The Power of the New KGB

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[This interview, conducted by Danila Galperovich, is reprinted from It has been translated for by Yelena Glazova].

One of the best known and most respected figures in the Russian dissident movement, Vladimir Bukovsky, spoke to Radio Liberty about the principles and methods employed by the KGB operatives in their work with free thinkers.  Which of those methods will be used in the very near future to control the latest wave of the protests that continue to transfix Russia?

Vladimir Bukovsky has always been a keen observer of the manner in which the KGB gradually regained its strength after initially losing power in 1991.  KGB representatives now occupy the highest echelons of the power structure in Russia.  What will happen in the near future? What should be expected by the participants of the protests?

This interview was conducted in England, in Vladimir Bukovsky’s home in Cambridge.  The first part appeared in print on the 30th of December, Bukovsky’s birthday (he has turned 69). The interview’s second part will be published on January 4-5.  As we present to our readers the translation of the interview, we congratulate Vladimir most warmly on his birthday.

Galperovich: The young people who came to the meeting at Bolotnaya Square are approximately 20-25 years of age, and they are managers, businessmen, artists; the frequenters and users of Facebook.  They do not really understand the phenomenon of the KGB because the KGB did not exist as a visible phenomenon during their life time.  Nonetheless, this young generation will be dealing with the KGB-trained operatives, all placed in key positions in the country.  What should these young people know about their opponents? What should they expect? What awareness is central for these young people in their battle?

Bukovsky: Let me emphasize first of all that the KGB operatives have lost much of their qualitative acumen and sharpness in the last twenty years.  In my time, the Central Committee of the Communist Party supervised the activities of the KGB, and without the Central Committee’s permission, the KGB was not able even to conduct searches.  This stern control from above made their behavior precise and honed their actions; the Central Committee could always punish KGB operatives when, for instance, they committed errors or acted willfully and without permission. Thus, the KGB was very disciplined, highly professional. And although these operatives were at the height of their game, we were still able to score many victories in their very game, in their very field, so to speak.  All in all, they no longer compared well with Stalin’s NKVD.

Since my time, however, they have fallen much lower.  I frequently gasp in astonishment – their level is that of the most inapt provincial militia; they are not the KGB of old. They cannot even blow up the buildings in their capital city without exposing themselves and leaving traces. Comrade Stalin would have shot them all.  When, for instance, they killed Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in Qatar and got caught immediately after – this appeared almost unreal. Why do they choose to act while being observed by cameras? How do they use traceable telephone lines and then travel to some diplomat’s country house? In our time this would be unimaginable. The former operatives were of a much higher qualification.

But this reality also has a horrifying aspect – these people commit murders with no real thought or planning and with full abandonment.  In the Soviet period, in order to commit murder, one had to make a plan, observe the target for a considerable period of time, submit the plan to the Central Committee and then wait for the approval. This would take time.  This is why the KGB did not like [to commit] many murders; one had to work long and hard preparing murders and engage in much bureaucracy.  It was much easier to arrest the person and send him to prison and then to the Gulag.  But today – to kill is easier than to arrest, for to arrest is to invite publicity, to initiate glasnost, to attracts lawyers – and even the press (no matter how weak or inferior). The operatives do not want this noise. Arrests to them have dangerous consequences.

Sasha Litvinenko was the first person who explained this new reality to me. He told me that KGB operatives plan murders while snacking in their cafeteria. Here is his story: “I am sitting quietly, eating my soup.  A fellow from an adjacent department joins me and asks whether I have reliable criminal contacts. I say that I do. Then he explains: ‘We need to take away that German.’  ‘What do you mean’ I ask, ‘take away?’  And he says, ‘It would be good for you too; 30 thousand is your take.'” This is how they conduct their business now, and this is how they solve their problems.  This needs to be understood.  If you compare our time with the contemporary scene, this pattern points to a major, startling difference. And at the same time these operatives constantly commit the most stupid errors. In the Soviet Union, there was the “wise” Central Committee of the Party, which the KGB hated for the Committee’s power, for its control; the operatives rejoiced when they were finally free from that control, but now they make errors. Nothing really works as it should.

Galperovich: Can they kill the participants of the protest movement whom they consider most dangerous?

