Friday, December 13, 2013


FSB: Vladimir Putin's immensely powerful modern-day KGBRussia's security agency has a wide remit, guarding borders, catching spies and arresting activists deemed subversive

The FSB is much more than just an ordinary security service. Combining the functions of an elite police force with those of a spy agency, and wielding immense power, it has come a long way since the early 1990s, when it was on the brink of imploding.
Today's agency draws a direct line of inheritance from the Cheka, set up by Vladimir Lenin in the months after the Bolshevik revolution, to the NKVD, notorious for the purges of the 1930s in which hundreds of thousands were executed, and then the KGB. As the Soviet Union disbanded, the KGB was dismembered into separate agencies, and humiliated. The security services were forced into a new era of openness and researchers were allowed into the archives for the first time to investigate the crimes of the Stalin period.
Many of the brighter or entrepreneurial KGB operatives left the agency in the chaos of the 1990s, using their contacts and know-how to enter the business world as security consultants, fixers or businessmen in their own right. They included the current owner of the Evening Standard and the Independent, Alexander Lebedev, previously a junior officer working out of the Soviet embassy in London, who used his knowledge of how international financial markets to make his fortune.
As the 1990s wore on the agency got back on its feet and in 1999 Boris Yeltsin asked its then director, Vladimir Putin, who had recently been catapulted into the top job after a career in the service's lower echelons, to become prime minister.
With Putin as PM and then president, much of the FSB's power was restored. Many of his former KGB colleagues ended up in senior positions in government or at the helm of state-controlled companies. Lower down the chain of command, a blind eye was turned to FSB generals enriching themselves: it was no longer necessary to leave to earn a good living. One top officer complained that the secret service "warriors" had become "traders".
Despite its reputation as a slow-moving bureaucracy, the FSB has long taken on geeks who can help it stay ahead of the game technologically. In a time-honoured tradition, the agencytrawling the final-year students of the country's top technology institutes and inviting the best graduates to apply.
The agency has its own special institute known as IKSI, the Institute of Cryptography and Protection of Information, which used to work on code breaking but now focuses on information security. Its page on the FSB website boasts that more than 200 professors work at the IKSI, teaching students everything there is to know about computer systems and security. The only downside for computer whiz-kids is that salaries in the FSB, officially at least, are far lower than they would be at major tech firms.
Unlike the KGB, the FSB is not in charge of foreign spies. The responsibility for running agents likesuch as Anna Chapman and the nine other spies caught by US authorities, has passed to a separate agency, the SVR. But internally, the FSB has an extraordinarily wide remit.
When alleged CIA operative Ryan Fogle was caught with a blond wig and a compass, apparently attempting to recruit Russian counterintelligence officers for the US this year, it was the FSB who picked him up, interrogated him and released a humiliating video.
Its border guards, who have been under FSB control since 2003, stormed Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise in September, descending from helicopters wielding guns and knives. The agency is also strongly involved in combating "economic crimes", and is responsible for most counterintelligence operations. Western diplomats report a huge rise insurveillance and harassment from people they presume to be FSB agents, with foreign journalists and businesses also targeted.
The agency still operates from the Lubyanka, the central Moscow building notorious during the Soviet era for interrogations in its basement cells. There are no official figures on how many people the FSB employs, but the security services expert Andrei Soldatov estimates the number to be at least 200,000.
After the 2006 death of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko from polonium poisoning, in which Scotland Yard strongly suspected some level of state involvement, Britain announced a moratorium on all co-operation between the FSB and British security services. This stayed in place until May, when David Cameron paid a call on Putin at his summer home near Sochi. The leaders agreed that with the Sochi Olympics approaching, Britain would resume "limited" co-operation to ensure the security of competitors and spectators.

