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Volume II, No 5 (May-June,1992)

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Has Reform Hit Security Organs?
Chairman, Russian Federation Supreme Soviet Commission
for Investigation of the Coup d'Etat of August 1991

The security organs are currently going through a period of conservation. Rank-and-file officials of the Russian Federation Security Ministry (MBRF) are constantly finding, to their disappointment, that the perestroika process initiated after the collapse of the August 1991 putsch is now grinding to a halt. Some might say that this is only natural. Perhaps the secret services have learned the main lessons from the past, and in particular have gotten rid of the most odious figures who had held top positions, and are now concentrating on new missions that will ensure that the reforms are truly effective.

Have the necessary lessons in fact been drawn from the history of the security organs? One should examine first the KGB's role in the attempted coup d'etat. In my view, the KGB became the principal executive agency for carrying out the putsch for two principal reasons:


  • It was able to act without any outside control. Its activities remained virtually unsupervised either by parliament or by the Ministry of Justice. Correspondence was opened in arbitrary fashion, telephone conversations were bugged, and other illegal operational measures were undertaken. The extent of illegality was so great that not even the Russian president was spared. During the course of the perestroika years the number of politically motivated investigations not only was not reduced, but on the contrary even rose significantly.
  • The USSR KGB was a monopoly structure which conducted, in addition to political investigations, both intelligence and counterintelligence. It also controlled a substantial number of militarized formations, the Soviet border troops, government communications, the USSR Presidential Guard, and the Presidential Information Service.


Indeed, that lack of supervision and the KGB's monopolistic power enabled the organization to carry out the preparations for the putsch. Similarly, these factors made it possible for it to persuade a large number of Soviet leaders of the need for a coup d'etat.

Has anything now changed as far as control of the security agencies is concerned? One inevitably comes to the conclusion that there has been virtually no improvement. During the course of the commission's work, involving parliamentary hearings on KGB participation in the coup, complaints were heard from parliamentary deputies, journalists, even from a government minister, that their conversations were being bugged. The successor organization to the KGB still is able to undertake technical measures directed against its opponents, with virtually no risk that legal action will be taken against it, for the simple reason that the ministry is able to arbitrarily destroy documents that it considers undesirable, or alternatively to dispense with documentation altogether, with the result that it always remains "pure." Just as civil rights were violated in the past, they are still being violated today.

It is true that the Russian parliament has set up a temporary parliamentary commission to monitor the reorganization of the security organs. However, the commission's work is conducted under a blanket of secrecy; moreover, it appears to be extremely ineffective. To this day no legislation has been adopted dealing with the security organs. This means that the security ministry still has no clearly defined missions laid down in law.

At the same time, new staffing rosters for the central Security Ministry as well as for its local administrations and the regional military counterintelligence departments are being automatically approved—approved, in my view, in a purely formal manner. The corresponding appointments to posts in the ministry currently are going ahead at full speed, and the entire staffing process is taking place in accordance with the old hallowed nomenklatura methods. The outcome is that numerous local subdivisions of the MBRF have been left untouched, meaning that the possibility remains that "witch-hunts" will be carried out in the future.

The result of the parliament's footdragging over passing a series of laws to provide legal status for the MBRF's activity is that the ministry is not being afforded the opportunity to transform itself from a "warlike detachment of the party" into a civilized security service, and to perform missions that are important for the welfare of the population, such as combating the mafia, preventing sabotage, fighting crimes committed by state officials, solving violent crime, and so on. Corruption is rampant, and this situation gravely compromises the new Russian government and the whole reform process, as well as—most unfortunately—the authority of the president personally.

Within the bureaucracy of the former KGB essentially no reforms are being undertaken—indeed no reforms are feasible. It is important to bear in mind that none of the current leaders of the security organs is capable of reforming the institution: Former chairman Kryuchkov is being replaced either by his own proteges, such as Ivanenko, or by generals from the party "Old Guard," such as Bulygin. Although these individuals will soon have to retire, their posts will be occupied in turn by bureaucrats of no less conservative views. Consequently the final result will still be zero. In fact, in a number of cases the exact opposite has occurred. Some of the officials who came out in opposition to the August plot and supported the Russian president were subjected to persecution, and this persecution is still continuing.

Alarmingly, even after the breakup of the USSR KGB into several independent structures subject to the President (as was advocated by the Parliamentary Commission for the Investigation of the Coup d'Etat ), a kaleidoscopic series of different nameplates and acronyms (e.g., AFBRF, MBVDRF, MBRF), the abolition of a number of administrations and departments both in the central ministry and at the local level, as well as a shakeup among top ministry officials, in my view no radical, significant changes whatever have occurred within the Ministry of Security. The following points need to be made:


  • Just as before, a number of MBRF organs in the central ministry as well as locally are headed by generals and other high-ranking officers who soiled themselves with complicity in the USSR State of Emergency Committee—the putsch group. In the case of some of these individuals, where documentation was available attesting to their support of the State Emergency Committee and to actions implementing the committee's decisions, two parliamentary commissions (one headed by A.M. Obolensky and the other headed by myself) informed former USSR KGB chairman V.V. Bakatin and current First Deputy Russian Federation Minister of Security A.A. Oleinikov of this evidence. However, no action was taken.

