Resurgent KGB

The KGB is being resurrected in Russia. After Vladimir Putin's election, fear has taken hold in Russia. An open letter from former KGB General Oleg Kalugin to Putin - accusing the new president of placing Russia once again on a totalitarian track - has struck like a thunderbolt.

Kalugin wrote the letter because Putin called him a traitor in a pre-election interview with Kommersant. Putin, a lawyer, called Kalugin a traitor without a trial, ignoring the presumption of innocence. That's the logic of the KGB. As a democrat, appointed by Boris Yeltsin, Putin should have fought against such views; instead, he has used them cynically, leading us to understand that the KGB will be the main organ of power in Russia.

Interpreting Putin's statement as a danger for Russian democracy, Kalugin announced his decision to request political asylum. "I will not return to the Russia of V. V. Putin, criminal and corrupt, with its pocket justice and court system," Kalugin wrote.

Many newspapers were afraid to print the letter, and the security services did everything to ensure it didn't see the light of day. But the popular weekly Versia decided to publish the entire text. This has caused consternation in the halls of the security services.

Democracy in Russia is threatened today. Once again, the KGB is coming to power. Although various activists in the first-wave democracy movement - the late, former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak and former Yeltsin adviser Sergei Stankevich - have been rehabilitated, Kalugin, also a member of this first wave, is still being pursued. The KGB generals are out to get him because, at the end of the 1980s, he destroyed the KGB with a single word: "truth." After Kalugin's expos?s were published, the KGB lost society's moral support. Used to society's slavish obedience, the KGB was not ready for criticism and started to fall apart.

Kalugin committed a courageous, self-sacrificing deed. The abolition of the KGB played a positive role in Russian history: It allowed democratic reforms to proceed.

Dozens of highly placed generals lost their posts as a result of Kalugin. Unable to do anything other than "manage," they are forced to live on niggardly pensions. In their impotence, they pour heaps of dirt on Kalugin. The offended generals appear on television, and Putin himself has pronounced their baseless accusations of Kalugin's betrayal. Among the generals are those who took part in the August 1991 coup, including Vladimir Kryuchkov and Viktor Grushko. It was Grushko, according to Kalugin, who threatened him at the end of the 1980s, saying that, for his pronouncements against the KGB, Kalugin would be declared insane. But fate decreed otherwise: Grushko was the one accused of being disloyal to the government and sent to prison. It turns out that, in today's Russia, it is better to have been a coup organizer in 1991 than a first-wave democrat who put the country on the path toward democracy and freedom.

This is no accident. The hounding of Kalugin acts as a backdrop to the resurrection of the KGB. This is the security services' vengeance for a decade of humiliation by democrats. There is no operative necessity for the creation of a powerful counterintelligence organ in Russia; the goal here is purely political, an attempt by the security services to occupy a "proper" place in society.

But this is also an attempt to hide the real status of the security services: Each is suffering its own deep crisis. This is particularly true of intelligence-gathering, the child of the Iron Curtain. In setting it up, Soviet leaders protected themselves from foreign information, peeking through that curtain to see what was being said about them.

After the Iron Curtain fell, the wiles of the intelligence community were exposed. Today, it is not experiencing the best of times; no one in the Kremlin needs information culled from newspapers.

Nor is the scientific-technological intelligence community, the "T" division, experiencing the best of times. The military-industrial secrets it stole were difficult to put into production in our collapsing military-industrial complex.

Then there's economic intelligence-gathering, created at the end of the 1980s by one of my acquaintances; he wasn't an economist, but a skillful courtier and consultant to Kryuchkov. He convinced his superiors to create a new department whose task would be to discover the economic secret of the bourgeoisie. By using that secret, the Communist Party could lead the Soviet economy out of its crisis and maintain its leadership role.

The intelligence community has started dealing with things foreign to it, e.g., issuing political declarations. It has become the initiator of the anti-Western mood in Russia, which has allowed it to play a greater role in foreign policy.

Nor has the crisis left the Federal Security Service, or the FSB, unscathed. It now deals with issues with which the KGB had little experience: the fight against the mafia, the drug trade, corruption, terrorism. It has been forced to cede its position, while adopting some of the police's courser methods.

A newly resurgent KGB will use old KGB methods: creating a cult of secrecy, "imposing order" in dealings with foreigners, trips abroad. Not everyone wi ll like this. Dissidents will appear once again. That's just what the security services need, someone to work on, to compromise, to arrest.

The hounding of General Kalugin has exposed the dangerous process of the KGB's resurgence and the rise of the role of the security services in the political life of Russia.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a former KGB lieutenant colonel and author of the forthcoming book "The FSB Today." He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.