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KGB influence still felt in Russia

At all levels of the Russian government, former military and security agents hold key positions, bringing with them authoritarian methods, experts say.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 30, 2003


Olga Kryshtanovskaya is a sociologist who dances with wolves. For more than a decade she's been Russia's premier expert on the political, business, and security elites.

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But even Ms. Kryshtanovskaya says she's alarmed by her own recent findings. Since Vladimir Putin came to power four years ago, she's been tracking a dramatic influx into government of siloviki - people from the military, the former Soviet KGB, and other security services - bringing with them statist ideology, authoritarian methods, and a drill-sergeant's contempt for civilian sensibilities.

"Whereas in the past people from security backgrounds generally did jobs connected with state security functions," Kryshtanovskaya says, "you now find them holding high office in just about every ministry and government agency."

While many experts are concerned at the Putin-era invasion of siloviki into the corridors of power, Kryshtanovskaya has generated hard data. By her tally, about 60 percent of the inner circle around Mr. Putin, himself a former KGB officer, are ex-military and security people. About a third of government functionaries are siloviki, as are 70 percent of the staffs working for the Kremlin's seven regional emissaries.

Moreover, Kryshtanovskaya says that security men are deliberately "parachuted" into high government posts in a manner that resembles the Stalinist system of assigning commissars, or party watchdogs, to keep tabs on professional managers whose political loyalties may be suspect. For instance, Justice Minister Yury Chaika has four deputies who are siloviki, Trade and Economic Development Minister German Greff has three, and Communications Minister Leonid Raimon has three. "Even the minister of press, Mikhail Lesin, has an FSB general as his deputy," she says. "Just about every cabinet minister has at least one."

This is not the first time Kryshtanovskaya, who founded the Elite Studies Unit at Russia's Institute of Sociology in 1991, has sounded the alarm about dangerous shifts at the summit of Russian society. A decade ago her data warned that former communist functionaries had moved into business, banking, and politics - a trend that she said could inhibit the growth of institutions of democracy and market economics. Now, she says, the flow of siloviki into government portends "the emergence of tough, authoritarian politics."

The policeman's hand is already being felt in the tightening grip on the media, the massive deployment of "administrative resources" to back pro-Kremlin parties in elections, and the recent arrest of "disloyal" oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Also, Russia's Education Ministry recently banned a previously approved history textbook because the latest update included an exercise asking students to debate whether Putin had established an authoritarian regime in Russia. In a meeting with historians, Putin defended the order, saying: "Textbooks ... must not provide grounds for new political infighting. They should provide historical facts and [inculcate] a sense of pride among the youth in their history and country."