Bukovsky: In our time it was difficult, but now…I began by discussing the difference between the Soviet KGB and the KGB of today (I prefer to call FSB by its old name).  But I need also to point to some fundamental similarities that remain in place no matter what.  The first thing the new protesters should remember is that it is futile to make any agreements with the KGB. All the Western politicians (with the exception of Ronald Reagan) make here a basic error.  Western politicians simply do not grasp the fact that among the species of Homosapiens there exists this very special type.  You cannot make agreements with the representatives of this type because it is not in their plans to make agreements. Their task is to make you their agent.  You are either an agent (potential or actual) or an enemy; nothing else exists.  You may think that you are conducting yourself in a civilized manner when you find some compromises, but for them, any compromise is a sign of weakness, and it means that you should be pressed and pushed further.   So one must remember – the quicker one sees through them, the less one is their victim.

I can tell you a story. Well, it has some non-standard language, but I will try to smooth the rough edges.

In our camp I met an old teacher from Zakarpattia Oblast of Southwestern Ukraine. He was an erudite, knew five languages, was an extraordinary man.  But all of a sudden our supervisor begins to punish him and send him to solitary confinement for 15 days, and repeats this again and again.  In the camps among the prisoners there was this multi-ethnic committee – or so it was called. People of different nationalities – Armenians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Lithuanians – gathered to discuss the situation in the zone.  And here emerges the new problem: how to help our intelligent teacher. I (instead of keeping my mouth shut) say, “The supervisor is trying to make him a stool pigeon, and our teacher is not able to send them all to hell. One should use the foulest arsenal of four-letter words as soon as possible. They do not understand any other language.”

Well, any initiative is punishable. The committee decided that I should explain to the teacher the situation as soon as he finished his new term in solitary confinement.

When the teacher came out from his solitary cell, I explained the situation to him and tried to teach him how to swear.  To use Russian “mat” (swearing language) in full measure — according to the system of Stanislavsky.  But the teacher’s lips refused to move. He simply could not say it. He knew five languages, but he could not swear. Three hours I was instructing him. Finally he learned; he grasped the situation in full depth. Next time the supervisor sent him to the solitary confinement for 15 days, the teacher swore hard and dirty, and when he finished his fifteen days, they no longer touched him.

This is a story – a Gulag parable, in fact.  It shows that with the KGB one cannot behave in any other manner. They do not understand subtlety; their heads work differently. They have been trained only one way. And if you cannot send them off with the foulest four letter words, you will bind yourself to a great woe.

Galperovich: Well, now these operatives face a mass protest. There have been no mass protests in Russia since the end of the 1980s. What will the KGB do now?

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  • Ben

    KGB is very Russian establishment. Nobody knows Chinese secret service name-they call it Chinese KGB! From IVAN the Terrible secret service (opricniks) played the state strategical role.Great poet wrote: "and you-the blue uniforms and you- the obedient people…". They say: Russian freedom-that is what we do when nobody sees us.
    KGB is the Russian ruler freedom- what he does when nobody sees him.

  • Kabud

    Bukovsky is spreading manure. Who at front page is the culprit?

    Once upon a time, he's saying, the KGB was a force to contend with.

    Now all they can do is murder people.

    He's implanting a double bind in the minds of the people who would rise up against kremlin.

    Long ago when the KGB was serious murder was also serious, and not whimsical.

    Today the KGB has lost its masterful touch, and murders are easy and commonplace, casual, whimsical.

    In other words, Msc invites the masses to hit the streets, but leave the content, direction, and management of the protests to the kremlin's strategists and planners, to the controlled opposition figures and appointed leaders.

    If you try to organize some serious and meaningful protest, today more than ever your corpse, your dead, gruesome, murdered body will be found in a pool of your own blood.

  • Kabud

    The Battle for Russia

    The year 2012 is going to be an exciting one. There will be a presidential election in the United States. There may be a military clash in the Strait of Hormuz. But the most important changes may occur in Russia, where the Russian people are preparing to challenge the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. During the street protests in Moscow and other cities last month, a new feeling swept the country. This feeling has its roots in the development of an authentic Russian middle class. It is not a wealthy middle class by Western standards, but it nonetheless bears the mark of self-sufficiency and decency. Either this decency will prevail, or it will be checked. Either Putin will be swept from power or the Russian middle class will be smashed.

