Symposium: Russia After Elena Bonner

A distinguished panel discusses the death of a heroic Russian dissident -- and the continuing power of the KGB.

In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we have gathered a distinguished panel to discuss the recent passing of Elena Bonner, her legacy and the future of human rights in Russia. Our guests today are:

Yuri Yarim-Agaev, a former leading Russian dissident and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Upon arriving in the United States after his forced exile from the Soviet Union, he headed the New York-based Center for Democracy in the USSR.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former KGB agent who became one of the KGB’s harshest critics. A Senior Fellow at Gerard Group International, he is the author of seven books about the KGB and Japan. His new book is KGB/FSB's New Trojan Horse: Americans of Russian Descent.

Igor Melcuk, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Montreal and Member of the Royal Society of Canada. He left the Soviet Union in 1977 after being expelled from the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences because he defended Andrei Sakharov in a letter published in The New York Times.

Olga Velikanova, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas, where she teaches Soviet history. Among the first scholars to work with declassified Communist Party and secret police archives, she is the author of “Making of an Idol: On Uses of Lenin,” “The Public Perception of the Cult of Lenin Based on the Archival Materials” and “The Myth of the Besieged Fortress. Soviet Mass Perception in the 1920s-1930s.” She is a recipient of many awards from different international research foundations.


Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest official ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. His first book, Red Horizons, was republished in 27 languages. A commemorative edition was recently issued in Romania to mark 20 years since Ceausescu was executed at the end of a trial where most of the accusations came out of this book. In April 2010, Pacepa’s latest book, Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination, was prominently displayed at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians held in Washington D.C., as a “superb new paradigmatic work” and a “must read” for “everyone interested in the assassination of President Kennedy.”’

FP: Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, Igor Melcuk, Konstantin Preobrazhenky, Olga Velikanova and Yuri Yarim-Agaev, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

Yuri Yarim-Agaev, let’s begin with you.

What were some of your thoughts on Elena Bonner’s passing? Share them with us in relation to how you view the state of human rights in contemporary Russia -- and the future you envision in what appears to be an inevitable Putin-led Russia.

Yarim-Agaev: The death of Elena Bonner was first and foremost the loss of an old friend.  Regretfully, very few people are left in this world with whom I have such deep mutual understanding, a similarity in assessment of major events both in Russia and the rest of the world, as I did with her.  There was a good reason for that: together we were in the struggle with the main evil of our time, Soviet Communism, the struggle, which gave us profound insight not only into Russia and Communism in general, but also into the very nature of human society. That education provided Elena Bonner with the compass which would show her the right direction, and help her take the right position not only on events in Russia, but also in America, Israel and other countries.  Not surprisingly, her position would very often coincide with my own, - our common experience showed.

I strongly believe that the experience, which we acquired in our struggle with Soviet Communism, can be effectively applied to many other regions and situations.  Some intellectuals argue that the dissident struggle, which made us stronger and more decisive, made us narrow minded at the same time.   I believe that the opposite is true.  When you actively interact with an extreme form of society, as was Soviet Communism, you get better insight into the general nature of human society, which is often concealed under normal circumstances.  When, for your own survival, you are forced to think much more intensively, you get much broader and deeper understanding of your own country and the whole world.  Elena Bonner’s life proved that very clearly.  Her numerous statements and articles on various events in the US, Russia, Israel and the rest of the world have been profound and very precise.

Some considered Elena Bonner as merely the wife of Andrei Sakharov, a quite respectable position by itself. Yet, she was much more. She was not only a leading Soviet dissident in her own, but also a globally renowned human rights champion.  Her impact on world politics of the 20th century was significant, and despite her old age and poor health, she managed to carry over her influence into the 21st century as well.

Preobrazhensky: Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to meet Elena Bonner, though I now live in Boston. Only this spring I tried to interview her for our documentary, “KGB Does Not Exist Any More?” which we are shooting together with American documentary producer Michael Colbert. It focuses on growing Russian influence in the United States. Our documentary shows that Elena Bonner’s struggle is not outdated. But her daughter, Tatiana, told me on the phone that Elena Bonner does not give interviews any more. Nonetheless, we are fortunate that  God gave her a long live in spite of all of her sufferings.

