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Symposium: KGB Resurrection By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 30, 2004


Despite the fall of communism in Russia more than a decade ago, thousands of former KGB officers and other members of the Soviet nomenklatura hold significant positions of power in Russia today. The nation also appears to be experiencing a process of re-Brezhnevization, which is marked by the resurrection of the former secret police. What is the significance of this phenomenon? How will it affect U.S. –Russian relations and, more importantly, America’s war with militant Islam?

Frontpage Symposium is honored to host a distinguished panel on this subject. In a world premiere, we have two ex-spy chiefs from opposite sides of the Cold War and a former leading Soviet dissident joining us. One of our guests is the only head of a former Communist espionage service to have ever defected to the West, and he has never been involved in any public dialogue with a former head of the CIA. To add to this unprecedented mix, we are graced by the presence of one of the most courageous and prominent soldiers against totalitarianism in the 20th century. 

So, today, Frontpage Symposium has the privilege of introducing the following guests:

 

Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former acting chief of Communist Romania’s espionage service, whose book Red Horizons was republished in 24 countries;

 

James Woolsey, director of the CIA from 1993-95 and a former Navy undersecretary and arms-control negotiator;

 

and

 

Vladimir Bukovsky, a former leading Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his fight for freedom, and whose works include To Build a Castle and Judgement in Moscow.

 

Frontpage Magazine: Gentlemen, welcome to Frontpage Symposium. It is  a privilege to be in the company of three distinguished titans.

 

Mr. Bukovsky, perhaps I will begin with you. Could you kindly get us started on this discussion of the resurrection of the KGB in Russia? How real is this development and what are its main ingredients?

 

Bukovsky: Our national tragedy (as well as the tragedy of all other former communist countries) is that there was no clear defeat of the ruling communist system, no Nuremberg-style trial of its crimes, no vigorous lustration (de-communisation) process. The West was quick to celebrate the end of the Cold War and the victory of democracy in the former Iron Curtained countries, but in reality there was no change of "elites" there. The former communist "nomenklatura" has remained in the position of power in all branches of the government, albeit under a different name. 

 

One particular part of the communist "nomenklatura" - the KGB - is of special interest to us. The Soviet secret police/intelligence service, originally called VChK, was defined by Lenin as an "armed detachment of the Party," and remained as such throughout Soviet history, while changing its name every few years (VChK, OGPU, NKVD, MGB, KGB, FSB...). Its prime task was to safeguard the interests of the Party and of its ideology, both at home and abroad.

 

By the 1970s, like anybody else, they came to resent the ideological supervision of the Party which they perceived as hampering their efficiency. They vigorously supported Gorbachev in his "perestroika" campaign, and he, in turn, has heavily relied on their services. Their task, (as it was the task of Gorbachev's leadership), was to salvage the remnants of the Soviet system, not to abandon it.

 

The subsequent collapse of the USSR was the final blow to the KGB as we knew it. Many left for working in the "commercial structures" (hence the "Russian mafia"), others resigned. But the leadership has retained its position. The most able and loyal officers were sent to work "underground," creating the gangs to blackmail the businessmen and to control the organized crime. The others were strategically placed in the administrative structures as civil servants (while still remaining in the service of the KGB). Thousands of operatives were called back from the West to apply their experience at home. Among them, a KGB major Vladimir Putin was called back from East Germany and planted as a Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg.  The "armed detachment of the Party" has continued to blow up the trains and bridges even though the Party has disappeared.

 

Meanwhile, the Russian leadership's crisis has continued to deepen. Yeltsin, who was not prepared at all to inherit the power in the first place, did not even try to use it either. Having failed to go forward, to stage any trial over the former Soviet regime, or to purge the former Soviet nomenklatura from the position of power, he began a long retreat. First, he sacrificed his policies of reform, next he sacrificed his team, and finally, by 1993, he had to fight for his political survival. By then, he lost all political support in the country, and the only force he could count on were "siloviki", the "Power Ministries" - The Army, The Interior Ministry and the FSB. They were the only forces in the country which still supported him, although, in Lenin's words, they supported him like a rope that supports the hanged. From that moment onwards, his main concern was to find an heir who would guarantee him and his family an immunity from prosecution. This is why all three of his last candidates were from the KGB (FSB) - Primakov, Stepashin, Putin.

