Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Using Soviet-Era Tactic to Penetrate, Control Opposition Groups

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 11 – Pro-Kremlin groups are regularly inserting into the ranks of opposition groups spies who “just like in old times” are writing denunciations and generally informing their control officers about what is going on, according to a detailed article in this week’s “New Times” magazine.
In an article entitled “The Seksots of the 21st Century,” Ilya Barabanov and Yekaterina Savina say that “the lexicon of the times of the all-powerful KGB” – including terms like “seksot [secret co-worker],” ” agent,” and “observer” – is once again becoming part of political discourse in Russia (
According to Anna Bukovskaya, a 20-year-old member of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi who worked as a senior organizer of this effort before breaking with it and exposing it in comments to the media, the Kremlin started this revived effort in September 2007 against opposition groups in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yaroslavl.
Among the groups that she dispatched agents she had selected for this work were the banned National Bolshevik Party, Garri Kasparov’s OGF, the Oborona [“Defense”] Movement, and Young Yabloko. And many such agents, the “New Times” journalists suggest, would be working to this day if she had not exposed them.
Bukovskaya had the classic background for someone recruited for such work: She had not succeeded academically and thus did not appear to have many chances for advancement. Consequently, when she was approached by those connected with the Kremlin and offered support, she was easily recruited first as an agent herself and then as a spotter of others.
According to the former seksot, she and her fellow agents both reported to their “coordinator” about the plans the organizations of which they had become members and provided detailed reports, sometimes with photographs, about the meetings and demonstrations these groups actually conducted.
“Apparently,” the journalists conclude, “it was thanks to this practice that officers of the interior ministry and the FSB in recent years have been able to develop a mechanism of preventive detention of opposition figures” whenever a major demonstration is planned and thus reduce their effectiveness.
According to Bukovskaya, people working as agents inside the opposition groups received from the representatives of the Kremlin 5,000 to 15,000 rubles (150 to 450 US dollars) for their reports “depending on their effectiveness” in helping the government keep track of what the opposition is doing or disorder its activities.
Exactly who is in charge of this program within the government is a matter of dispute, the journalists say. Many see it as a classic FSB operation, but others say – and the two versions are not necessarily contradictory -- that Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, controls it.
Leaders of various opposition groups told “New Times” that they have had experience with such operatives, although Robert Shlegel, a Duma deputy who serves as commissar of the pro-Kremlin Nashi organization, “categorically denied” their claims and those of Bukovskaya about such activities.
But the two journalists obtained what they say are copies of several of the reports that agents within the Oborona Group in St. Petersburg supposedly had sent forward, reports which resemble those from Soviet times that some investigators published when some KGB archives were open after 1991, and they append a portion of them to their article.
And they also offer the comments of one opposition leader which suggest that such people understand at least part of the game being played against them. Marina Litvinovich of OGF told the journalists that there are two kinds of penetration agents with which her organization has to deal.
There are those largely from youth groups like Nashi who collect information and send it in, and there are others, far more dangerous, who come from the FSB and the interior ministry’s center for the struggle against extremism, who not only seek information but hope to use it to bring criminal charges against the opposition.
But there is one possibility that the authors of this article do not discuss but that may be equally importanht to understanding what is going on. The Soviet and presumably Russian intelligence services have always seen the timely exposing of their activities as part and parcel of their operational plans.
By revealing that they have penetrated opposition groups, these services make it more difficult for members of such groups to trust one another, cost them new recruits and lower their standing in the eyes of the broader population, all goals the sacrifice of a few agents is a price these services may be quite willing to pay.

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