I Am Afraid

Wednesday is Den chekista, a Stalin-era holiday to celebrate the secret police. To this day, the heirs of the KGB celebrate Dec. 20. The intelligence section celebrates. The counterintelligence section celebrates. The technological-security section celebrates. The rest of us, though, have little reason to celebrate.

Russia is once again on the path toward establishing a totalitarian state. Instead of communism, a sort of nationalism is fast becoming the ideology of this new structure, which is waging open warfare against civil society. Public organizations that were founded during the flowering of democratic Russia are now being denied the right to register themselves. According to the Glasnost Foundation, the number of such organizations nationally has been reduced by 50 percent over the last year. Freedom of the press is also being dismantled.

"Until recently the security organs, having been humiliated and endlessly reorganized, were in a state of disarray," wrote former KGB General Oleg Kalyugin in his report to the eighth annual conference entitled "The KGB: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," which was held in Moscow in November. "The most experienced personnel had left in search of greener pastures. Those who remained had no idea how to reorient themselves away from the suppression of their own people and toward the problem of fighting crime."

"In recent months, however, the chekisty have been extremely successful at resurrecting the myth that Russia is under threat from foreign enemies and at creating an aura of glory around its past services to the homeland," continues Kalyugin. "Ironically, this once humiliated force has now entered into conflict with its former Yeltsin-era masters and is defeating them. Yeltsin himself, once renowned for his hatred of the KGB, opened the door to them and handed over the keys to the Kremlin."

Throughout the November conference, participants spoke with alarm about the revival of the KGBs repressive functions. After a few years absence, fear has returned to Russia.

For more than a year, Igor Sutyagin, senior researcher at the U.S.A. and Canada Institute, has been sitting in prison, accused of betraying his country. The investigation took 11 months to turn up anything at all. Although Sutyagin never had access to any state secrets, the FSB is trying to accuse him of "tingeing open information with a secret character." In effect, the FSB is illegally attempting to establish an ability to declare open information to be a state secret retroactively. During the investigation, the FSB declared that a number of Sutyagins projects were involved in espionage, including research he conducted with two Canadian universities and with Princeton University. An FSB tactic that began with environmentalists has spread now to science. It appears that research involving Western universities is now dangerous in Russia.

Since 1998, former high-ranking diplomat Vladimir Moiseyev has been sitting in the FSBs Lefortovo Prison. As soon as he was arrested, then-FSB boss Putin declared unambiguously that Moiseyev was a "spy" and last year he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. However, the FSB has never been able to produce any evidence of his guilt and the 12-year sentence was overturned on appeal. But Moiseyev is still in prison and the FSB is doing everything it can to prevent him from having another day in court.

"The FSB has from the beginning used every kind of deception, falsification and provocation," said Moiseyevs lawyer, Anatoly Yablokov. "But we cant even talk about this because by law the methods of the security organs are a state secret and exposing them is a crime."

Unfortunately, we must admit that over the decade of democratic reform we have not been able to establish an independent judiciary. The courts are often undermined by the security services. The unjustified 20-year sentence against American Edmond Pope this month is a perfect example. It creates a chilling precedent for future cases in which the defendants will not be foreigners, but Russian citizens. I fear that, in the wake of environmentalists and researchers, Western businessmen and investors may become the next target of the security services.

Remember the case of Richard Bliss, an American businessman who was arrested for espionage in Rostov-on-Don in 1997? Back then, it was possible to get him released quickly. Now, I fear, hed have gotten his own 20-year term.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a former KGB lieutenant colonel. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.