Symposium: Russia After Elena Bonner

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Preobrazhensky: I disagree with Mr. Yarim-Agaev’s statement that:

“The KGB could not fully recover and never will, since its life support was provided by the Soviet communist system, which cannot be resuscitated, at least in any foreseeable future.  Although the direct descendent of the KGB, the FSB has very limited and very temporary authority.  If the KGB was a tragedy for Russia, the FSB is a farce—a Russian farce, though, with blood and jails.  Yet all the killing and the stealing was never a sign of power, but rather of weakness. The FSB came to power not because it was strong, but because everybody else was even weaker.”

The reality is that Putin has recovered the KGB! The majority of its former directorates are now under the FSB, and there also are some quasi independent bodies like SVR, Foreign intelligence service, but in fact they are parts of the same organism. The same people are working there. The power of today’s KGB is even greater than that of the Soviet period, when it was controlled by the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Who “limits” their authority, as Mr.Yarim-Agaev says? What institution, I wonder? His words give us a feeling that Russia has abandoned Communism, while in fact, as we discussed in a recent Frontpage Symposium, it has retained all main elements of Communist ideology and practice. Russia is a single-party system, anti-Americanism in the country is high in intensity and there is an exaggerated role of secret services, a leading role of bureaucracy and a devotion to the former Soviet allies, etc. Business is state controlled. The Russian anthem is also Communistic, as general Pacepa said. The Soviet past is glorified by official propaganda, and the cult of Stalin is greater than it was in the Soviet period. Today’s Russian regime is neo-Soviet, only the scenery has been changed.

FSB is not a farce at all. It is “stealing and killing” not because it is weak, but because it is  uncontrolled. If FSB is weak, why does Russian business pay money to it? Stalin’s NKVD was also “killing and stealing”. Was it weak too?

The Soviet regime was persecuting dissidents, but did not destroy them to the end because its leaders were afraid of Western public opinion. But now, Putin is not afraid of Western opinion at all. On the contrary, the West itself is fawning upon Putin’s Russia.

Could a new Elena Bonner appear in Russia now? No. Now she would be shot down like Anna Politkovskaya and many other real dissidents, not supported by the FSB. And there is one more difference: today’s Elena Bonner would never enjoy support from the West.

Pacepa: No wonder our symposium on Elena Bonner has taken such a passionate turn. Passion was her middle name. “It is intolerable how many lies and falsehoods have been poured into the minds of people,” Elena stated passionately in “Living a big lie in Putin’s new Russia,” published in The Sunday Times in 2001. [3] One of these lies is that the KGB disappeared together with the Communist Party, and Elena fearlessly dedicated the last ten years of her heroic life to exposing it. Let’s not perpetuate this outrageous lie.

I highly value Mr. Yarim-Agayev’s dissident activity, but his view that “the KGB could not fully recover and never will, since its support was provided by the Communist system” was strongly contradicted by Elena Bonner herself. According to her, the reality was quite the opposite. And it certainly was. In 1991, the Communist Party was disbanded, and nobody within that country missed it. Until Lenin came along, Russia had never had a significant political party anyway. The KGB, however, survived with a new name at the door, as all its predecessors had done ever since Ivan the Terrible had transformed Russia into a police state.

After Vladimir Putin was enthroned in the Kremlin at the end of a KGB coup, his former subordinates in the KGB took over Russia’s federal and local governments. Here are just a few of these “former” KGB officers:

Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin, deputy directors in the Presidential Administration;

Vladimir Osipov, head of the Presidential Personnel Directorate;

Vyacheslav Soltaganov, deputy secretary of the Security Council;

Sergey Ivanov, defense minister;

Viktor Vasilyevich Cherkesov, chairman of the State Committee on Drug Trafficking;

Vyacheslav Trubinkov, deputy foreign minister;

Vladimir Kozlov, deputy media minister;

Gennady Moshkov, first deputy transport minister;

Nikolay Negodov, deputy transport minister;

Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, deputy minister for economic development;

Vladimir Makarov, Leonid Lobzenko and Igor Mezhakov, deputy chairmen of the State Customs Committee;

Sergey Verevkin-Rokhalsky and Anatoly Sedov, deputy taxes and duties ministers;

Anatoly Tsybulevsky and Vladimir Lazovsky, deputy directors of the of the Federal Tax Police Service;

Alexander Grigoriev, general director of the Russian Agency for State Reserves;

Alexander Spiridonov, deputy chairman of Russia’s Financial Monitoring Committee;

Vladimir Kulakov, Voronezh governor; Viktor Maslov, Smolensk governor. [4]

It was–and it is still is–like trying to democratize Germany with Gestapo officers at her helm.

