advisor, or there would be some other "cooperation" arrangements with those on key positions. The power and the authority of the old KGB was not in the number of its card bearing members – it was the organized network of supporters and informants – and the "leading role of Party" (I will get back to this).
. . . on a higher level, in key areas, virtually any significant position would be secured by an ex-FSB or at least someone assisted by an FSB advisor, or there would be some other "cooperation" arrangements with those on key positions. The power and the authority of the old KGB was not in the number of its card bearing members – it was the organized network of supporters and informants – and the "leading role of Party" (I will get back to this).
With regards to the scope of activities / issues covered by the FSB – the article is likely true. I can tell you for sure that any serious enterprise, regardless of its ownership has an assigned officer from the FSB – to monitor its activities and to promote some agendas – often contradicting with local/national interests on various levels. Such assigned officers would watch most industrial enterprises, especially those related to minerals and export operations, and especially those with some a portion of foreign ownership. Most research institutions have an internal security department that is a branch of the FSB.
In addition to this administrative network, there's a whole lot of KGB/FSB veterans engaged in various security-related tasks in private businesses. At some point of time, it would almost mandatory for a "serious" businessman to have a security force headed by an ex-KGB colonel – sort of a status thing.
There has always been so many of them – even in the downturn of the 90s. How many FBI/CIA folks (does the average American know?) Probably none...
At least three of my university class of 50-60 went into the FSB in 1999 – they disappeared for a couple of years for training, but all returned to the hometown on junior investigating/support roles. And it was a routine annual recruitment – they must have even increased it since then. Two of these students had their parents in the FSB already – family tradition. Later, in my daily work, I'd come across other feds on a weekly basis. And that's me, someone who'd never been engaged in any intelligence or law enforcement or anything. And that's a small 250,000 town! They own a dull grey building in one of the central streets that looks like it could easily accommodate 300 or more full time employees.
They lack quality servicemen, equipment, training - everything. They lack morale. And most importantly they lack understanding of their mission. In the Soviet times, the KGB was one of the arms of the Party that had some (perverted, but still some) kind of common ideology that would at least officially unite people – and provide the daily agenda. The FSB men of these days don't even where the orders come from. Is it a homemade initiative of the local boss playing around with the regional authorities? Or is it some one's game in the Kremlin's administration? Or is it a part of some national agenda announced by Putin? In these conditions, lower echelons start playing their own games – with disastrous consequences. Many, far too many believe that a purge, like Stalin's Great Purge is what the secret police needs to be efficient.
It appears that Kremlin is desperately trying to rebuild the secret police in attempt to handle future domestic conflicts (first priority – liberal opposition, second priority – ethnic clashes). I don't believe this is going to work: the tsarist secret police had infiltrated everywhere but was unable to stop the socialist revolution.
This lack of the common national agenda translates into various tensions and inefficiencies on all levels. Federal agents are supposed to promote imperial values – all ethnic groups under one rule. But what can they do about this mutual hatred that comes from the "grass roots", from "common people"? Especially when the central power is surprisingly self-censored on all ethnic issues (I believe that Russia has no more serious and immediate issue than to design its ethnocultural image/mission). Especially if the feds are (mostly) of modest upbringing and often have the same xenophobic feelings. Or imagine a federal agent with mixed backgrounds...
By the way, what if the Litvinenko's poisoning was a showcase aimed at untrustworthy FSB agents?
The Russian Jotman reader says that the best historical analogy to the present status of the FSB is not KGB of the Soviet era, but the secret police of Tsarist Russia. Like the police of the Tsar, the FSB of today lacks a unifying ideology that could motivate lower-echelon service officers and those serving disparate ethnic communities.
Might a looming crisis of political legitimacy -- triggered, perhaps, by provocations related to ethnic disunity -- render the Putin oligarchy's grip of control over Russia more tenuous than it first might appear, given the range of FSB oversight? Holding positions of leadership isn't everything, the Russian Jotman reader seems to be saying: We also have to consider whether FSB leaders command the loyalty and enthusiasm of officers well down the chain of command across a vast multicultural landcape.
The bottom line? The people of Russia (still) play many games.