Friday, June 19, 2020

Yeltsin Ensured the KGB Survived as the FSB, Popkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – As important as the materials gathered by the Dossier Center about the current activities of the FSB are (, Moscow commentator Roman Popkov says, what the report tells about how the KGB survived under that name may be even more instructive.

            This is because that history must be understood if it is to be overcome rather than repeated by a future Russian government committed to the restoration and development of democracy and the rule of law, the commentator suggests (

            At the time of the August 1991 putsch, it appeared that “the Lubyanka had no chance” to survive,” but the improbable happened and the KGB did so.  Restrained by those then in power, Russians in the streets limited themselves to toppling the statue of Dzerzhinsky rather than to destroying this most hated institution.

            As the Dossier report documents, the KGB was able to show the new rulers, who “by the way came from the CPSU nomenklatura” their utility in what was certain to be a serious “struggle with the latter’s political opponents.” And Boris Yeltsin, the new Russian president, bought that argument and began to act on it as early as the end of December 1991.

            At that time, he wanted to unite the MVD and KGB into a single super-agency, something that had not existed since Beria’s times. It was supposed to be called the Ministry of Security and Internal Affairs, but Russia’s Constitutional Court blocked this idea. So Yeltsin in 1992 turned his attention to creating a new Ministry of Security.

            But instead of putting new people in place, Yeltsin simply reappointed those who had worked in the KGB and not just at the top but down to the bottom of the agency.  “The list of such people is long.” Moreover, “there were no attempts to systematically reform the organs of state security.”

            These “old Soviet mastodons” brought with them their Soviet mentalities. They “didn’t understand what democracy, the division of powers, human rights or political freedoms were. This was thus the very same KGB, only de-ideologized and temporarily weakened,” Popkov says.

            Yeltsin in fact did not make any serious attempt to break the legal succession “between the KGB and the new Russian special services.” But this did not really happen. The Ministry of Security was transformed into a new Federal Counter-Intelligence Service (FSK) which not long thereafter became the FSB.

            All these actions were “laughable,” Popkov continues, because it did not do anything to change the culture and approach of those in charge. The colonels and generals of the KGB became the colonels and generals of the “new” Russian security service. And they rapidly regathered the powers that they had appeared to have lost.

            When a democratic government does come to power in Russia, the commentator continues, it will need “a renewed and effective national security service, a reliable instrument in the hands of society and the civic nation. In order to establish such a service, it is important not to repeat the errors of Boris Yeltsin.”

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