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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Chief Eyes KGB As Model for Agency

Nikolai Kovalyov, head of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, called for his intelligence agency to be given sweeping new powers that could bring back the glory days of the KGB, outlining his aggressive vision in a rare interview in Izvestia on Friday.


"There is nothing to be afraid of," Kovalyov said when asked if he had in mind returning part of the former KGB's powers to the FSB.


"Finally, after six years of reorganization, society has realized that a strong government cannot exist without a strong security service," he said, interviewed at an international terrorism conference in Paris.


"We have restored our investigative apparatus, since without this apparatus, without this 'sword of vengeance' ... there can be no effective fight against crime."


The "extraordinary situation" in Russia requires "extraordinary solutions," continued Kovalyov, who called for the FSB to be given broad extra powers, including a return to the FSB's control of "armed units" of which it was stripped in 1991.


Defending the FSB's performance over the spate of unsolved terrorist acts, including metro and trolleybus bombs in Moscow that killed four and injured dozens, as well as bombs planted in Volgograd, Voronezh, Astrakhan and Smolensk, Kovalyov insisted the FSB was "working intensively" to find the culprits and stressed that the FSB had "prevented many bombs."


Kovalyov added that investigations into the murders of television anchor Vladislav Listyev, journalist Dmitry Kholodov and businessman and politician Ivan Kivelidi had made "significant progress," though he did not give details.


The Kovalyov interview was the latest in a series of carefully orchestrated FSB leaks and press releases that began Sunday night with the broadcast of an interview with alleged British spy Platon Obukhov on NTV Independent Television, and continued with the publication of an alleged British Foreign Office confidential memorandum in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Tuesday and a rare press conference Wednesday.


Intelligence insiders said the high-profile public relations campaign was an attempt by the FSB to polish its image, tarnished by its failure to solve any of the major murders or terrorist attacks of recent years, and by the debacle at Pervomaiskoye in January, when then-FSB head Mikhail Barsukov presided over the escape of Chechen rebels and their hostages after a seven-day siege which left 120 dead.


"This is not glasnost, this is a return to nasty Stalinist habits," said former KGB colonel and ex-London KGB bureau chief Oleg Gordievsky, 57, speaking from an MI6 safe house in London. "Instead of confronting any of the major issues that affect Russia's security, like terrorism or the mafia, the FSB is blowing up these ridiculous spy stories ... to justify itself. Of course it is much easier, cleaner and more pleasant to catch spies than to chase mafiosi ... it is easy glory, without any work."


The recent revelations about Obukhov were a stunt to boost the FSB's reputation at the expense of an easy target, said Gordievsky, himself a British spy who defected from Russia in 1985 after being betrayed by CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames. None of the four Britons expelled in May as a result of the scandal were spies, he said, and the FSB was trying to whip up "spy-mania" in order to strengthen its powers and cover up its failures on the domestic front.


The FSB's influence has increased significantly after the rise of Security Council chief Alexander Lebed, said Sergei Markov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "[The FSB] now has a very powerful lobbyist in Lebed," said Markov. "He has effectively told the FSB that it can do whatever it likes and he will support it. The FSB is now demonstrating that the president has allowed it to make bolder actions."


Having gone through six major restructurings and$a massive cut in funding and political influence over the last five years, the FSB has begun to reassert itself as an tool of national security, said Markov. Kovalyov is less closely allied with Lebed than Defense Minister Igor Rodionov or Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, he added, but nevertheless they have a good professional relationship.