Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 238

Although he condemned its Soviet-era abuses, Russian president Boris Yeltsin on December 19 used his regular weekly radio address (canceled the previous week because of his illness) to paint a mostly glowing picture of the country’s post-KGB security and intelligence services. Yeltsin was speaking a day ahead of a holiday marking the 80th anniversary of the 1917 founding by Lenin of the Cheka (Provisional Extraordinary Commission) — forerunner of the notorious Soviet-era NKVD and KGB, as well as of Russia’s current intelligence establishment. Yeltsin told Russian listeners that the country had gone too far in exposing the crimes of the security services, because, he said, "its history contains not only black pages, but also glorious ones." Yeltsin praised the security services for playing a vital role in the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II and in its development of nuclear weapons.

The Russian president also defended his own government’s decision in 1991 to break up the KGB into a number of smaller and independent security agencies, including the Federal Security Service, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Federal Border Guard Service, the Federal Agency of Government Communications, and Information, and the Security Guard Service. Yeltsin depicted that move as an effort both to protect the security services from the meddling of political groups, and to keep the security services themselves out of Russian politics. He also spoke of personnel cuts implemented in the security services and said that "probably no other state structure has undergone such sweeping reorganization." Yeltsin proclaimed that Russia’s constitution now ensures against the possibility of a reemergence of political police, and said that the special service will never again "be the watchdog of political ideologists or state leaders."

Finally, Yeltsin embraced the security services own oft-stated claim that, despite the end of the Cold War, "the activities of foreign intelligence on Russian territory show no signs of abating." He added that "competition for new technologies, resources and geopolitical influence is increasing," and said that under such conditions "the economic security of the country is becoming one of the most important tasks for our security officers." (Radio Russia, December 19) Yeltsin’s comments attest to the enduring vitality of Russia’s security services, and to continued official efforts to rebuild their prestige in post-Soviet Russia. His speech follows the announcement over the past year of a number of arrests of foreign agents by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor organization to the KGB, and comes as the FSB continues to hold an American technician accused of conducting illegal land surveys in Russia’s Rostov region.

Swedish Diplomat Freed in Hostage-Taking Incident.