Elena Bonner also strongly disagreed with Mr. Yarim-Agaev’s statement that the FSB, which succeeded the KGB, was “a farce,” when she powerfully condemned the barbaric FSB assassination of British citizen Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. That was anything but a farce. British intelligence documented that the crime was committed by Moscow, that it was “a ‘state-sponsored assassination orchestrated by Russian security services,” and that it was carried out with Russian-government produced polonium-210. [5] The suspected killer, Russian citizen Andrey Lugovoy, was captured on cameras at Heathrow as he flew into Britain carrying on him the murder weapon, polonium-210. [6] On May 22, 2007, the Crown Prosecution Service called for the extradition of Lugovoy to the UK on charges of murder. [7] On July 5, 2007, Russia officially declined to extradite Lugovoy. [8] Soon after that Lugovoy became a member of the Russian Duma, acquiring parliamentary immunity.

During the same year of 2007, Ivan Safronov, a military expert for the Russian magazine Kommersant, was thrown out of a window of his apartment building. Russian authorities ruled suicide, though Safronov was wearing his hat and winter coat when he “fell” from the window, and was carrying a bag of oranges. Safronov was working on an explosive article about Moscow’s secret sale of SU-30 fighter jets to Syria and S-300V missiles to Iran via Belarus, so that the Kremlin could not be accused of providing weapons to terrorist states. Safronov was the 21st journalist critical of the Kremlin to be killed since Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president. [9] Another 123 Russian journalists were killed after that, up to the date of this writing. [10] Those facts are certainly not a farce either.

I understand that Mr. Yarim-Agaev wants to see Russia rid itself of its political police tradition. We all want that. For that to happen, however, we should help the Russians to see the truth—the naked truth, no matter how ugly it is. The truth so carefully hidden by the Kremlin, that even fierce enemies of the KGB, such as Mr. Yarim-Agayev, cannot perceive it. That naked, ugly truth is that during the Soviet years the KGB was a state within a state. Now the KGB, rechristened FSB, is the state. Over 6,000 former KGB officers are now members of Russia’s federal and local governments, but few if any of its normal citizens know who they really are, because their past is buried in the deepest secrecy.

“Brought up on lies, a society cannot mature,” Elena Bonner repeatedly stated during her valiant life. Helping the Russians to see the truth is her greatest legacy. Let us dedicate our symposium to that very same goal.

Velikanova: In our symposium devoted to the memory of Elena Georgievna Bonner we actually have two main subjects for comments:  this outstanding woman and the KGB/FSB. Interestingly, it was a moment in history when the KGB approached their former target seeking a kind of reconciliation. It was at the beginning of August 1991, just before the failure of the anti-Gorbachev’s “putsch” which 20th anniversary we celebrate this August. The Soviet state decayed and in the unpredictable conditions of those days the KGB officials probably wanted to earn credits from the potential leaders of future free Russia. They allowed Elena Georgievna to access the KGB files on herself, A.D. Sakharov, and her parents. Actually, her and Sakharov’s files were destroyed in 1988-89, but she got a telling note.

This note did not specify when the KGB started investigating her life and activity, but it showed that in 1971 she had been a target of their interest under the nickname “Fox”. Before its destruction, her file contained 383 volumes of surveillance material and wasn’t appended to Sakharov’s file. Instead, his file (containing 200 volumes) in 1988 was attached to Bonner’s case resulting in one file.  It seems that this shows the priorities of the political police. Sakharov was right when he said that, for the KGB in their family, she was Enemy No. 1.

E.G. Bonner lived a long life through different periods of Russia’s transformation: Stalin’s terror, the “thaw” period after Stalin’s death, Gorbachev’s Perestroika, the end of socialism, capitalist  reforms, and finally the corrupted Putin’s Russia.  Elena Georgievna contributed to Russia’s fateful transformation on the way to democracy. In changing circumstances, the mission of this dedicated woman was the struggle for the highest humanitarian values: human rights and freedom. Supporting a reformist Yeltzyn during a constitutional crisis in 1993, the next year she did not hesitate to resign from his Human Rights Commission when he started the Chechnya War, protesting against the genocide of the Chechen people. Such commitment to the ideals of liberalism and bravery in struggle is really distinctive in our changeable world with diffused values.

