In Russia, A Secretive Force Widens
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
MOSCOW -- On Nov. 15, the Russian Interior Ministry and Gazprom, the state-controlled energy giant, announced three new senior appointments. Oleg Safonov was named a deputy head of the ministry. Yevgeny Shkolov became head of its economic security department. And Valery Golubev was appointed a deputy chief executive at Gazprom.
All three men had something important in common beyond the timing of their promotions: backgrounds as KGB officers and experience working directly with President Vladimir Putin when he was a KGB operative himself in Germany or later, when he was a rising presence in the local government of St. Petersburg, his home town.
Russia's intertwined political and business elites are increasingly populated with people like them, former intelligence agents who have personally proved themselves to the president. At the same time, Putin has spearheaded the regrouping and strengthening of the country's security services, which had splintered into a host of agencies after the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991.
In particular, the Federal Security Service, known by its Russian initials FSB, has emerged as one of the country's most powerful and secretive forces, with an increasingly international mission. Putin headed the agency in the 1990s.
"If in the Soviet period and the first post-Soviet period, the KGB and FSB [people] were mainly involved in security issues, now half are still involved in security but the other half are involved in business, political parties, NGOs, regional governments, even culture," said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Moscow-based Center for the Study of Elites. "They started to use all political institutions."
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.
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.
The widening reach of Russia's national security apparatus is part of the general centralization of power under Putin and a more assertive and self-confident foreign policy backed by vast energy resources.
A spokesman for the FSB declined to discuss its functions, saying the topics raised in a series of faxed questions touched on classified material. But in interviews with the Russian news media, senior FSB officials have defended the agency's increasing power as a necessary and natural response to a terrorist threat.
"Western countries condemn Russia for encroaching on democracy but invest in their own special and police services nearly unrestricted powers that encroach on the rights and freedoms of their citizens," Yuri Gorbunov, deputy director of the FSB, said in an interview in July with the official newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. "Why? Because they know what a danger terrorism poses."
Russian critics of the FSB's expanding powers contend that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Putin's government essentially entered the slipstream of American policies justifying the extraordinary rendition or targeted killing of terrorism suspects and domestic programs such as warrantless surveillance of citizens.
The critics say that heightened state security, while ostensibly a response to terrorism, is also seen by the Putin establishment as essential to its own political preservation.