Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Security Secret

Peter Finn’s article for the Washington Post - In Russia, a Secretive Force Widens - has received quite a lot of attention in the last 24 hours or so. Deservedly so, for it’s an important one. It begins by reminding us that three recent senior appointments - Oleg Safonov as deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry, Yevgeny Shkolov as head of its economic security department, and Valery Golubev as a deputy chief executive at Gazprom - have confirmed a tendency that has been noted for some time now by Russia-watchers: all three of these men are former KGB officers and were colleagues of Vladimir Putin, either in his days as a KGB operative in East Germany, or later as a career politician in the local government of St Petersburg:

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.

Axisglobe has some in-depth reports on the subject, linked to from this news bulletin, which among other things highlights the Center’s finding that

78% of leading political figures, heads of departments of the Presidential administration, all members of the government and members of both chambers of parliament, heads of federal structures and heads of executive power and legislature in regions, somehow in their career have been connected with the KGB or the organizations that had come to replace it.

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