FSB or KGB?

Everyone who has ever seen a spy movie, or has even a passing knowledge of Russia and the Soviet Union has heard of the KGB. But a lot have people haven’t realised that, in today’s Russia, the KGB doesn’t exist. The KGB was abolished in 1991, soon after its Chairman, Vladimir Kryuchkov, led the failed August 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev.

Today, Russia’s internal security organisation is called the FSB (Federal Security Service), and its external intelligence agency is called the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service). Many people have vaguely heard of them, particularly the FSB, but don’t really know the difference between them and the KGB – giving rise to the question that forms the title of this article – “FSB or KGB?”.

This article gives a brief over-view of all three organisations, hopefully giving you enough background information to understand the difference between all three organisations.

What was the KGB?

KGB is the Russian abbreviation for Committee for State Security. Formed in 1954, it was able to take virtually any measures necessary to ensure that the USSR remained secure from internal and external threats. This meant a lot of spying on its own people, and suppression of ideological subversion at home.

The KGB also conducted many activities abroad to protect Soviet interests, such as the assassination of enemies of the USSR. Famous KGB assassinations include the killing of Dag Hammarskjold, the second UN Secretary General and Georgi Markov, who was memorably killed by a ricin pellet fired from an umbrella. KGB agents are also alleged to be behind the 1981 assassination attempt on Polish Pope John Paul II.

What is the FSB?

The KGB was initially replaced, in 1991, by the Russian FSK (Federal Counterintelligence Service), but was reorganised by Yeltsin in 1995, and became the Russian FSB.

The FSB is responsible for domestic security within Russia, and particularly for terrorism, surveillance, combating organised crime and border security. It employs more than 200,000 people (compared with around 30,000 employees of the FBI, an organisation in the United States that has a similar role and powers). Most of its employees are border guards, though, and only around 60,000 are involved in the more ‘interesting’ aspects of FSB work.

Since 2006, the FSB has had the power to assassinate terrorist suspects, both at home and abroad. It is believed to have engaged in a number of assassinations, mostly of Chechen militants, including Shamil Basayev in 2006. FSB agents have also been accused of the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvenenko, who was poisoned using radioactive polonium in London.

What is the SVR?

The Russian SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) is responsible for intelligence operations outside of Russia, and shares this responsibility with Russian Military Intelligence (GRU). As well as intelligence and espionage work abroad, the SVR has a great deal of influence in the formation of Russian Foreign Policy. It provides the President with a daily briefing, and makes recommendations to him about the best policy options.

The SVR has a great deal of Russian state funding. It supplements this with income from various front companies – most notably, Aeroflot was used as a front company in the 1990s, although it is unlikely that this is still the case.

The SVR is heavily engaged in recruiting and placing spies abroad. It’s most notable spy ring (that has so far been discovered!) was the US-based spy ring including Anna Chapman, which was uncovered in summer 2010.

Vladimir Putin KGB Alumni and FSB boss

One of the most famous Alumni of the KGB and FSB is, of course, current Russian Prime MInister Vladimir Putin. The Putin KGB career begin in 1975 and, after 10 years based in Leningrad, he was transferred to Dresden in East German, where he was involved in trying to recruit agents.

In 1998, Putin was appointed as head of the FSB by President Boris Yeltsin. He only remained in post for a year (before being appointed as Russian Prime Minister), but in that time undertook a large scale re-organisation that placed many people friendly to him in key FSB posts. He retains a great deal of support from, and influence with Russian security services to this day.

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