Melcuk: Yes, there is a shift in our discussion—from Elena Bonner as a personality to the role of the FSB, i.e. the KGB of today. But I think it is natural. Were she alive and among us now, she most certainly would speak first and foremost about the Dark Ages being installed at present in modern Russia. And I cannot agree with Mr. Yarim-Agaev when he affirms that the KGB never fully recovered and is now weaker than it was. Note that the words “fully recovered” and ” weaker” have no precise sense: there are NO indicators that would allow us to measure the degree of recovery and the strength of this monster.

Impressionistically, I can say that they are stronger and act with full impunity: I don’t think the former KGB allowed itself so many assassinations and provocations as the FSB under Putin’s guidance. Mr. Pacepa is 100% right when he insists on the necessity of blowing up the Great Lie: we must make it clear that the FSB is not a state within the state, it is the Russian state today.

It is crucial for Western societies to understand this. Without the outer pressure, the Russian people will never be able to liberate themselves. Neither can they be liberated by the outside pressure alone, this is also true. But what is needed is a coordinated and sustained effort of the Western world aimed at the heads of the new FSB-regime—and especially, at their bank accounts in Europe and elsewhere.

Let the image of Elena Bonner become one of the important symbolic figures in this struggle for a better Russia.

FP: Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, Igor Melcuk, Konstantin Preobrazhenky, Olga Velikanova and Yuri Yarim-Agaev, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.

On behalf of our staff here at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and on behalf of many of our Frontpage readers, we light a candle in our hearts in respectful memory and appreciation to Elena Bonner. We love you Elena. Thank you.


[1] “Russians tune up for Soviet-style start of the New Year,” AFP, Moscow, December 31, 2000, Internet edition.

[2] Yevgenia Albats, The KGB: The State Within a State 23 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994).

[3] “’Clan’of FSB Provide a ‘Foundation’ for the Putin Regime,” Novaya Gazeta, June 2003, republished by Center for the Future of Russia, as

[4] Elena Bonner, “Living a big lie in Putin’s new Russia,” The Sunday Times, February 18, 2001.

[5] See generally Goldfarb and Litvinenko; Cowell; UK wants to try Russian for Litvinenko murder, The Guardian, January 26, 2007.

[6] McGrory, Daniel; Halpin, Tony (20 January 2007). “Police match image of Litvinenko’s real assassin with his death-bed description,” London Times Online,,,3-2556377,00.html. Retrieved 2006-01-22.

[7] “Russian faces Litvinenko charge”, BBC News, May 22, 2007, Retrieved 2007-05-22.

[8] Wrap: Lugovoi says innocent, Berezovsky behind Litvinenko murder,” Moscow: RIA Novosti, August 29, 2007,, retrieved March 16, 2010.

[9] Reuel Marc Gerecht, “A rogue Intelligence Stste? ”, American Enterprise Institute, European Outlook, April 6, 2007, as published on


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  • Fred Dawes

    The KGB Is not dead it just moved to the USA

  • BernardScherd

    Most Russians, especially over 30 years old, are mentally ill. This is the key to understanding them. Study narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), paranoid schizophrenia, then you will understand Russians and Russia today.

    • tarleton

      There's a little truth in that …they were the victims of a bizarre political cult for 70 something years ….when the S U finally collapsed they were walking around dazed and confused , and not a little paranoid ….I've not met many Russians that don't have some bizarre conspiracy theory of the world

  • Chezwick_mac

    I had the greatest admiration for Andrei Sakharov. In many ways, he was a mentor from afar. I discovered his work in the early 70s, when I was 15 years old and very impressionable. At the time, I was heavily influenced by Marxism, gobbling up "progressive" tracts as the centerpiece of my intellectual awakening from the game-playing of boyhood.

    Discovering the dissident literature of Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn and Djilas helped steer me clear of that blind ally…and by the time I was 16, I had already made the irrevocable turn away from the progressive faith. From his books, I watched Sakharov morph from the naive scientist who entertained the idea of convergence between capitalism and socialism…into the moral giant who insisted there could be no compromise with evil.

    Elena Bonner was Sakharov's partner-in-crime. Reading accounts of their internal exile in Gorky, it's apparent that she was not only an intellectual, a moralist, and a very strong personality, but also a loving wife who was absolutely devoted to her husband.

    God keep her.

  • Chezwick_mac

    I wrote and posted my little tribute to Bonner…and for some reason, I got a response saying my comments must be approved by the Administrator. I hope it gets posted.

  • tfc mod manager

    response saying my comments must be approved by the Administrator. I hope it gets posted.