In Russia, It Is Deja-Vu All over Again: How Russians Fell Back in Love with the KGB and Stalin

By Cichowlas, Ola | The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, April 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

In Russia, It Is Deja-Vu All over Again: How Russians Fell Back in Love with the KGB and Stalin


Cichowlas, Ola, The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs


Those who sneered at Mitt Romney's remarks when he said that "Russia is America's main geopolitical foe," might laugh slightly less after reading Edward Lucas' Deception: How Russia Dupes the West. Political scientists and policymakers who are not interested in anything that occurred more than 50 years ago and are dominated by political correctness will think more clearly about Russia once they read David Satter's It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Really Happened Anyway. And those Western financiers who served as Vladimir Putin's apologists may stop seeing him as a "forgivable pragmatist" once they finish Masha Gessen's The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.

All three authors give a short explanation of Russia's immense increase in presidential power, the growth of state bureaucracy, the domination of executive over legislative power, the destruction of the multi-party system, the return to a neo-imperial stance in foreign policy, the disintegrating relationship with the West and intolerance of human rights. And the KGB? Lucas uncovers its role in infiltrating Western societies, demonstrates how the Russian internal and external organs operate and how easily Western governments have been duped and warns that, whilst it has shed its old image, the Russian intelligence agency remains just as menacing. Gessen exposes a country that runs spies like no other and is run by a spy like no other. Maintaining that Putin saw the collapse of the USSR as a bitter personal betrayal, she exposes the FSB's criminal activity within the country to conclude that "Putin's Russia is a country where political rivals and vocal critics are often killed." Satter's critique of Putinism explains how Russia's amoral present is rooted in a failure to come to terms with its past and how controlling history is a means of controlling the present for the governing elite: as long as the KGB resists lustration and puts their own man in the Kremlin, Russian society has little hope to acquire a post-totalitarian mentality, which it desperately needs in order to evolve. Together, they form a grim conclusion: Russia and the West are further apart today than at any time since the 1990s, the regime's aggressive use of its intelligence services are only strengthening and the continued reluctance to deal with Russia's totalitarian past means the country is unable-and unwilling-to develop a civic and democratic society.

Never in Russian or Soviet history has the political and economic influence of the security organs been as widespread as it is now. Virtually all key positions in Russian political life-in government and the economy-are controlled by the so called siloviki (a blanket term to describe the network of former and current state-security officers with personal ties to the Soviet-era KGB and its successor agencies).1 There is also the sheer scale of Russia's intelligence agency. The Russian military may be a ghost of its former self, but the old KGB-now divided among the FSB (for domestic intelligence), the SVR (for foreign intelligence) and GRU (for military intelligence)-maintains all its prestige and immense funding. The FSB alone, Lucas reports, employs more than 300,000 people, a larger force than the U.S. Marine Corps. The rise of the siloviki (approximately, "the forceful") composed of former Soviet military and intelligence operatives with ties to Yeltsin and Putin has led to a new era of static conservatism in Russian politics, emphasising stability over democratic procedure.2 This is an alarming phenomenon both within Russia and abroad.

All of the authors demonstrate how Russian security organs continue to function as a "state within a state" and how the chekist mindset of "the end justifies the means" is still dominant inside the Kremlin. As Satter points out, this is made easier by the fact that the KGB-as with all Soviet-era institutions -was able to resist lustration in the 1990s and ultimately place one of their own in the presidency. …

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