Lubyanka federation: How the Federal Security Service determines the politics and economics of Russia
This report was created by The Dossier Center and originally published on the Atlantic Council website.
The Federal Security Service (FSB) is one of Russia’s most closed government agencies, its work cloaked in myths and rumors. This secrecy makes it extremely difficult for outsiders to get a full picture of how the organization is structured and what it does.
The purpose of this report is to investigate the work of the FSB, assess the degree of its influence on the country’s politics and economy, and study the systemic problems it faces. Over the course of a year, the Dossier Center collected information about the structure, personalities, working methods, and main development stages of the FSB through careful study of open sources, databases, documents, criminal and civil cases, photo evidence, and audio recordings. The center also interviewed several dozen experts, including direct participants in the events described; former and current officers of the FSB, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the defense and interior ministries, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) Committee for State Security (KGB), and other government agencies; representatives of the business and the banking industries; eyewitnesses, victims, prosecutors, and defendants in cases involving the FSB; participants in illegal operations controlled by the FSB; and many others. The information obtained was also cross-checked and compared with data from other sources.
The report traces the history of the special services since Soviet times, which helps illustrate the institutional similarities and differences between the FSB and its predecessors. It also describes the internal structure of the special services based on verifiable data, though full information about departments, services, and employees is not publicly available.
The legitimate side of the FSB’s activities (e.g., counterterrorism and foreign intelligence tasks that are commonly regarded as necessary and justified) is not the subject of this report, and it will not disclose information that could harm the fulfillment of the FSB’s constitutional functions.
The influence of the FSB in political and economic spheres goes beyond the constitutional powers granted to the special services.
The president of Russia, to whom the FSB is directly subordinate, directs it not only through the agency’s leader, Alexander Bortnikov, but also through representatives of various units within the special services. Thus, there exists a multilevel FSB control system.
The president increasingly relies on information received from the FSB. Members of the special services with direct access to the president often use the organization for their own financial and bureaucratic purposes.
Members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle hold sway over various parts of the FSB. Figures such as Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev,1 Rosneft Chief Executive Officer Igor Sechin,2 Rostec Chief Executive Officer Sergei Chemezov,3 Gazprom Chairman Viktor Zubkov,4 and former Security Council member Sergei Ivanov5 form groups of personal allies within the special services in order to advance their own economic interests, provide security, and share amongst themselves information useful to solving their own problems.
Over the past ten years, the FSB has taken control of many state institutions, usually by force or connivance. The defense and interior ministries, the Investigative Committee, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and other agencies have become dependent on the FSB. Members of the special services also regularly influence judges’ decisions. This power imbalance among government departments threatens the country’s security.
The FSB’s methods often violate the constitutional rights of citizens and still utilize some of the KGB’s worst practices. Officers of the special services and employees of other government departments dependent on them torture people, violate the freedom of speech, falsify criminal cases, raid and seize private businesses without justification, and participate in the murders of those, both in Russia and abroad, who run afoul of the Kremlin.
Representatives of the FSB systematically participate in corrupt schemes, including frequently organizing illegal financial dealings, especially in the banking industry. The FSB directly controls almost all illegal banking operations in Russia, at great profit to specific groups of FSB employees and representatives of their “clans.”
The FSB is also rife with ad hoc, opportunistic corruption, as low- and mid-level officers follow the leads of their superiors and use their positions to earn illicit income.
The FSB is a tool of repression against opposition-minded citizens and businesspeople who find themselves on the wrong side of the Kremlin, individual officials, or informal “clans.”
This report describes the transformation of the FSB from a state organization charged with safeguarding the public into a quasi-criminal body that has taken on the functions of a “second government” and invades all spheres of public and private life.
The first section of the report summarizes the organization’s internal dynamics and external influence, and traces the FSB’s evolution into a “special” service. The second section of the report is devoted to the structure of the FSB. It examines the activities and development of individual units, relying mainly on examples of high-profile cases involving the special services.
The story of Russian intelligence, the KGB, and FSB over the past thirty years is extraordinary. From a period of great weakness and disorganization in the first years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the FSB has become the defining and governing institution in Putin’s Russia.
In the most repressive period of Soviet and even Russian history, Stalin held the NKVD (the KGB’s predecessor) firmly in his grasp. Today, the FSB is more than an instrument of Putin. His KGB background has had a great deal to do with the rise of the FSB, many of his close associates have come from the KGB ranks, and the FSB is his preferred tool for getting things done in Russia. To that end, Putin has installed these KGB/FSB associates in key government and commercial positions, extending the FSB’s reach well beyond the spheres where Stalin’s secret police held sway.
But while it is authoritarian, Putin’s Russia is a more free-wheeling place than the Soviet Union, and the president’s control over the FSB does not rival Stalin’s control of the NKVD or even the Soviet Politburo’s control over the KGB. Senior FSB officials and even lower-ranking officers can pursue their own plans and ambitions. The abuses and corruption at the top of the FSB are mirrored further down, as more junior officials set up their own extortion and protection rackets to bleed the country’s businesses. And as different parts of the FSB seek their own economic advantage, they start to compete with each other, adding another complication to doing business in Russia—something that could, over time, chip away at the stability of the Putin regime.
You can download the full report below.