    The high-ranking officers in question, who during the August putsch showed contempt for the USSR and RSFSR Constitutions and carried out the decisions of the State Emergency Committee, officers who felt nostalgia for the past, represent today a social basis for future coups d'etat and thus constitute a potential threat to society. These officials are making use of their official positions and the powers they possess in order to resist both openly and secretly the reforms being carried out by the president and the government of Russia. There have been many instances of their deliberately crushing initiatives undertaken by democratically minded officers serving in the MBRF.

  • USSR KGB officers and officers belonging to the Moscow City and Moscow Region KGB Administration who participated in the administrative arrest of RSFSR People's Deputies and carried out illegal measures directed against Russian leaders and Russian People's Deputies (e.g., V.G. Urazhtsev, G.P. Yakunin, and V.V. Aksyuchits) have not been disciplined in any way. The fact that no importance has been attributed to violations of the law means that similar acts may still be committed in the future.
  • It is incomprehensible that no action has been taken in regard to Colonel General I.Ya. Kalinichenko, former head of USSR KGB Border Troops. On August 19, 1991, Kalinichenko signed a series of directives for the unconditional execution of decisions taken by the State Emergency Committee and ordered the distribution of these directives in accordance with the line of command. Despite this, Kalinichenko subsequently was promoted to a higher post, which he still occupies.
  • The activity of both the central Russian Federation Ministry of Security and its local divisions has been virtually paralyzed. As was discussed earlier, no legislation has been passed defining the missions of the security organs. The "temporary statute" of the MBRF, signed by Russian President Boris Yel'tsin on January 24, 1992, originated in the depths of the ministry itself. Currently, all that is being performed is mechanical work connected with the confirmation of staffing and appointments of top officials.

    In order to justify in one way or another its existence as a state agency and to demonstrate to public opinion its usefulness and the valuable functions it fulfills, the Security Ministry is undertaking tasks on its own initiative. These tasks, however, bear no relation whatever to state security and lie outside its sphere of competence. Take for instance the creation of departments for combating smuggling and fighting corruption in regional government administrations. The task of solving these problems is being placed on the shoulders of officers who have no specific training for this and previously had been employed for political investigations.

    The MBRF military counterintelligence organs, which, since the 1930s have been noted for their extreme conservatism, are incapable of being reformed. Moreover, these institutions do not need to exist on the quantitative and qualitative scale that they do now. Their sole preoccupation at present is with trying to prolong their existence. The ineffectiveness of these military counterintelligence organs is demonstrated by the example of the USSR KGB Special Departments Administration (Osobye otdely) in the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. During the course of its 46-year existence, a total of about 5,000 officers served in this administration. However, to the best of my knowledge, over the entire period not a single case of a Soviet serviceman recruited as an agent by a foreign intelligence service was ever uncovered. Nonetheless the concept of such an operational counterintelligence mission against foreign agents never underwent review. One can conclude that it suits the top command of the military counterintelligence organs to have large numbers of personnel: The larger the staff is, the more slots there are for generals and colonels.

    Many operatives of the security services, particularly at the regional level, see how slowly the reform process is moving—both in Moscow and locally—and are forced to observe the way that the top-ranking officers are holding on to their jobs for dear life and are succeeding in crushing democratically minded officers by putting pressure on the officers' collectives to which the latter belong. As a result they feel compelled to leave the security services in order to find suitable employment for themselves, given their knowledge and their years of experience, outside the security ministry, and end up working for joint enterprises and other types of business where personal initiative and knowledge are justly appreciated.

  • The system of professional education and retraining for top MBRF cadres has remained totally unchanged. Despite the high intellectual level of the instructional staff of the MBRF Higher School and the excellent teaching facilities, course work is conducted on the basis of manuals dating from the 1970s and 1980s. The final-year students spend their time studying the history of Soviet state security and cases taken from the life and work of F.E. Dzerzhinsky and other "chekisty," as well as the operations of the infamous "Chrezvychaiki" ("Extraordinary Tribunals") that were responsible for organizing mass terror and carrying out gross violations of legality in the Soviet Union. Indeed, the very name of this worthy educational institution perpetuates Dzerzhinsky's name, and there are still busts of Lenin on its landings and communist emblems on display. In addition, the correspondence courses taken by military counterintelligence officers and operatives of the ministry's regional security divisions are completely out of date. These courses stress form rather than real content.


In my view, the following measures need to be taken for effective reform of the state security system if there is to be not just verbal reform, but real change:


  • A legislative package defining every aspect of the operations of the ministry and its employees must be adopted without delay;
  • Staffing for the security organs should be carried out exclusively in accordance with the missions legitimately assigned to the MBRF;
  • All employees who have been guilty of violations of laws or complicity with the coup plotters must be dismissed from the service;
  • Key posts should be occupied predominantly by persons in possession of a profound legal culture; and
  • All employees of the security organs should be civil servants, not members of the military.


I believe that if these principles are adopted and implemented we will finally have proof that reform of the security organs has truly been completed.

Copyright ISCIP 1992
Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have been commissioned especially for

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