Vienna, May 29 – The Soviet-trained KGB officers who dominate Russia’s security agencies and much else besides represent a threat to that country’s national interests not so much because they want to return to the past – few do – but because they lack the skills needed to perform their new tasks.
Many commentators have noted that the skills these KGB officers needed to defend totalitarianism have disappeared along with this system, but far fewer have pointed out that many of these most senior security officials lack the skills needed to defend Russia’s more open political system.
And consequently, analysts who have explored the current role of KGB officers under Russian President Vladimir Putin have tended to assume that as a group they want to return to the past where their particular kinds of training and experience could make them more effective.
But such “super apocalyptic expectations,” Ruslan Lin’kov argues in a Live Journal commentary, lack any serious foundation. “It is not very probable,” he writes, “that yesterday’s KGB majors and lieutenant colonels – today’s highest Russian bureaucrats – want to sacrifice” their power, position, and wealth by returning to the past.
And even if some of these officers might imagine doing so, he continues, their wives and children, the beneficiaries of their husbands’ new elite status, most certainly do not want to give up what they have in the hopes of recovering the kind of life they experienced under Brezhnev (http://www.nazlobu.ru/publications/print 1938.htm).
That and the fact that there has been no lustration in the Russian Federation of the former security agencies mean that it is important to consider how well the skill sets these officers had match with the requirements of their positions today and thus how effective they can be in supporting the new Russia.
In Soviet times, Lin’kov notes, KGB officers served as the palace guard of the Communist Party, as “a political police” that sought to defend the Soviet system from all enemies real or imagined and that used the country’s legal code and registration systems on behalf of that goal.
Now, however, the situation has fundamentally changed. In many cases, what were yesterday’s crimes are today’s rights, and the FSB is charged, at least as one can tell from reading the new Russian criminal code, with defending the rights that it used to subvert.
And even where the FSB is charged with defending society and the state against the same crimes, such as bribery, corruption, or terrorism, the nature and even more the scope of these criminal activities has changed so fundamentally as to pose an entirely different challenge than the one KGB officers faced.
This shift in responsibilities without a concomitant shift in cadres, the Russian commentator argues, helps to explain “precisely why, despite all the numerous reforms of the special services, their activity in a sphere vitally important for the success of Russian democracy has not been too successful.”
And that in turn means, he continues, that to employ Goethe’s aphorism that “he who cannot do what is necessary will therefore do what is unnecessary,” an approach that sometimes appears to threaten democracy but more often simply reflects the inability of these officers to change themselves.
Lin’kov gives a series of examples of senior officers in today’s Russian security services that highlight the ignorance and incompetence of many of them, qualities that make them unable to effectively serve the state and society they are sworn to defend and protect.
Doing something about this is going to be difficult, either because it will require a wholesale purge something the Kremlin is not willing or perhaps able to do or because it will mean that the Russian Federation will have to wait many years until this Soviet generation dies off.
But that would be genuine tragedy, Lin’kov argues, because “there is a sharp need for the setting up of effective special services for the resolution of the new [stressed in the original] strategic tasks in the area of the defense of the new [stressed in the original] constitutional order.
There is a particular reason that something must be done soon, Lin’kov continues. Under Putin, there has been a return to the Soviet-era KGB and CPSU practice of moving about leading cadres wherever they may be needed, “without much regard for the consequences” of such actions.
Where then should the Russian government begin? Lin’kov’s answer, apparently offered without particular hope, is that it should copy Western models of training. That means the FSB must train more than intelligence officers; it must, like the American FBI, train specialists in a wide variety of areas.
Russian security officers in the future need to know how to conduct the struggle against computer crime and xenophobic propaganda, how to defend copyright and intellectual property, how to create the kind of information structures that will serve a democratic Russia.
The KGB in Soviet times did not train people to do so, Lin’kov points out. And consequently, the FSB in post-Soviet times faces an enormous challenge not only now but also well into the future if the Russian Federation’s constitutional system is to succeed.