Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 4

The KGB has spawned a large set of offspring, but the central purpose of the Russian security services remains the same–the defense of the Russian political elite from domestic and foreign challenges

How Many Secret Services Does Yeltsin Have?

by Victor Yasmann

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the once all-powerful KGBhas been divided into a veritable alphabet soup of secret serviceagencies; but just as before, the state and its allies in Russiansociety are using these various bodies for a single goal: thepreservation of their power. As a result, most political groupsnow in opposition–from the extreme chauvinists to the ultra liberals–havebegun to attack the formation of "a party of power and ofthe secret services."

On recent example of the way in which this plethora of new agenciesis seen was an article by Sergei Parkhomenko in the centrist paperMoscow News. Parkhomenko accused the chief of the PresidentialSecurity Service (SBP), Aleksandr Korzhakov, of providing secretfunds for the two pro-Yeltsin electoral blocs, and of interferingin state policy. Izvestiya, which backs the reformist Yegor Gaidar,and Nezavsimaya gazeta, which has close links to Gorbachev,denounced the Federal Agency for Government Communications andInformation (FAPSI) of seeking to control the national electioncomputer system. The populist Komsomolskaya pravda andSegodnya blamed the Federal Security Service (FSB) forstarting the Chechen war. The anti-Yeltsin Obshchaya gazetasaid the interior ministry (MVD) was seeking to create its ownarmy by establishing 29 heavily armed divisions. And the extremelyliberal Moskovsky komsomolets accused the Main Administrationfor the Protection of the Russian Federation (GUO) of treacherouscontacts with the CIA and the German BND, while the neo-imperialistZavtra said that officers from the old KGB had set up their owndrug trafficking business.

What are the specific roles of all these agencies? Unlike thedays of Mikhail Gorbachev, who until the very end did not touchthe KGB monolith, Boris Yeltsin began his rule with major changesin the entire security community. In this effort, he relied ontwo large agencies who had supported him in his struggle withGorbachev and the "party-chekist" apparatus: the MVDand the Main Intelligence Administration of the Army’s GeneralStaff (GRU). Unlike the other security agencies, these two haveremained largely untouched by the shockwaves that have affectedother parts of the security services, and have been rewarded fortheir loyalty. Today, MVD personnel have risen to almost 1.7 millionmen, including 800,000 internal troops organized into 29 divisionsand ten military districts. Duma Defense Committee deputy chiefAleksandr Piskunov has said that the Russian MVD is now two timesthe size of the MVD of the Soviet Union before 1991. Over thepast 18 months, the military has given the MVD up to 100,000 piecesof heavy military equipment, including hundreds of T-72 tanksand combat helicopters. As a result, every MVD district now hasits own tank division. The police forces of the MVD have alsoexpanded and spawned new sub-divisions. The most important ofthe new MVD subdivisions is the Regional Administration for CombatingOrganized Crime (RUOP) with its special rapid deployment detachments(SOBR) that can be sent to any part of the country.

The GRU, Russian military intelligence, has retained most of itsSoviet-era organization and approach. As a result, it has alsoretained its Soviet-era symbol: a bat flying over the globe. Headedby Col. Gen. Fedor Ladygin, the GRU continues to engage in espionageworldwide. The GRU enjoys a double protection from any reform:it is hidden within the Ministry of Defense, and it reports toYeltsin loyalist Pavel Grachev.

The civilian counterpart of the GRU, the Foreign IntelligenceService (SVR), grew from the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. Itis headed by Yevgeny Primakov, the only security chief who hassurvived from Gorbachev’s times. Perhaps as a result, Primakovhas tried very hard to underscore his loyalty to Yeltsin, andat the same time to present a "democratic" image ofhis agency, an image enhanced by his willingness to cooperatewith Western services. One result of this effort is obvious: theupper level bureaucracy of the SVR has grown enormously. The lasthead of the KGB First Chief Directorate had only two deputieswith the rank of lieutenant general; Primakov has eight of them.

Another aspect of Yeltsin’s reshuffling of the security communityhas been the establishment of a personal security apparatus beyondthe reach of the old KGB power centers. Not without reason, Yeltsinhas always been suspicious of the KGB; and is apparently convincedthat too many of those in the Lubyanka are more loyal to Gorbachevthan they are to him. That is the source of his desire to relyonly on security officers who have proved their loyalty by actions.The first of these is Yeltsin’s personal bodyguard, AleksandrKorzhakov, who carries the title of chief of the PresidentialBodyguards Service (SBP). Although Korzhakov is regularly attackedin the media for his influence on Yeltsin, the real eminence grisein this area is not Korzhakov, but the leadership of the powerfuland secret GUO. That body, created in 1991 out of the KGB’s NinthChief Directorate, initially was responsible for the securityof top officials, but now has broader prerogatives. Its head,Lt. Gen. Mikhail Barsukov, indeed, has considerable influence.Five years ago, when Korzhakov was only a KGB major, Barsukovwas already a general and the number two KGB man in the Kremlinsecurity system. It was Barsukov who replaced Kremlin commandantMikhail Bashkov and helped Yeltsin to oust Gorbachev in 1991.

