Mafia style gangster capitalism?!?
So much for the "US and Britain and other western companies" being the teachers: The Making of a Neo-KGB State Political Power in Russia Now Lies with the FSB, the KGB's Successor - Economist (August 23, 2007)
ON THE evening of August 22nd 1991—16 years ago this week—Alexei Kondaurov, a KGB general, stood by the darkened window of his Moscow office and watched a jubilant crowd moving towards the KGB headquarters in Lubyanka Square. A coup against Mikhail Gorbachev had just been defeated. The head of the KGB who had helped to orchestrate it had been arrested, and Mr Kondaurov was now one of the most senior officers left in the fast-emptying building. For a moment the thronged masses seemed to be heading straight towards him.
Then their anger was diverted to the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the KGB's founding father. A couple of men climbed up and slipped a rope round his neck. Then he was yanked up by a crane. Watching “Iron Felix” sway in mid-air, Mr Kondaurov, who had served in the KGB since 1972, felt betrayed “by Gorbachev, by Yeltsin, by the impotent coup leaders”. He remembers thinking, “I will prove to you that your victory will be short-lived.”
Those feelings of betrayal and humiliation were shared by 500,000 KGB operatives across Russia and beyond, including Vladimir Putin, whose resignation as a lieutenant-colonel in the service had been accepted only the day before. Eight years later, though, the KGB men seemed poised for revenge. Just before he became president, Mr Putin told his ex-colleagues at the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB's successor, “A group of FSB operatives, dispatched under cover to work in the government of the Russian federation, is successfully fulfilling its task.” He was only half joking.
Over the two terms of Mr Putin's presidency, that “group of FSB operatives” has consolidated its political power and built a new sort of corporate state in the process. Men from the FSB and its sister organisations control the Kremlin, the government, the media and large parts of the economy—as well as the military and security forces. According to research by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, a quarter of the country's senior bureaucrats are siloviki—a Russian word meaning, roughly, “power guys”, which includes members of the armed forces and other security services, not just the FSB. The proportion rises to three-quarters if people simply affiliated to the security services are included. These people represent a psychologically homogeneous group, loyal to roots that go back to the Bolsheviks' first political police, the Cheka. As Mr Putin says repeatedly, “There is no such thing as a former Chekist.”
By many indicators, today's security bosses enjoy a combination of power and money without precedent in Russia's history. The Soviet KGB and its pre-revolutionary ancestors did not care much about money; power was what mattered. Influential though it was, the KGB was a “combat division” of the Communist Party, and subordinate to it. As an outfit that was part intelligence organisation, part security agency and part secret political police, it was often better informed, but it could not act on its own authority; it could only make “recommendations”. In the 1970s and 1980s it was not even allowed to spy on the party bosses and had to act within Soviet laws, however inhuman.
The KGB provided a crucial service of surveillance and suppression; it was a state within a state. Now, however, it has become the state itself. Apart from Mr Putin, “There is nobody today who can say no to the FSB,” says Mr Kondaurov.
All important decisions in Russia, says Ms Kryshtanovskaya, are now taken by a tiny group of men who served alongside Mr Putin in the KGB and who come from his home town of St Petersburg. In the next few months this coterie may well decide the outcome of next year's presidential election. But whoever succeeds Mr Putin, real power is likely to remain in the organisation. Of all the Soviet institutions, the KGB withstood Russia's transformation to capitalism best and emerged strongest. “Communist ideology has gone, but the methods and psychology of its secret police have remained,” says Mr Kondaurov, who is now a member of parliament.
Scotched, not killed
Mr Putin's ascent to the presidency of Russia was the result of a chain of events that started at least a quarter of a century earlier, when Yuri Andropov, a former head of the KGB, succeeded Leonid Brezhnev as general secretary of the Communist Party. Andropov's attempts to reform the stagnating Soviet economy in order to preserve the Soviet Union and its political system have served as a model for Mr Putin. Early in his presidency Mr Putin unveiled a plaque at the Lubyanka headquarters that paid tribute to Andropov as an “outstanding political figure”.
Staffed by highly educated, pragmatic men recruited in the 1960s and 1970s, the KGB was well aware of the dire state of the Soviet economy and the antique state of the party bosses. It was therefore one of the main forces behind perestroika, the loose policy of restructuring started by Mr Gorbachev in the 1980s. Perestroika's reforms were meant to give the Soviet Union a new lease of life. When they threatened its existence, the KGB mounted a coup against Mr Gorbachev. Ironically, this precipitated the Soviet collapse.
The defeat of the coup gave Russia an historic chance to liquidate the organisation. “If either Gorbachev or Yeltsin had been bold enough to dismantle the KGB during the autumn of 1991, he would have met little resistance,” wrote Yevgenia Albats, a journalist who has courageously covered the grimmest chapters in the KGB's history. Instead, both Mr Gorbachev and Yeltsin tried to reform it.
The “blue blood” of the KGB—the First Chief Directorate, in charge of espionage—was spun off into a separate intelligence service. The rest of the agency was broken into several parts. Then, after a few short months of talk about openness, the doors of the agency slammed shut again and the man charged with trying to reform it, Vadim Bakatin, was ejected. His glum conclusion, delivered at a conference in 1993, was that although the myth about the KGB's invincibility had collapsed, the agency itself was very much alive.
Indeed it was. The newly named Ministry of Security continued to “delegate” the officers of the “active reserve” into state institutions and commercial firms. Soon KGB officers were staffing the tax police and customs services. As Boris Yeltsin himself admitted by the end of 1993, all attempts to reorganise the KGB were “superficial and cosmetic”; in fact, it could not be reformed. “The system of political police has been preserved,” he said, “and could be resurrected.”
Yet Mr Yeltsin, though he let the agency survive, did not use it as his power base. In fact, the KGB was cut off from the post-Soviet redistribution of assets. Worse still, it was upstaged and outwitted by a tiny group of opportunists, many of them Jews (not a people beloved by the KGB), who became known as the oligarchs. Between them, they grabbed most of the country's natural resources and other privatised assets. KGB officers watched the oligarchs get super-rich while they stayed cash-strapped and sometimes even unpaid.