Russia sliding towards totalitarianism, says rights activist

Euronews, Andrei Beketov: From euronews’ studio in Brussels, we welcome Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a human rights campaigner, a leader of the Moscow Helsinki group.
“What impact do you want the EU-Russia summit to have on rights and freedoms in Russia?”
Lyudmila Alexeyeva: “I would like to believe that at this meeting the European colleagues of our leaders have been very assertive on these issues. The ordinary citizens of Russia are worried about the situation with human rights and the current relations between authorities and the civil society. The EU must have noticed that our authorities have recently launched a wide and cruel attack on civil society with an aim, I believe, to fully suppress it.”
Euronews: “But ordinary people are perhaps primarily preoccupied with their own material wellbeing. Shouldn’t EU-Russian relations be focusing on the economic cooperation leaving the humanitarian issues in the background?”
Alexeyeva: “You are right that ordinary people are more interested in the problems of their everyday lives. However the human rights activists, politicians and all thinking people know that as long as society is deprived of civil liberties and doesn’t have an opportunity to influence the decision-making of the authorities – ordinary people can’t resolve the problems of their everyday lives.”
Euronews: “How important are the court cases of Khodorkovsky, Magnitsky, Navalny to Europe?”
Alexeyeva: “I think they are very important not only for the citizens of our country but also to any European and to the whole world. The quality of life of all these people will depend on the direction in which such big country as Russia will go. It is not a democratic country, but it can move towards democracy. The danger is that it can move from the current predominantly authoritarian state to the totalitarian one as suggested by recent events. If Russia becomes a totalitarian state the whole world would suffer. Let’s remember what the world felt like when our country was the Soviet Union.”
Copyright © 2013 euronews

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin cast Russia Thursday as a defender of conservative values against the "genderless and infertile" Western tolerance that he said equates good and evil.

Putin's 70-minute state-of-the nation address marked a determined effort to burnish Russia's image that has been dented by Western criticism of an anti-gay law which has stoked calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, his pet project.

Putin's speech also contained a strong warning to those abroad who he claimed were seeking a military edge over Russia - a clear nod at the U.S. effort to develop long range non-nuclear weapons that Russia sees as a threat to its nuclear deterrent.
Russia has insisted th
at a law banning "propaganda of non-traditional relations" does not discriminate against gays, but gay rights group say it has given a green light to harassment and intimidation.

Without directly referring to the anti-gay law, Putin focused on upholding traditional family values, which he said were the foundation of Russia's greatness and a bulwark against "so-called tolerance - genderless and infertile."
Putin's posture as a protector of conservative values and his scathing criticism of the West have been part of efforts to shore up his domestic support base of blue-collar workers, farmers and state employees against mounting criticism from the urban middle class. But his speech also was pitched to conservatives worldwide.
"Many countries today are reviewing moral norms and erasing national traditions and distinctions between nationalities and cultures," Putin said. "The society is now required to demonstrate not only the sensible recognition of everyone's right to freedom of conscience, political outlook and private life, but also the mandatory recognition of the equivalence of good and evil, no matter how odd that may seem."

He argued that the "destruction of traditional values from the top" going on in other countries is "inherently undemocratic because it is based on abstract ideas and runs counter to the will of the majority of people."
Without naming any specific country, he blasted "attempts to enforce allegedly more progressive development models" on other nations, saying they have led only to "decline, barbarity and big blood" in the Middle East and North Africa.

In an apparent jab at the U.S., Putin said that Russia is not "seeking a superpower status or trying to claim a global or regional hegemony ... not trying to patronize or teach anyone."

He denied that Russia was trying to coerce Ukraine into joining a Moscow-led free trade pact. The Ukrainian president's decision last month to spurn an alliance with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia has triggered massive protests in Ukraine's capital that have been going on for three weeks.

Without naming the United States, Putin described the U.S. program of developing "prompt global strike" weapons as an attempt to tilt the strategic balance in its favor and vowed to counter it.
The U.S. program envisages creating long-range non-nuclear weapons that could strike targets anywhere in the world in as little as an hour with deadly precision.

Putin said that Russia sees the effort a threat to its nuclear deterrent and will take countermeasures.
"Expanding the potential of strategic non-nuclear precision weapons along with developing missile defense systems could nullify all earlier nuclear arms reduction agreements and upset the strategic balance," Putin said. "Russia will respond to all those challenges, both political and technological. No one should have an illusion that it's possible to achieve a military superiority over Russia."

He boasted about the nation's nuclear arsenal, saying that foreign powers will have to catch up with the level of new Russian nuclear weapons.

A day earlier, a senior Russian official warned that Moscow reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a conventional strike.

Russia-U.S. relations long have been strained by a dispute over the U.S.-led NATO missile defense system, Moscow's human rights record, and, most recently, Ukraine.

Putin also announced a sweeping crackdown on Russian offshore companies to bring billions of dollars home.
"You want to have offshores? Fine. But get the money here," he said.

For years, many Russian companies registered in countries such as Cyprus or Luxembourg to avoid Moscow's heavy-handed regulation and unpredictable legal and tax practices.

Putin insisted that foreign-registered companies that operate in Russia and are owned by Russian citizens should be obliged to pay taxes in Russia.

He said that Russian companies registered offshore will not be allowed to bid for state contracts, a major source of income for many Russian businesses

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