As a result, Yeltsin early on chose the GUO as the central agencyto monitor the entire security community. In 1992, the GUO wassubtly renamed the Main Directorate for the Protection of theRussian Federation, and housed in the Kremlin rather than at theLubyanka. It is no accident that the GUO’s name resembles thatof the tsarist-era secret service, the Okhrana. Until 1994, Korzhakov’sSBP was part of the GUO. One measure of the difference betweenKorzhakov and Barsukov is the size of their operations. Korzhakovhas 1,000 men under him and a budget of 33.7 billion rubles; Barsukovhas more than 20,000 personnel serving under him and a budgetof 479 billion rubles.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) took over the largest portionof the former KGB, particularly the KGB’s offices throughout theRussian Federation. Although mainly charged with responsibilityfor counterintelligence, the FSB now has extended its activitiesinto special operations and foreign espionage, under the termsof a Yeltsin-approved law adopted recently. In the current budgetyear, the FSB is to receive some 1.9 trillion rubles. Many humanrights activists have expressed concerns that this new legislationsimply restores the old KGB system. In fact, the FSB is simplyseeking to regain much of what the MVD, GUO, and SBP already have.Because of its failures in Chechnya, the FSB has become a targetof the press; and its current director, hard-liner Sergei Stepashin,has been accused of being a fire brigade leader who understandsnothing of the intelligence business. It is true that he earlierserved in the MVD Fire Brigade School, but as a political officerlecturing on Marxism-Leninism.

FAPSI is the security agency responsible for electronic intelligenceand counterintelligence. It was created from the KGB’s EighthChief Directorate, Eighteenth Administration, and the KGB CommunicationsTroops, and is headed by KGB Col. Gen. Aleksandr Starovoitov.In some ways, it is simply the analog of the US National SecurityAgency but, in contrast to the NSA, FAPSI has many domestic responsibilities,including the security of the banking system and control of nationaltelecommunication lines. Not long ago, Yeltsin designated FAPSIas the principal designer of a national computerized electoralsystem. With FAPSI as designer, Yeltsin may be able to avoid worryingabout the elections. As Stalin said, "it is not importanthow people vote, it is important who is counting the ballots."

Among Yeltsin’s other security and law enforcement agencies arethe Federal Border Guard Service (FPS), the Ministry for ExtraordinarySituations (Machos) and the Tax Police (NP). The FPS replacesthe KGB border guard troops; it is currently headed by army generalAndrei Nikolaev. The FPS, like its predecessor, has its own intelligencedirectorate headed by KGB Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Bespalov. The MChSheaded by Sergei Shoigu is a new "power" ministry, originallycreated in 1991 to handle relief work. But it is increasinglyinvolved in military actions in the "hot spots" in theRussian Federation and CIS, and many of its officers started theircareers in the KGB and GRU. For example, among Shoigu’s deputiesare KGB general Andrei Chernenko and GRU general Kim Tsagolov.Created in 1992, the tax police is led by KGB Gen. Sergei Almasox.It has some 40,000 people in its enforcement division. Sometimes,these tax collectors arrive in masks and carrying guns.

The picture of Russian security services would not be completewithout at least a mention of the so-called "private"security services attached to banks and corporations, or functioningindependently. According to the business weekly Vek, in Moscowalone there are now 400 licensed security services; in the entireRussian Federation, there are as many as 25,000 such organizations.Most of the largest banks and corporations employ hundreds ofoperatives, many of them former KGB and GRU officers. And notsurprisingly, many of these private services are working closelywith the state security bodies, particularly FAPSI, FSB, and theMVD. Sometimes these groups come into conflict, as happened inDecember 1994 when security officers at the "Most" financialgroup–a body closely linked with Moscow’s Mayor Luzhkov–wereattacked and humiliated by Mikhail Barsukov’s GUO. Two other securityservices arrived at the scene: the Moscow FSB headed by YevgenySevostyanov, and the Moscow RUOP led by Gen. Vladimir Rushailo.Rushailo adopted a neutral stance; Sevastyanov backed the "Most"President, Vladimir Gusinsky, and as a result immediately losthis job.

This incident is important for several reasons: first, it showswho is the real power in Moscow and Russia–Yeltsin and the GUO.Second, it demonstrates that at least some of the accusationsagainst Luzhkov for his ties with Gusinsky were correct. And third,it allowed Yeltsin the chance to strengthen his direct controlover the security apparatus in the capital.

The role of former KGB officers is not limited to these stateand private security bodies, however. In many regions, they aredirectly involved in local and national politics and even serveas state officials and administrators. In Saint Petersburg, forexample, former chekists hold key jobs through the administrationof Mayor Anatoly Sobchak. The prefect of the Petrograd districtis KGB Lt. Col. Vladimir Koshelev. Koshelev was notorious in the1970s as a KGB Fifth Chief Directorate man who oppressed dissidents.Koshelev’s former boss in that place was KGB Gen. Viktor Cherkesov;he now heads the FSB administration in Saint Petersburg. Whenhuman rights activists protested this, Cherkesov’s "friends"in Moscow organized a public relations campaign to defend him,suggesting that he was behind a major drug bust which had in factbeen engineered by others. Also in Saint Petersburg is KGB ColonelVladimir Putin, first deputy mayor of the city and also head ofthat city’s organization for Chernomyrdin’s "Russia is OurHome" electoral bloc.

These various organizations highlight the disproportionate andinappropriate role that security services continue to play intoday’s Russia. But the changes that Yeltsin has introduced matteras well, yet frequently not in the ways that outside observersimagine. By dividing up the old KGB monolith, Yeltsin has createda situation where various political factions, and not just thevery top leadership, can exploit such services. Second, preciselybecause there is no longer an ideological basis for their actions,the KGB’s successors have become even more committed to defendingwhoever is in power. And third, it is now clear that the liberaland democratic forces in Russia have lost an historic opportunityto overcome the KGB’s legacy: Russia and her CIS neighbors arethe only post-communist countries which have not tried to introducea lustration law to expose past abuses, and the Russian parliamentnow routinely votes to support the security community, regardlessof the consequences such votes have for Russian democracy.

Victor Yasmann is a Senior Analyst at the Jamestown Foundation.