The KGB always hated Elena Bonner. On the eve of the 90th birthday anniversary of Academician Sakharov, the government 1st channel of Russian TV showed the film, ”My Father, Academician Sakharov.” It portrayed him as a talented but naive physicist who was under the influence of the evil-doing anti-Soviet activist, Elena Bonner.

It is, of course, the KGB version. It was taught to us at the KGB school in Minsk, where I studied in 1976-77. In 1985, when I was a Tokyo Correspondent of the Soviet TASS new agency, I was shown a secret wire from Moscow. It ordered KGB foreign correspondents all over the world to spread a rumor that Elena Bonner had beaten a policeman. It means that she has never tried to find any compromise, tolerance or “understanding” with the KGB.

How do I see the future of the Russian human rights movement? I see it as FSB-controlled. This is because the FSB is the only one actual political body in Russia. The FSB will never yield state power to anybody. And, ironically, there is nobody to take it. The Russian opposition is weak and disorganized. The FSB is playing with it as a cat with a mouse. In the Soviet period, KGB 5th Directorate managed to infiltrate the human rights movements with its collaborators. In today’s Russia, it is impossible to create any political organization independent from the FSB.  As soon as you create it, the FSB will fill it with their informants. It was the same in Soviet times regarding the Communist Party. The FSB is its organizational substitution.

In the interview devoted to Elena Bonner, the head of “Memorial” human rights center, Oleg Orlov, spoke about permitted and not permitted compromises with authorities.  This kind of logic could be applicable, maybe, to Imperial Russia of the early 20th century. But now the total authority belongs to the FSB. It is not up to the individual to determine the extent of compromise with a secret service. They will do it instead of you. While you will be thinking about such compromises, the wheel of your car may fly away when you are driving, or a group of unknown hooligans will meet you in the street.

By the way, I have never heard from Russian human rights activists a clear statement saying that state power belongs to the FSB. The only exception was “Glasnost” Foundation under Sergey Grigoryantz. It was dissolved very soon after Putin’s coming to power. Its international conferences, “KGB: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” where I have spoken a lot, are not held any more.

KGB/FSB feels genetic hatred against human rights activists. In recent years, Putin’s propaganda has done its best to present them as national traitors living for American grants. They are painted as “jackals in the foreign embassies” -- as Putin called them. The very word “human rights activist” became a sort of curse.

That is why many Russians dislike human rights activists. And the West is tired of them. They are an obstacle in developing “real politics” with Russia, which is nothing but victimizing human rights for the sake of oil. It is a historical success of Russian foreign policy.

When I tell Americans that human rights are violated in Russia as in the Soviet times, many of them don’t believe me. It is the result of the sophisticated Russian propaganda and influence here.

After Putin’s return to the presidency, Russian petro-state will continue its penetration of the Western world with its ingenuous program: “oil for democracy”. It is aimed at dissolving Western democracy. It has already begun.

Pacepa: I want to congratulate Jamie for honoring Elena Bonner and what she stood for. We all could profit from a better knowledge of her heroic life. I did not have the privilege of meeting Elena, as Yarim-Agaev did, or of learning firsthand about the KGB war against Elena, as Mr. Preobrazensky did. But I had the honor of meeting Andrei Sakharov, and I cannot imagine a better life companion for that legendary fighter for freedom than Elena Bonner.

For people of my generation, Elena is a saintly hero. She suffered years of brutal governmental exile and persecution because she dedicated her life to helping Russia get rid of its historical totalitarian autocracy. Some 150 years ago another famous Russian, sociologist Petr Chaadayev, had the guts to describe Russia the way it really was:

"A unique world, submissive to the will, caprice, fantasy of a single man, whether his name be Peter or Ivan. ... Contrary to all the laws of the human community, Russia moves only in the direction of her enslavement and the enslavement of all the neighboring peoples."

Tsar Nicholas declared Chaadayev insane, and locked him into an asylum--where he died. By the beginning of the 1980s, the whole Russian government looked like an insane asylum, and Elena Bonner was not afraid to say that out loud. The Soviet tsar exiled her to the boondocks.

