Russia: the Renaissance of the KGB

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

Stack of bundled russian ruble banknotes in the officer's cap

After 25 years of reforms, the former Soviet nations have been directed towards an economic market model, although the evolution of these countries has been very different. On one hand, there is a group of countries which has developed towards a democratic economic and political system. This is the case of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. Other countries have reached a medium-high economic and democratic development level, such as Croatia, Hungary or Slovenia. Then we have a lower level which includes Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kazakhstan and Russia. Even lower has been the reforms process in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan and Romania. Finally, the worst score is made by Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

By region, there are different types of leadership, which does not mean a higher level of development or democratization. Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria, Russia and Belarus are example of those countries with strong political leadership, which have not followed the same path of economic growth, strength of institutions, and civil society. In fact, in some of these countries the progress towards a greater economic freedom, has led to an increase in corruption and gradual reduction of liberties.

In some countries such as the Baltic or the Central European republics, such as the Czech, the transition from communism to capitalism, has helped to reduce the corruption, and those where the institutions have been more transparent and less corrupt, there is a much higher development rate. However, in other former Soviet republics we find a picture that of stagnation or even deterioration of institutional quality, which leads me to speak about Russia.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Russian leaders sought to create a depoliticized security structure. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the reform of the KGB became an immediate issue. The agency was not reliably under control. The KGB was not a traditional security service in the Western sense, an agency charged with protecting the interests of a country and its citizens. KGB´s primary task was protecting the regime. Its activities included hunting down spies and dissidents and supervising media, sports, and even the Church. It ran operations both inside and outside the country, but in both spheres the main task was always to protect the interests of whoever currently resided in the Kremlin.

With the new Putin´s agency (FSB), seems like a return back to former KGB, the guardian of “security” for Russia. It once again got the responsibility for pursuing dissidents, who were now branded “extremists.” But the president, former KGB officer, was determined to create something bigger. Putin encouraged a steady growth in the agency’s influence. The president began using the FSB as his main recruitment base for filling key positions in government and state-controlled business; its agents were expected to define and personify the ideology of the new Russia: these are the Russia´s new nobility.

Putin gave it enormous powers: The Investigative Committee, a sort of Russian FBI, was tasked with conducting the most sensitive investigations, from the murders of Kremlin critics like Anna Politkovskaya and Boris Nemtsov to prosecuting political activists. This was accompanied by an expansion of the Internal Troops, and the new Department to Counter Extremism. Finally, this year, Putin created the National Guard, which is a massive military force tasked with fighting internal dissent. The FSB has been granted the role of the new elite, enjoying expanded responsibilities and immunity from public oversight or parliamentary control.

It seems like Putin is getting nervous about his political future. With elections coming in 2018, he has started selective repressions, placed governors and officials in jail, and removed old friends from key positions. This is a pattern of centralizing control by Putin, who has made it clear that what he needs is an instrument to protect his own regime, just like the USSR times with the KGB.

The Russians receive daily a surreal blend of messages. On the one hand, the government and its media (mostly) are not stop talking about how Russia has managed to stand up to Western moral decadence: the multiculturalism, homosexuality, or the US imperialist policy.

On the other, internet talks not stop about the corruption of the elite, of the new Russian’ nobility. Their acts are protected by the government in such an obscene and undisguised manner, a sense of impunity that which goes sometimes beyond imagination.

God is far up, the Tsar is far away.”  A Russian proverb says, which perfectly defines how the lack of moral references and the vastness of the country, has made impossible the rule of law. In today´s Russia seems also difficult the economic and moral growth, as well as freedom and democracy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *