Is Putin about to Revive the KGB or is He Again Only Testing the Waters?

September 19, 2016
FSB officer. Viktor Korotayev/Kommersant

Is Putin about to Revive the KGB or is He Again Only Testing the Waters?

Staunton, VA, September 19, 2016 – Kommersant reported September 19 and other Russian media outlets are following that the Kremlin plans to create, on the basis of the Federal Security Service (FSB), a ministry of state security that would include many other security functions and make the new entity, in the words of many, into a restored version of the KGB.

Given Vladimir Putin’s own KGB roots and his preference for ruling through the security agencies, such a move is of course plausible; but despite the hoopla, it may be far from a done deal, given the costs involved, the likely opposition of many of the players, and his failure to do so a dozen years ago when he earlier indicated that he wanted to do so.

The Kommersant story is detailed but based on unnamed sources and posits that discussions about the creation of such a new-old security arrangement are to be completed and put in place prior to the next presidential election in Russia now scheduled for 2018.

It is entirely possible that the plan will take place and involve not only a reshuffling of security responsibilities and the creation of what would amount to a single power vertical within them, as well as the replacement of the current heads of these services. But as one Ukrainian analyst points out, such discussions have been going on for more than a decade. 

In an article in Kyiv’s Delovaya stolitsa today, Aleksey Kaftan notes that there is “an evil joke that a bad memory is the professional illness of historians.”  He says that with regard to issues like this one, “it is obvious that is a still worse affliction among journalists”. 

Both the Kommersant journalists and those in other outlets who have followed them have forgotten that in July 2004 — more than twelve years ago — reported, citing an article at that “the FSB is being combined with the SVR [Foreign Intelligence Service] and FSO [Federal Protection Service] and will get a new name”.

The 2004 story, Kaftan says, was clearly “a trial balloon” to see how “society would react.” At that time, despite much media noise, not much happened, an indication either that Putin decided that taking that step was more than the traffic would bear or that the difficulties of moving in that direction were greater than the utility to himself of doing so.

It is at least possible, he suggests, that what Kommersant has done is launch another “trial balloon” for the Kremlin, although the situation is different and a proposal that a dozen years ago looked “wild and unthinkable” has now become in the minds of some “the only correct and/or inevitable” one.

And that points to a broader conclusion, Kaftan suggests, by putting out these trial balloons and then not acting immediately and then later trying again and implementing such ideas, the Kremlin is making Russia “ready for totalitarianism.” Indeed, given Putin’s problems at home and abroad, he may now believe he can take this step without costs.

At the same time, however, the Kremlin leader may again be simply testing the waters: they are getting hotter, and the frog has not yet jumped out of the pan precisely because they have not gotten hotter so quickly that the frog that is the Russian people conclude that they have no choice but to try to escape a certain death.