Litvinenko: What the KGB Did Next

By Ostalski, Andrei | New Statesman (1996), December 11, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Litvinenko: What the KGB Did Next


Ostalski, Andrei, New Statesman (1996)


I know who killed Alexander Litvinenko; it was the KGB, at least in spirit. For me, as for nearly everyone brought up under the Soviet Union, the KGB meant far more than the intelligence arm of the Communist Party.

When the so-called Russian oligarchs started getting seriously rich in the early 1990s, the first thing they did was to recruit former KGB personnel, from bodyguards and enforcers to eavesdropping specialists.

Vladimir Gusinsky, the liberal founder of the NTV television channel, caused quite a stir when he made Filipp Bobkov, former chief of the KGB's anti-dissident Fifth Directorate, one of his directors. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, proprietor of the Yukos oil giant at that time, chose the KGB rising star and analyst Aleksei Kandaurov as one of his sidekicks.

Boris Berezovsky, now exiled in the UK, was surrounded by KGB officers and was himself at the top of the intelligence apparatus during his time as deputy secretary of Russia's security council. One of his proteges was a young KGB colonel called Vladimir Putin. Berezovsky claims he proposed Putin to Boris Yeltsin as his successor; he thought his KGB background would come in handy.

The oligarchs needed the expertise and the skills of the KGB. But it soon became clear they needed something more: the psychological comfort of having this omnipotent institution accept them as the new masters. Most of the oligarchs were Jewish. All their lives the KGB had been out of bounds--Soviet security organisations did not employ Jews, and saw them as potential traitors. These complexes extended further. Most of the Soviet intelligentsia held the KGB in great awe. A mix of hate and admiration had been engraved on successive generations. It would decide whether you could get a good job or go abroad or live in a privileged city. Or it could decide to destroy you, to do away with you.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It wasn't just westerners who believed that the new capitalist Russia would become a "normal country", another Britain or France or Germany, not without its peculiarities, but essentially democratic. Many Russians also harboured those hopes. Russia today is richer and far more open than the Soviet Union ever was. But minds take longer to change than economic or political systems. When riches abound and minds remain in the past, then corruption takes hold.

Western economists proclaim the strength of any democratic society is its middle class. The maxim is supposed to apply to Russia, and you wouldn't dispute it watching the flashy foreign cars whisk past in central Moscow. The problem is that most of the owners can hardly afford them on officially declared earnings.

Not only do most people not pay full taxes, but in most cases the source of their wealth is graft.

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