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Investigative Journalists Dissect KGB’s Enduring Legacy

"The New Nobility" by Soldatov and Borogan
"The New Nobility" by Soldatov and Borogan
Few Russian journalists have followed the country's security services as closely as Moscow-based investigative reporters Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan. In their new book, "The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB," Soldatov and Borogan chronicle the resurgence of the Federal Security Service (FSB) during the presidency of Vladimir Putin. RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev caught up with Soldatov and Borogan in New York, where they discussed their book.

RFE/RL: What main conclusions are drawn in the book?

Irina Borogan : A lot of attention has been paid to the fact that Putin was raised within the ranks of the KGB, and many people thought that he was a part of a KGB conspiracy to seize power in the new Russia. But after analyzing the FSB's activities, we concluded that this was not the case. The FSB has, however, become the pillar of the new power structure and extended its methods of secrecy and suspicion and its determination to suppress any form of discussion or criticism of the state. And the application of these methods have had a very negative effect on society. We don’t have open discussions, political contests, or free exchanges of opinions.

RFE/RL: What are the lines of comparison between KGB and FSB?

Andrei Soldatov : If we are talking about numbers, the Soviet KGB, of course, was a mightier structure, because the Soviet Union was bigger than Russia. But if we look at it in relative terms, we have to say that the modern FSB is a stronger organization in some respects than the KGB. This is one of the major conclusions of our study. There is little comparison with the KGB in this regard because the KGB was fully under the control of the Communist Party. There were party cells within each department and section of the KGB, and KGB officers were quite fearful of displeasing the party apparatus. A 1959 regulation clearly stated that the party cells within the KGB were authorized to report all KGB shortcomings to the higher levels of the party apparatus. There is no such thing today.

RFE/RL: A lot has been said about the economic interests of the FSB. What is the real situation?

Borogan : The FSB is as corrupt as, or even more corrupt than, many other Russian institutions. They are more powerful than the civil institutions, because they can initiate criminal prosecutions against businesses and use [such criminal cases] to their own advantage, including for material gain. FSB officers have been appointed to important positions in various companies. When they are appointed, for example, to the board of directors of large companies such as Gazprom, they receive excellent compensation, and in that regard, they are acting more as company employees than FSB officers.

RFE/RL: What can we expect from the FSB during the 2012 presidential campaign?

Soldatov : First of all, I would like to say that for [President] Dmitry Medvedev, the FSB is playing a very important role. He does not intend to relinquish what has been achieved by the security apparatus during Putin’s reign. He is quite satisfied with the results and with the political stability. It is unthinkable at this point to even conceive of the idea of some real political opposition to the Kremlin. At the same time, because Medvedev did not have personal experience within the security apparatus, he is not exclusively focused on the FSB. He is, for example, relatively flexible and is using the Interior Ministry [MVD] for the same purposes. Don’t forget that one of his first decrees was to give the MVD broader powers in the fight against the extremism. In Russia, "extremism" is often associated with public discontent, with people who may pose a threat to political stability. So, I don’t think the FSB will be the main tool used by Medvedev or Putin in the [2012] political campaign.

There’s one more argument that we tried to analyze in our book -- that the FSB has become so difficult to manage that neither Russian society nor Kremlin can now control it. It is not clear to what extent even Putin or Medvedev can count on the support of the people who are within FSB now. Who within its vast apparatus will stand by them and actively support them? All this is a big question.