    On one side of the struggle is the surviving machinery of old Soviet state: the secret police, the Interior Ministry, the large corporations, and Putin’s controlled media. On the other side we see millions of people who are fed up with arbitrary government power, gangster methods, and who want to see the rule of law. Each side has its own rhetoric, its own philosophy.

    Exemplifying the rhetoric of the Russian state, consider a recent opinion piece titled Nuclear War on the horizon. Here is a view sometimes expressed by operatives of the Kremlin. In fact, something akin to this view was put forward by Vladimir Putin when he spoke to the Russian nation following the Beslan massacre of September 2004. At that time he blamed America for conspiring to murder Russian children, claiming that “someone” wanted to break up Russia and finish off what remained of the Soviet state because Moscow still had nuclear weapons.

    In the column, America is depicted as threatening the entire world with nuclear annihilation. The United States is accused of leading a bloody “genocidal campaign against Libya” and of threatening the same against Iran. No credit is given to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for publicly speaking out against a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In fact, the United States is embarking upon a program of spontaneous disarmament. As Congress has been unable to pass the necessary deficit reduction package, the U.S. Defense Department will face what Panetta says are “devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation’s defense.”

  • Kabud

    The real policy of the United States and the real objectives of the U.S. military are never acknowledged by Putin’s spokesmen. In the column we read: “The forces of demonic evil now have come nose to nose with the forces of reason.” This was a reference to the Russian fleet stationed near Syria, and the potential for a confrontation with NATO warships. Here the old rhetoric of the Soviet Union appears once more. The war drums are thundering, and the “imperialist aggressor” is called to account. But we cannot take it seriously. For something else has appeared on the horizon, which Putin says was inspired by the CIA: a popular opposition movement against his KGB regime.

    Exemplifying this opposition we find Danila Galperovich’s interview with Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, translated for by Yelena Glazova. Here we find a frank discussion of Moscow’s police state methods. Here we learn that the KGB has “lost much of their qualitative acumen and sharpness in the last twenty years.” And why wouldn’t they? According to KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, the post-Soviet regime of pretended democracy was not supposed to last twenty years. It was designed to overpower the West in ten years. So the plan didn’t work. So Russia’s hidden totalitarian structures have begun to decay. They have remained under fake bourgeois auspices too long; and besides, there is no Stalin to lead them. In this matter we should remember what Stalin said to his henchmen during his last days: “You are like blind kittens; what will happen without me? The country will perish because you do not know how to recognize enemies.”

    What Bukovsky goes on to describe is the fate of these blind kittens, caught up in the crisis of Russia’s false democracy. One might say it is the crisis of a deception gone too long, carried too far by structures that can no longer bear the load. A world war might have once saved the current Russian regime, granting it renewed legitimacy in the midst of crisis. But now it is too late. According to Bukovsky, the incompetence of the regime is such that if Stalin were alive today he would have them all shot. “They cannot even blow up the buildings in their capital city without exposing themselves and leaving traces,” Bukovsky added, referring to the 1999 apartment bombings that were used to justify the KGB’s return to power. “Nothing [in the KGB/FSB] works as it should,” says Bukovsky.

    So how will this Kremlin, with its third generation blind kittens, survive the growing groundswell of popular opposition? Bukovsky says that the KGB understands how to manipulate mass movements with its network of double agents. But in the end, this method will not work. “The social atmosphere in due course becomes ever more politicized, radicalized,” Bukovsky explained. In the end, the KGB cannot join the protests against itself without damaging its own position. And so, Russia faces a serious political crisis in March or April. This crisis will likely grow, and spiral out of control.

    Such is the hopeful, optimistic language of Putin’s opposition – represented by Vladimir Bukovsky. It does not entail fear-mongering or anti-Western propaganda. It simply describes a regime that has lost touch with its people. Such a regime may accuse the United States of fostering a revolution in Russia, or threatening the whole world with nuclear destruction; but the game of deflecting criticism in the wake of fraudulent elections does not appear to be working.

    The year 2012 should prove decisive for Russia. Will the anti-Americanism take Russia by the throat? Or will the KGB regime lose its grip? One year from today we should know the answer.