 

The rest is recent history which most would remember. Explosions of apartment blocs in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, (blamed on Chechens but obviously caused by the FSB), a "small victorious war" in Chechnya, which still goes on and has turned into a genocide (but still continues to fuel Putin's rating), closure of all independent mass media in Russia, attack on independent businessmen, a Stalin-type atmosphere of xenophobia and spy-mania, first political prisoners, strict censorship and a prevalent fear in the country. KGB is in power again, with all the consequences it entails.

 

But this time, it cannot be justified even by a crazy ideology, and there is no control over it by any ideological body. What used to be done for the glory of an idea, of the World Socialist Revolution, is done today for the sake of a personal ambition of few non-entities, and of a corporation called KGB. And this time around, it is much easier for them to murder their opponents in a dark lane than to put them into Gulag. Cheaper and easier. As Josef Stalin used to say: "No man - no problem".

 

FP: Mr. Pacepa, what do you make of Mr. Bukovsky’s interpretation of events?

 

Pacepa: I agree. KGB general Aleksandr Sakharovsky, my former de facto boss, who rose to head the almighty Soviet espionage service during the most important Cold War years, repeatedly told me: “every society reflects its own past.” A Russian to the marrow of his bones, he believed that someday Marxism might have been turned upside down, and even the Communist Party itself might have become history. Both Marxism and the party were foreign organisms that had been introduced into the Russian body, and sooner or later they would have to be rejected in any case. One thing, though, was certain to remain unchanged: “our gosbezopasnost” (the state security service). Sakharovsky used to point out that “our gosbezopasnost” had kept Russia alive for the past five hundred years, and “our gosbezopasnost” would guide her helm for the next five hundred years.

 

So far Sakharovsky has proved to be a dependable prophet. The Soviet Communist Party was indeed disbanded, and nobody within the country really missed it. Until Lenin came along, Russia had never had a significant political party anyway. Russia’s first freely elected president, Boris Yeltsin, who made history by dissolving the Soviet Union, began his rule in the Kremlin by building up his own political police, not his own political party. In October 1993, when the Russian parliament rebelled against Yeltsin, he did not resort to political measures to solve his problem. Rather he ordered his political police to storm the parliament building with artillery and then to arrest Yeltsin’s chief antagonists.

 

In the summer of 1996 Boris Yeltsin was elected Russia’s president for the second time, but he had not yet created a real political party that would define the democratic future of Russia. Rather, he relied more and more heavily on the historically Russian way of governing the country with the help of his political police, which now reportedly had more officers per capita than the former Soviet Union had had. According to Yevgenia Albats, a Russian intelligence expert and author of a well-documented book about the KGB, “the Soviet Union, with a population of 300 million, had approximately 700,000 political police agents; the new ‘democratic’ Russia, with a population of 150 million, has 500,000 Chekists. Where we once had one Chekist for every 428 Soviet citizens, we now have one for every 297 citizens of Russia.”

 

The rest is indeed history. Vladimir Putin was the very chief of the entire gosbezopasnost before becoming Russia’s president, and his former KGB colleagues now occupy nearly 50% of the top government positions there.

 

FP: Mr. Woolsey, as Mr. Pacepa infers, there is a psychology in the Russian character that actually needs a powerful and ruthless KGB to be operating, since the opposite would mean a life of too much individuality and freedom, which poses too much danger and risk. Your take?

 

Woolsey: I can't think of two people whose judgment about this issue I admire more than Mr. Bukovsky and Mr. Pacepa, and I have no quarrel with their characterization of history or the current situation.  For example, like Mr.Bukovsky, I am inclined at this point to believe, based on the information I've seen in David Satter's articles and books, that the Chekists were responsible for the apartment bombings that were blamed on the Chechens and provided the excuse for this most recent Chechen War.

 

I would point out two long-term trends in Russia that will have a great deal to do with its future -- and may be even more influential than its history and the current dominance of the siloviki.

 

First, Russia is living a demographic nightmare, with a tiny birth rate (except among its Muslim citizens) and very short life expectancies, especially for males.  By around the middle of the century, if these trends stay in place, the population could fall to under 100 million.  This could point in any of several directions, including an effort to, in effect, re-establish much of the USSR (although of course not under that name) to provide security -- continuing post-Cold War Russian aggression against Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine; it could also point toward an inability to defend such a massive country on such a small population base and could lead to fragmentation of Russia itself.  Your guess is as good as mine as to which way things will go -- what I don't see is stability.

