The St. Petersburg Times has an interesting Op-Ed about how President Putin has built up Russia’s security apparatus to the point that it now it exceeds the power the feared KGB once held in the Soviet Union.
As a former KGB man himself, Putin has spent his Presidency rebuilding the secret police and intelligence services that former President Yeltsin dismantled. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the KGB was reborn as the FSB as it is called today.
Yeltsin felt that under Soviet rule the KGB had too much power and influence. He liked the U.S. system of spreading power to a number of agencies and sought to remake Russia’s security apparatus in much the same way.
Putin watched his beloved FSB be gutted and much of the organization’s power taken away and split between two other agencies. He privately vowed to change this if his comrades would stand behind him as he sought to become President.
True to his word, the newly appointed President Putin quickly folded the two agencies that Yeltsin created and placed them under the umbrella of the FSB. He didn’t stop there however, he also littered his administration with current and former FSB/KGB agents.
A whopping 78% of the country’s leadership is affiliated with the FSB or KGB and the power of the Russian security services is at an all time high.
Moreover, all big companies in Russia are required to put people from the security services on the board of directors to ensure that the company acts in the interests of the Kremlin.
The piece in the St. Petersburg Times explains it this way:
Current and former FSB officers work in large private companies as well. Another former FSB official said the Kremlin wanted the officers to make sure the companies do not act against Russia’s interests.
“Big companies in Russia consult with the Kremlin before striking any big deal. The officers working for those companies are there to make sure that things are done properly or the way the Kremlin wants,” the official said.
The companies, who pay generous salaries to the officers, feel they get their money’s worth. The officers make sure they do not have problems with the Kremlin.
“All big companies have to put people from the security services on the board of directors,” said a banker with a large private bank. “Many are appointed as directors or deputy directors. They are called ‘active reserve agents,’ and we know that when Lubyanka calls, they have to answer them.”
FSB headquarters is commonly referred to as Lubyanka. There are no estimates for how many officers with links to intelligence work in private companies.
“It works like a pyramid: Big state and private companies hire KGB and FSB big shots, medium-size companies hire medium agents, and small companies employ ordinary officers,” the former FSB official said.
Medium and small companies hire former KGB and FSB agents to protect their businesses from corrupt tax or fire inspectors and to cut through bureaucracy, he said.
“Before, the protection job was done by the mafia, but now its role has been taken over by the agents,” he said.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Putin has brought a certain level of stability and prosperity to Russia (at least for some) but the question then becomes, at what cost?
Russia desperately wants to be an economic powerhouse like the U.S., Japan, or South Korea, but using government agents to intimidate local businesses will only stifle the entrepenurial spirit and creativity needed for a vibrant economy.
Imagine if every business decision had to be first cleared with the CIA and FBI here in America. Putin’s liberal use of the security services really taps into the old Soviet era paranoia that still grips many of the old players in Russia.
The idea that draconian measures are an absolute necessity to “save” Russia from an ever present enemy that wishes to do her harm is something that has been drilled into the Russian psyche for 50 years.
On the other hand, without a strong man like Putin at the reigns it’s quite possible that the whole of Russia might have been swallowed up by organized crime by now.
It will be interesting to see how the situation continues to evolve in Russia as the people continue their struggle to find the kind of Democracy that works for them.