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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.

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Another indirect sign of the siloviki's rising influence is a campaign by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzkhov to evict hundreds of residents from two downtown areas to provide housing and office space for the FSB, the successor to the KGB. A Moscow government official, who asked not to be named, says the current, mainly elderly, tenants will be involuntarily relocated to the suburbs, and about 20 percent of the redeveloped properties - choice locations near FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square - turned over to the security agency.

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"The influx of siloviki into government has already had a negative impact on democracy," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the Institute for USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "These are people who feel that democratic rules and transparency interfere with their mission to restore order. They believe the country needs stability, which to them means fewer elections, less interference into state affairs from parliament and the media, and an end to divisive debates in society."

The siloviki share more than a background in security work. "They bring a mafia-like approach to government," says Mr. Kremeniuk. "They will deal only with their own kin in other branches of government. They have a sense of being selected; they are absolutely certain of their right to be in power.

They also have a common ideology, which some experts describe as statism. "When these guys speak of strengthening the state, they mean absolute loyalty of those below to their superiors," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center, a think tank in Moscow. "They think individual interests are much less important than state interests."

Experts divide over whether the siloviki's rise was planned or incidental. Some say the age-old buddy system of Russian bureaucracy was the main engine. "Putin didn't have a wide circle of associates to draw on when he came to power, so he brought a couple of dozen of his old KGB colleagues into the Kremlin," says Kremeniuk. "They brought their friends, and they brought their friends, and so on."

Others argue that state institutions are simply responding to public demands for national renewal following years of social breakdown, lawlessness, and economic decline under former President Boris Yeltsin. "Putin's coming to power and his popularity can be explained by the fact that the population wants order," says Mikhail Lyubimov, a former KGB spy and author of popular espionage novels. The KGB and other security agencies are widely regarded as more disciplined, responsible, and less corrupt than other social groups.

This month's parliamentary elections, which returned a massive majority for pro-Kremlin and nationalist parties, are widely read by experts as an endorsement of Putin's course.

Where the trend leads is an open question, one that worries Kryshtanovskaya. "I am sure that Putin believes he can control the uses of authority, and slam on the brakes anytime he wants," she says. "But I fear the tendency to authoritarianism is a slippery slope, and once we are moving it will be impossible to stop."