 

Second, oil prices will drive the health of the Russian economy, and indirectly many political and social trends, for a long time.  Oil wealth has not often been conducive to the development of a vibrant, entrepreneurial middle class.  It will take real creativity for a Russian government, if it were so inclined, to figure out how to distribute the proceeds of oil sales in such a way as to promote the interests of the people as a whole and to do so in a way that does not promote a mentality of dependence. The siloviki will prosper, but will anyone else?   Here also, the odds don't seem to favor positive developments.

 

To overcome the negative influence of much of its history and the problems presented by demographics and oil, Russia will need leadership as bold and as willing to break with the past as that which was provided, e.g., to Turkey in the aftermath of WW I by Kemal Attaturk.  Mr. Putin has in no way shown himself to be a leader of that caliber.  We must hope that the great Russian people are, at some early point, able to produce a leader worthy of the better angels of their nature.

 

FP: So Mr. Bukovsky, Putin is clearly consolidating his powerful control of Russia. He is placing  myriad former KGB officers in his presidential administration posts and has appointed Mikhail Fradkov, also KGB, as chief of government. The Russian media is increasingly practicing self-censorship and political opponents face increasing violence and intimidation. Russia is clearly going back to an authoritarian security state and Putin has made himself somewhat of an oligarch.

 

Where do you see all of this going? Russia's re-Sovietization, and I realize this term must be used with caution, clearly can't be a good thing in terms of America having a strong ally in the international environment. Might a new Cold War with Russia emerge? How will this fit in the War on Terror? Since both America and Russia have an enemy in militant Islam, will the two powers have an alliance on certain grounds? How will the West's war with militant Islam be affected overall?

 

Bukovsky: If by "re-Sovietization" we mean a restoration of some sort of the Soviet Union, then we can be sure that such an attempt is doomed to failure. Contrary to what Mr. Putin and his KGB cronies might think, there were objective reasons for the Soviet collapse, and those reasons did not disappear just because they took over. The former Republics' ruling bureaucracy (which now became the governments of independent states) wants to restore Moscow's control over themselves even less than the KGB wants to restore the Communist Party control over itself. A military solution is hardly an option, as we have seen in Chechnya. If the entire Russian Army could not conquer this tiny speck on the map, it surely cannot re-conquer the Ukraine or Central Asia, or even the Baltic states. Clearly, restoring the Soviet Union is less feasible a project than restoring Roman Empire.

 

If, on the other hand, we mean by it a restoration of a totalitarian state in Russia, this again seems to be an exercise in futility. Soviet leaders launched their "glasnost & perestroika" campaign not because they suddenly saw the light on the road to Damascus and converted to liberalism, but because they could see that their system was incompatible with the modern technology, and was leading them to a deadly structural crisis. Fifteen years later, preconditions for a totalitarian rule could hardly improve. Just try to imagine a problem of maintaining an Iron Curtain in the time of internet, satellite television  and mobile phones.

 

Besides, how can anyone maintain a totalitarian control in a fantastically corrupt country, in which a certain percent of people is wealthy enough to buy off a secret policeman or a judge? Odd as it may sound, one needs a certain critical mass of fanatics in order to exercise tight control over a society.

 

Then, again, let us not forget that the Soviet Union has collapsed as a result of its bankruptcy. To put it simply, the Soviet economic base turned out to be too small for its global ambitions. The ever-growing cost of empire and of the arms race has just exhausted it, while a sudden drop of the oil price in 1986 has finished it off.

 

Is the Russian economy so much better now that they can sustain the cost of a second Cold War? Hardly. The Russian economy has changes considerably less than the Western observers think. It was not thoroughly restructured during Yeltsin's decade and still remains suitable mainly for a large-scale military production, or for gigantic projects of socialist Utopia  (and it will remain so as long as the oil prices are high, while Americans provide $ billions a year for its "conversion"). Once those two factors change, once the oil price goes down and Americans wisen up, Russia will experience a second bankrupcy, far more devastating than the first one. And if the first one has led to disintegration of their empire, the second is most likely to lead to fragmentation of Russia proper.

 

So, all in all, re-Sovietization is not a realistic prospective. Perhaps, the only sphere where we observe it is in the return of Soviet mentality. Self-censorship in the media, shameless public glorification of the Supreme Leader, political jokes told to close friends in the privacy of one's kitchen and a dominant sense of fear in the society - all of it has returned with a frightening speed, as if there were no years of "glasnost".  Above all, Soviet mentality reigns supreme in the Kremlin again. And this is why, inspite of everything said above and contrary to elementary logic,  new Kremlin comrades will try to re-create Soviet Union, to re-establish totalitarian control, to scare the world into accepting this Upper Volta with rusty missiles as a "Great Power". No doubt, they will fail. But how much damage will be caused by this lunacy?