In 1991 the Communists lost power, but not for long. On December 31, 2000, the first anniversary of his appointment as Russia's president, Vladimir Putin ordered Stalin’s national anthem resurrected, with new lyrics by Stalin’s lyricist, Sergey Mikhalkov. Old Communism was back in style. Elena called the act a “profanation of history.” Putin disagreed: “We have overcome the differences between the past and the present.” [1]

Have we? During the old Cold War, the KGB was a state within a state. By 2010, Putin's KGB, rechristened FSB, became the state. Over 6,000 of his former colleagues in the KGB--an organization that had in the past killed over seven million, after framing them as Western spies—were running Russia’s federal and local governments. The Soviet Union had one KGB officer for every 428 citizens. Putin’s Russia has one FSB officer for every 297 citizens. [2] It is like democratizing Germany by putting the old, supposedly defeated Gestapo in charge.

Elena Bonner called that KGB dictatorship a malignant tumor on Russia's body, and she warned that that cancerous tumor might kill the country's hopes of breaking with its tyrannical past. I have not only political but also personal reasons to fully agree with Elena. I was 25, when the doctors advised my mother to have a just discovered malignant tumor removed as soon as possible. "What's the rush, if it doesn't hurt?" my dear mother kept asking me every time I tried to take her to the hospital. Two years later I was kneeling at her grave. That was the last, and probably most important, lesson I learned from my dear mother. This is also the last lesson Elena Bonner tried to teach her fellow countrymen: If you have a cancer, get rid of it.

Velikanova: Jamie, thank you for inviting me here to share my personal thoughts about an outstanding personality -- Elena Bonner. In opposition to the members of our round table who have their personal perspectives to share, I suggest here the brief reflection of a historian about Elena Georgievna – a free individuality who lived in a totalitarian state.  She was a courageous person who was able to speak loudly about what she believed when all others around her kept silence.

How was it possible that such a free person could be raised in the USSR?  Andrei Sakharov – another example of an absolutely free personality - was the son of a professor. He received a home education and did not attend Soviet school until the 7th grade. A genius with an immediate affiliation with science, he did not belong to the Soviet mundane. But Elena Bonner was a Soviet girl, close to earth, and the daughter of a party official. While her father was a Comintern worker and her mother, Ruth, a devoted-hardliner Communist, the girl was influenced very much by her grandmother Tatiana who still lived by old values.  In Bonner’s writings she acknowledged the role of “babushka” Tanya and the good books in her childhood. A 14-year girl experienced the arrest and execution of her father in 1937 and the exile of her mother. During the war she served as a nurse on the front and was wounded, and later became engaged in medical education and practice as well as literary and political activity.   The experience of an orphan of 1937 as well as her talent gave Elena Georgievna the ability to see through all things “Soviet,” but surely she belonged to an insightful  but tiny minority.

Another question to ponder was her fate:  why was so much dirt poured upon her in the Soviet press and public opinion? Of course that was an intentional strategy of the KGB, discribed by Mr. Preobrazhensky above, to discredit human rights activists. I remember another version of the aforementioned rumor in the 1980s that Sakharov was a hen-pecked husband and his wife regularly beat him (with N. N. Yakovlev among the gossipmongers). But the KGB is not a sole explanation to all Russian troubles.  It seems that the KGB’s ignoble strategy had its soil in Russian old traditional suspicion to talented individuals, especially of her gender and of half Jewish origin. These low, plebian instincts were exploited by the KGB. Bonner’s active and independent role near the great scientist Sakharov was unusual for a traditional Russian family. An example of such patriarchal and misogynic attitude is the fate of Raisa Maksimovna Gorbacheva, a beautiful and strong woman, who was hated by all the Soviet Union.

Moreover, the dissident movement, of which Bonner was a member, was not comprehensive for a vast majority of Soviet people. They hardly understood the concept of human rights and why it worth going into exile or even prison for it. The general population had almost no information about the movement for human rights until 1975 when the Helsinki Declaration with its seventh clause -- an agreement to uphold human rights -- was signed published in the USSR. But even after that public opinion was molded mostly by propaganda and the KGB which represented dissidents as an evil foreign force. A handful of intelligentsia who understood the situation had too little influence on public opinion inside the USSR. In this context, in the eyes of philistines she looked as an outcast -- how could this woman, a Jew, dare to criticize Soviet politics?

