After sweeping victories by United Russia to win three-quarters of the seats in the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, a report from the Russian daily Kommersant suggests President Vladimir Putin is essentially attempting to resurrect the KGB. The new security agency, the MGB, would combine domestic and foreign intelligence services, including the Federal Security Service (FSB), the foreign intelligence service (SVR) and the state guard service (FSO).
Critics of the Kremlin will no doubt be alarmed by the prospect of a KGB reincarnation, and it's not hard to figure out why. As Andrei Soldatov notes on ForeignPolicy.com, "The KGB, it should be remembered, was not a traditional security service in the Western sense -- that is, an agency charged with protecting the interests of a country and its citizens. Its primary task was protecting the regime."
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The KGB's legacy is one of espionage, political repression and terror. Established in 1954, the agency oversaw the Soviet Union's police state. In fact, the proposed new agency, MGB, was is a bit of a callback to history. The MGB was one of the KGB's predecessors and served as Joseph Stalin's secret police agency after World War II.
And as Mark Galeotti of the European Council on Foreign Relations explains, the new acronym is doubly ominous because it "is also used by both the Donetsk and Lugansk 'People's Republics' for their security agencies."
Branded as "sword and shield of the Communist Party," the KGB's first assignment, ordered by Nikita Khrushchev, was a purge of the supporters of Lavrenty Beria, a disgraced and later executed security official who had served under Stalin.
For decades, in addition to foreign intelligence operations, the KGB waged a domestic campaign of surveillance, harassment, arrest, assault, torture and even murder of anyone considered disloyal or out of favor with the regime. They included basically anyone promoting or even appearing sympathetic to dissident, anti-Communist, religious or other ideas deemed hostile to the ideological foundation of the state.
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The KGB dissolved in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. The security ministry had been increasingly restricted by the reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and following a failed coup attempt to return to the Soviet system after a wave of liberalization, the KGB was pared down and divided up.
The move to bring back a modern KGB shouldn't be that surprising. Putin laid the foundations of his political career as an officer in the KGB serving in East Germany. According to a Washington Post profile of Putin's KGB days, even just a month after assuming the role of acting president following Boris Yetsin's resignation, Putin "expressed enthusiasm for reasserting the role of a strong state."
The MGB could be up and running before the 2018 presidential election, in which Putin will run for what appears to be his inevitable reelection for a fourth term as president, keeping him in office until 2024.
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