A New Era for the FSB

The dismissal of Federal Security Service director Nikolai Kovalyov and the false praise heaped on the outgoing minister reminded me of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's dismissal. The similarities are not coincidental.

Kovalyov was appointed by Chernomyrdin, who was known for his sympathies toward the Communists. The Yeltsin administration's efforts to rid itself of the last representative of Chernomyrdin's ousted Cabinet is the primary, hidden reason for Kovalyov's dismissal.

It is also possible that with his appointment of Vladimir Putin as the new FSB director Yeltsin is hoping to reduce the Communists' influence on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad in the runup to the presidential elections.

But the FSB is not the military, and its director is completely dependent on the opinions of its officer corps. If he begins to express democratic or pro-Western views, they will simply alienate him as was the case with Yevgeny Savostyanov. Until now the only democrat to ever get into the KGB since the 1991 putsch, Savostyanov was eventually forced out of his post as head of the FSB's Moscow division.

From the day of his appointment, the chekists continually declared that "Savostyanov is not one of us." Today, Savostyanov coordinates the power structures for the presidential administration and could very well have been named to the post of FSB director. But the Lubyanka apparatus still harbors a sacred hatred toward him, associating Savostyanov with Yeltsin, Gaidar, Burbulis and the other democrats who destroyed the Soviet KGB.

And although Putin is himself from the FSB's ranks, when Prime Minster Sergei Kiriyenko presented him to the FSB board, its members simply grinned in displeasure. Putin is from the Leningrad KGB directorate, and today's FSB is run by the Moscow clan, which is made up of Kovalyov's cronies from the Moscow FSB directorate.

The Moscow directorate has always been considered third rate and was never included in the KGB's central apparatus. And although situated right at Lubyanka, it has always been considered provincial. Its officers always received fewer benefits than we first-class intelligence and counterintelligence officers received.

Even its operations were of a lower degree of urgency because all the interesting cases were taken over by the central apparatus, leaving the poor Moscow chekists with nothing to do but pull spies out of a hat.

However, the coups in 1991 and 1993 discredited the KGB's upper echelons, and the third-rate Moscow directorate moved up to become Russia's premier directorate -- but without the qualifications it needed.

The quality of work at the FSB fell dramatically while Kovalyov was at the helm. It was during his tenure that the service began its attacks on environmentalists and mentally deranged spies like the diplomat Platon Obukhov began to appear.

During the personnel deficit of the 1990s, Kovalyov rose to the position of deputy chief of the Moscow FSB directorate. He remained true to his communist ideals, and when giving newspaper interviews he has always emphasized his pride in having defended communism at the infamous Fifth Directorate.

This would be tantamount to the current chief of German counterintelligence expressing approval of the Gestapo's activities. Imagine the fury it would cause in the world press. Our own Russian press should be stirred up over Kovalyov's remarks, but it is silent. They see nothing threatening in Kovalyov's words, as if they've forgotten how the Fifth Directorate once controlled the press.

Kovalyov's FSB rule was the rule of a Communist who had broken into the upper echelons of power and was dedicated completely to the return of Soviet order.

It was characterized by anti-Western spymania; encouragement for friendly communist countries like North Korea and for Iraq; arrests of environmentalists; the establishment of a cult of secrecy; sealing up archives that reveal communist crimes during the Soviet period; the beefing-up of the law on state secrets and lobbying for a law on espionage that would define spying as any cooperation with a foreign organization; attempts to gain control of Western business in Russia under the false pretense of defending it from the mafia and the creation of a reactionary union with President Alexander Lukashenko's KGB in Belarus -- the first step in the communist dream of merging with the totalitarian Belarus regime.

It was no accident that Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the State Duma's security committee, expressed unconcealed remorse over Kovalyov's departure on behalf of the Duma's Communist faction. Kovalyov did not hesitate to name former KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov as his official aide. He was one of the darkest figures from the Andropov period. Chebrikov persecuted dissidents, vehemently hated the bourgeois West and was a fanatical proponent of communism.

But none of this has disturbed the government, which has eloquently declared its attitude to the FSB by continually delaying its salaries. After all, it has its own, truly devoted FSB -- the presidential security service.

No complaints about salary arrears are ever heard coming from there. And the presidential security service is significantly higher in stature than the FSB. There is only one thing that has the government worried -- the possibility that the FSB could revolt and side with the military in the case of a military coup. For its other business, the government does just fine without the FSB.

Vladimir Putin's appointment as director is an indication of three specific things: that Yeltsin is planning to run for a third term, that he doesn't trust the FSB and that he is very fed up with the Communists.

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