Russia, Intelligence and Security

Russia, Intelligence and Security

The Russian Empire dominated Eastern Europe and Western Asia from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century. However, the devastation caused by World War I plunged the nation into revolution in 1917, leading to an overthrow of the Czarist regime and the birth of communism. The communist government created a large intelligence community, with secret police forces, to conduct political espionage on ordinary citizens. The era was marred by political show trials and the harsh imprisonment of political dissidents. Before the outbreak of World War II, the oppressive regime of Joseph Stalin centralized the nation's agricultural and industrial systems. Despite the rapid industrialization and growth of the national military infrastructure, the ensuing economic turmoil, brutal political oppression, and famine cost millions of lives.

Russia entered World War II as a member of the Allied forces. Their participation in the war effort was key to the Allied defeat of Germany in 1945. Although Russia was a strategic wartime ally, relations between Russia and the West, particularly the United States, quickly soured in the first post-war months. The diplomatic, economic, and military standoff between the United States and Russia intensified into the decades-long Cold War. The nations engaged in an intelligence war in lieu of military conflict, and the antagonism between the two states redefined their national intelligence services and modern espionage tradecraft.

Hard-line communism fell out of favor in Russia as the national economy plummeted in the 1980s. A period of détente between Russia and the West allowed General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to implement a series of political and economic reforms, known as Glasnost and Perestroika. Reforms were also made to the national intelligence super-agency, the KGB. Though the leader sought to modernize the face of communism, the reform programs sped the regime's eventual downfall. The Soviet Union splintered in 1991. The largest former province, and the heart of the old Russian Empire, became the Russian Federation. Since the creation of the democratic republic, the nation has struggled to reform its national political system and it intelligence community.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia's intelligence and security agencies have been administered, and influenced, by the Office of the President of the Russian Federation. The executive branch governs the intelligence community via the Russian National Security Council, and the Defense council. The two boards act as a liaison between the government and the intelligence services, briefing the executive and legislature when national security threats arise. Since the Russian intelligence community is now more departmentalized than it was under Soviet control, the two councils help to centralize the dissemination of intelligence information and the formation of intelligence policy.

The Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti , Federal Security Service (FSB), a successor agency of the Soviet KGB and Russian Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK), is Russia's counterintelligence agency. FSB operations focus on domestic counterespionage and internal security. Headquartered in Lubyanka, the agency employs over 75,000 people. Since the creation of the agency, the Russian government has placed increasing limitation on FSB operations to guard against abuse of intelligence community resources. Russian law now severely restricts FSB surveillance operations conducted against ordinary citizens, and new constitutional reforms seek to prohibit the use of FSB forces for political espionage.

In response to the growth of organized crime after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian intelligence community established the Main Administration for Organized Crime (RUOP). The agency uses human and remote intelligence to infiltrate and investigate crime syndicates operating within Russia's borders. Despite ongoing efforts of the agency, organized crime has increased in Russia.

Russian intelligence operates special assignment bureaus in Kaliningrad and Chechnya. The Russian military's involvement in the region, and endemic conflict between nationalist and Russian factions, prompted the intelligence community to form task forces devoted to counterterrorism and counterintelligence. These operational units are usually a mix of civilian and military intelligence personnel and report to a variety of agencies, including the FSB and the Russian Security Council.

Though Russia has attempted to distance its new intelligence community from the legacy of the Soviet KGB and internal secret police forces, many of its new national intelligence agencies are indeed successor organizations of specialized departments within the former KGB. The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) was one of the first operational departments of the KGB to emerge as its own intelligence entity. The SVR now oversees most of Russia's foreign intelligence operations, including collection and analysis of data. The main intelligence objectives of the SVR are to collect information on rival military and economic powers. In 1995, the head of the SVR claimed that expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was the largest threat to Russian sovereignty and regional influence. In response to the perceived threat, the SVR conducts routine foreign intelligence surveillance of the former Soviet republics.

In the late 1990s, the focus of SVR operations shifted from military-related foreign intelligence to industrial, scientific, and technological espionage. Several divisions within the SVR use extensive human and remote intelligence networks to collect information on rival economies. Russian intelligence operated its own intelligence gathering missions in Asia and the West, but also devoted considerable resources to counterintelligence in a bid to protect Russian industry. The rise of the European Union (EU) prompted Russia to take a more strident political stance on international trade laws. However, in 2000, the nation refused to join a UN Security Council-led effort to limit economic espionage and prosecute industrial spies.

Russia's misleadingly named Main intelligence Agency (GRU) is the nation's primary intelligence information clearinghouse and analysis bureau. Though the agency does conduct intelligence gathering missions, its primary duty is to coordinate inter-agency information operations and process intelligence materials.

Russia garnered international criticism for its lack of security and protective intelligence measures against the proliferation of weapons from the former Soviet Union. Russia now devotes considerable intelligence resources to international non-proliferation efforts. However, national intelligence and security services have had little efficacy against criminal organizations and individuals selling arms and weaponry to terrorist groups and rogue states.

Russian foreign policy continues to evolve. Despite hostilities toward EU and NATO expansion, the Russian government has cooperated with European and United Nations anti-terrorism efforts. In 2003, Russia, with the diplomatic cooperation of France and Germany, moved to block UN-sanctioned military action against Iraq.



CIA World Factbook. "Russia" < > (May 5, 2003).


Cold War (1945–1950), The Start of the Atomic Age
Cold War (1950–1972)
Cold War (1972–1989): The Collapse of the Soviet Union KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, USSR Committee of State Security)

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