 

I think it was Karl Marx who once said that if history repeats itself, what happened the first time as a drama, the second time comes as a farce. Indeed, what was once a collossal tragedy played by fanatics, might very well be staged again as a farce by non-entities with inferiority complex. We can only hope this farce is not going to be as bloody.

 

FP: Mr. Pacepa, your thoughts? Mr. Bukovsky is pointing out that any kind of "re-Sovietization" of Russia is simply mired in futility. How does the resurrection of the KGB play a role in this context? It is, and will obviously be, a different kind of KGB than the one of the past, right?

 

Pacepa: In today’s nuclear age, even farces could be deadly dangerous. When people talk about the KGB they generally think about its visible acts of repression, brutal interrogations and gulags. There is little public awareness of the fact that the KGB, which is calling the shots in today’s Russia, holds the launching codes for 6,000 nuclear missiles. Even fewer people know that the KGB has also been charged to develop, produce, stockpile and guard the country’s weapons of mass destruction. When I was in Romania, the KGB’s nuclear component alone had as many as 87 “secret cities,” some occupying whole islands, such as the hush-hush military laboratories on Vozrozhdeniye and Komsomolsk islands in the Aral Sea. All were secret towns built and run by the KGB, and not listed anywhere, not even on the Soviet Union’s most highly classified military maps. Chelyabinsk city in the Urals, for instance, was on a map of the Soviet Union, but Chelyabinsk-40, a city of 40,000 people located in the Urals, where 27 tons of weapons-grade plutonium were stockpiled, was not.   

 

The same KGB, with a new nameplate on the door, is now playing an even more prominent role in today’s Russia than it ever did in the Communist age.

 

FP: Mr. Woolsey, in the context of the KGB resurrection that Mr. Pacepa describes, could you sum up for us what danger it poses and what American policy toward Russia should now be? 

 

Woolsey: Once again, I have no substantial disagreement with the views of these two remarkable men.  It seems to me that the direction of Russia is decidedly negative and that the question for us in the West is the one Lenin was fond of posing: "What is to be done?"

 

Our oil dependence is an even more salient issue than when our percentage of imports was much less during the two oil shocks of the 1970's. The Russian economy is heavily influenced by the price of oil.  Saudis, controlling at least half of the world's swing production capacity, dropped the bottom out of the oil market in 1985 and the Soviets never really recovered.  We will never have that kind of control, but we can to a great extent reduce our dependence, give ourselves more leverage over the oil market, make it more difficult for the Saudis and others to raise prices to our economic and political disadvantage, and lead the Russian regime to realize that it may need to re-assess its direction.

 

I used to believe that anything, including a strong oil market, that bolstered the Russian economy and produced prosperity would be likely to cause the growth of a middle class and, in time, more pressure for economic and political liberalization.  The events of the last eighteen months or so have convinced me that such is not correct.  Putin has used the economic prosperity produced by a strong oil market to consolidate his power and lead Russia toward a form of fascism -- oil prices have given him the idea that he can do anything he wants.  Oil can tend to centralize power in any society except in a mature democracy such as Norway.

 

It now seems to me that it is in our interest both in terms of our dealings with Russia and with the Middle East to do as much as possible to reduce our reliance on oil.  To do this we would need to move toward alternative fuels, especially those produced from waste, that can be used in the existing infrastructure and toward more fuel efficient vehicles, such as hybrids, that are available now -- not wait on the hydrogen economy. 

 

In spite of their very high levels of oil production the Russians can't bring new production on- and off-line quickly as the Saudis can due to weather, location, etc. So if the Russians see us moving steadily toward reducing our oil use and thus their ability to make money from their high-cost production they may become far more reasonable than they are now.  Today they have the bit in their teeth and, to mix a metaphor, they feel as if they have the world by the tail more and more firmly with each dollar the price of oil increases.  They need to be shown that their prosperity is not assured without some fundamental changes and that it would be good for their economy and society if they diversified their economy.  For more reasons than one it is in our interest for them to be worried about the possibility that oil prices could fall.

 

To read the rest of KGB Resurrection Symposium Click Here.


Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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