Elena Bonner had courage, talent, and strength to struggle for the goals that seemed unrealistic in the suffocating atmosphere of the late Soviet Union. Despite all censorship and suppression of the critical voices, the efforts of these dissidents contributed to emancipation impulse in the end of the 1980s.

Melcuk: I did not know Elena Bonner personally—this makes it more difficult for me to say things about her heroic life. I must insist, however, on the fact that she was a hero of our times, one of the very few human beings who fully and openly opposed the three-headed monster of the KGB, the Communist Party and the Soviet State.

I did have the honor of meeting her husband, Andrei Sakharov, face to face and to speak with him. As a result, I was completely under the impact of his personality: the razor-sharp logic, deeply human philosophy, extreme openness and friendli­ness, the readiness to go as far as necessary to protect his convictions that, linked to unbelievable purity of his thoughts and intentions, seemed to me then to be out of this world. To a great degree, it was thanks to Elena Bonner that this great man had seen the truth and aban­doned his wrongly based idealism of a naïve wunderkind.

Elena Bonner was much more than just the wife of Sakharov of course: she was herself a great champion of human rights, so great that in 1985, the KGB felt it necessary to instruct its agents abroad, as Mr. Preobrazhensky tells us, to smear her name by spreading the most fantastic slandering rumors. I think it is important to remember that even in 21st century Russian authorities hate Mrs. Bonner and will hate her memory: she was, and her memory is, and will always be, a powerful thorn in the eye of the modern gangster dictators ruling Russia.

It is important, therefore, to spread in Western societies the knowledge and understanding of Mrs. Bonner’s struggle—in order to open eyes to more well-intentioned, but self-blinded idealists who live in their imaginary rosy world and refuse to face the gore reality.

I agree with Mrs. Velikanova that it is a miracle to see Elena Bonner to have developed into this eternally free and courageous figure that she was—out of an all-Soviet girl, with no family to lean on and completely ‘educated’ by the Soviet school and the Soviet army. This makes me feel even more respect and admiration for this extraordinary woman and personality. Her life and her moral standing should be an example not only for the Russian people, but for all people of good will around the world.

Yarim-Agaev: There is some irony in what I heard from the other panelists.  This symposium is devoted to the memory of Elena Bonner, yet more was said about the alleged power of the KGB and even the FSB than of Bonner’s real power.  It may be appropriate to mention how strong her archenemy was, but it would be awkward not to say how much stronger Elena was, who emerged victorious from that battle.

It is no mystery how a Soviet girl developed into a champion of freedom and human rights. Bonner’s outstanding intelligence and courage fully explain it. As a young girl whose father was shot and mother imprisoned she had enough facts to draw the right conclusions about the political system she lived in. There were millions of other people, however, who were in similar situations and many of them were smart enough to connect the dots--but they did not have the courage. And courage it takes, since if you don’t deny the facts, if you follow the logic, you come to conclusions which put you in a very dangerous if not lethal position.

Elena Bonner was never broken by the Soviet authorities and never obeyed them.  They, rather, obeyed her: She forced Gorbachev stand up for a moment of silence in memory of the Armenians killed in Nagorno-Karabakh under his watch.

Elena Bonner was never afraid of the KGB, whereas the KGB was very much afraid of her.  Why?  Because she had the courage to say openly and loudly that the emperor had no clothes.  The more the emperor real condition was exposed by her (and us, her fellow dissidents), the weaker he became, until finally he collapsed.  By 1991 the KGB was completely defeated and Elena Bonner stood victorious upon its rubble.

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.

This refers to the post-soviet human rights community as well.  It differs radically from the dissident human-rights movement of the Soviet era, and can by no means be considered its continuation.  No single dissident organization remained after 1991 and very few former dissidents joined the new community of human-rights organizations. Elena Bonner was always skeptical about new democrats and human rights activists, and later distanced herself completely from them.  The problem with the current Russian opposition is that there is a paucity of people in its ranks who have the courage and commitment to follow Bonner’s footsteps.

The best way to end this symposium is to recall once again the heroic life of Elena Bonner and the lesson which she taught us with such clarity and power.   This lesson is that even a single person, who strongly believes in the basic principles of freedom and human dignity, and who is ready to die for these principles, can overwhelm the strongest totalitarian system—not to mention Russia’s current rulers.

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