Putin’s former boss speaks up

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 at 2:31 | Posted in russia | Leave a comment

I was reminded (thanks Kalle) of a recent interview with former KGB general Oleg Kalugin in Foreign Policy. Mr. Kalugin says that he really came to understand the nature of the Soviet system when he was transferred from foreign counter intelligence to KGB’s domestic arm, i.e. spying and intimidating citizens who were honest about such things as lack of food, long lines to get the food, enormous bureaucracy and lack of freedom.

When Mr. Kalugin served in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) he was the boss of two now prominent Russians, the current head of FSB Nikolai Patrushev and none other than the man who is now the dictator of Russia, Vladimir Putin. While Mr. Patrushev was in a position to report direct to Kalugin, Putin was just a mediocre spy at the time:

Putin was too small to report to me directly. He was an operative; he was five steps below, so he never reported to me. He was one of 3,000 guys. He was just a gray, nonentity walking in the corridors. He was like all subordinates who had no confidence in themselves.

Kalugin’s remarks about the current Russian society deserve to be noticed:

FP: What in your mind then is the difference between the system Putin operates and Soviet Russia?

OK: Putin has partially restored the old Stalinist methods. The difference is Stalin used mass repressions. He would imprison and execute hundreds of thousands, millions. In Putin’s case, it is more selective: individuals who he finds too hostile or harmful for his rule. Putin has actually put the country back to the authoritarian state; it’s not as bloody but just as criminal as Stalin’s regime.

One might add that Putin has a whole other caliber of resources in his disposal. Also, ordinary people are not more stupid than they were at Stalin’s era and they have at least theoretically more effective means to speak up and be heard, baring in mind that we live in the age of Internet and networking. Yet, Putin has managed to silence opposing voices which makes one wonder if he has not in one sense achieved more than Stalin did.

Kalugin points out that persons in position to tell inconvenient truths in public have a reason to be concerned about their safety. Yuri Shchekochikhin, who was presiding a parliamentary commission investigating bombings of apartment houses in Moscow died under circumstances similar to the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Another member of the commision, Sergey Yushchenkov, was shot down at his apartment door. Kalugin predicts that former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, an outspoken critic of the administration is “next on the list”.

Speaking about those Moscow apartment bombings, Mr. Kalugin does not believe the official explanation:

The Chechens would never blow up low-income housing in Moscow. Why would they? That would spread animosity towards the Chechens.

Which is something worth baring in mind as we expect further news about the Moscow-St. Petersburg train derailed on Monday.


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