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A little history of Russian Espionage

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By José Carlos Palma

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many questions have been raised about why Vladimir Putin behaved. To understand some of this behavior, I took a brief tour of the interior of the FSB. The FSB is the resurrected KGB with just a few cosmetic operations to fool the unwary.

When the USSR “died”, the KGB resurrected into two separate organizations, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatssi (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB, and the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation) or SVR.

The FSB inherited from the KGB the functions of counterintelligence, internal security, and border security, also inheriting, in a very symbolic way, the old and ominously known KGB headquarters, in the Lubyanka building. Boris Yeltsin started by retreading the KGB, transforming it into the Fedealnaya Sluzba Kontrraazvedki (Federal Counter-Intelligence Service) or FSK which, as its name implies, was supposed to have a beneficial mission, not of spying on foreign countries, but only of protecting the new Russian Federation from threats from the other countries’ secret services. The FSK saw three fleeting presidents pass it by, Viktor Barannikov, Nikolay Golushko, and Sergei Vadimovich Stepashin. However, on June 14, 1995, Chechen rebels, led by Shamil Basayev, stormed the hospital in Budyonnovsk, near the Russian border with Chechnya. Shamil Basayev managed to enter the city with an entire column of camouflaged military trucks, invading the Budyonnovsk City Council, where they hoisted the Chechen flag, not before invading the police post and taking control of it. With the entry of Russian army troops and FSK agents into the city, the Chechen rebels sheltered in the city’s hospital, taking between 1500 and 1800 hostages, including children and several newborns, all threatened with death by Shamil Basayev if their independence claims were not accepted by Boris Yeltsin, demanding that he withdraw Russian troops from Chechnya.

Not being accepted, the Chechen rebels began by murdering a hostage, followed by five more. Russian troops surrounding the hospital, guided by FSK agents, tried to invade it three times, without any practical results other than the death of several hostages who, according to Russian authorities, were used by the Chechens as human shields. It was never known for certain how many hostages died during the invasion attempts, but the clumsy use of force would eventually turn Russian public opinion against President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, with Boris Yeltsin being exasperated by the FSK’s actions. during the crisis and decided to reorganize the secret services. The first incarnation of the KGB came to an end shortly after its emergence.

In 1995, in its place, the FSB was born, which has shown itself throughout all these years in the fight against internal terrorism and in the successful arrest of hundreds of foreign spies on Russian territory. Endowed with the order to assassinate Russia’s enemies abroad since 1996, the ruthless FSB managed to bring down all the self-proclaimed presidents of Chechnya, Dzhokhar Dudaev, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Saidullaev, and also, contrary to what the men of the FSK had failed to do in Budyonnovsk, shot down all the Chechen terrorists involved in the hostage crisis at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow and at the Beslan school, despite global and even internal censorship by the methods of the secret services and the brutality used during the sieges, accused of not paying any attention to the security of the hostages. To this day, the FSB is still accused of, like its KGB, NKVD, OGPU, and Cheka ancestors, pressuring, controlling, or even trying to assassinate Moscow’s political opponents, such as journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the FSB agent himself (and former -KGB agent) Alexander Litvinenko, who accused his leadership of having a plan to assassinate the well-known oligarch Boris Berezovsky, and that he would mysteriously fall ill in London, where he would die, victim, according to all indications, of polonium-210 poisoning, placed in a cup of tea by an FSB agent.

Of all the secret services, the agency could be one of the most powerful in your country today. It is enough to remember not only the reach of the FSB inside and outside Russian borders but also that Russia, described so often as a “muscular democracy” and a “Police State”, has been ruled with an iron fist for almost two decades by an ex-KGB agent named Vladimir Putin. In a way, from a “state within a state”, as Nikita Khrushchev once defined it, the KGB may have become the state itself today.

Finally, we remember one of the many agents who served the KGB over the years. A mysterious spy named Rita Elliot was active in Australia. Having raised suspicions of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) for being involved with many men who worked or were somehow connected to Australian nuclear research, Rita Elliot, who was actually called Esfir Yurina, left the country in 1961, having been later stationed by the KGB in India and later in Pakistan, where it was forever lost. What is special about Esfir Yurina is the profession she took for her circus trapeze artist guise: a circus trapeze artist who walked, without a net, on a tightrope. You could hardly find a better metaphor for what it means to be a Russian secret service agent.

José Carlos Palma, the Smartencyclopedia in Berlin!

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