Democratist

Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Tough times ahead for the SVR

Posted by democratist on November 16, 2010

16th November 2010.

There’s nothing like having one’s opinions confirmed, especially if the person doing the confirming is in a very good position to have an idea of what was really going on.

Thus last Saturday, Democratist suggested that the systemic corruption we have witnessed in Russia over the last decade was a key enabling factor in allowing the defection-in-place of Alexander Scherbakov, former head of the SVR’s elite “illegals” programme in relation to the “main opponent”; the US. 

We have therefore been delighted to hear, via the offices of Russia Today, that we have an unexpected ally in  former Federal Security Service (FSB) Colonel (and now deputy head of the State Duma Security Committee) Gennady Gudkov.

After stating that all SVR officers should be forced to take lie detector tests to avoid similar situations in the future, Gudkov is reported to have stated that, “The main reason behind any treachery is corruption…if those in charge of fighting corruption are corrupt themselves, and as long as there is no truly efficient control, there is no way to avoid similar situations of betrayal in the future.”

We fully agree with Gudkov’s analysis. But we would add that it has become fairly clear over the past few months that the almost no one in the nomenklatura has any intention of seriously tackling Russia’s massive corruption; they are almost all implicated, and corrupt practices have become an integral part of how Russia is now governed. 

So corruption, including at the highest levels of the SVR will continue largely unchecked. Since lie detector tests are fallible (as SVR staff should know; Aldrich Ames passed at least one, and a number of countries refuse to use them), it seems likely that many mid-level personnel, suffering from a mixture of jealousy/disgust at their bosses’ antics/the state of the country in general, will continue to offer their services to the CIA.

Additionally, the sulky, and almost certainly empty claims that the SVR plans to send a “hit team” after Scherbakov, will only serve to strengthen such a trend, since;

 i) The Russians are very unlikely to be able to pull off such an action now Scherbakov is under FBI protection, making them look foolish and ineffectual.

ii) Such threats (combined with the recent beatings of journalists etc) will act to convince additional SVR employees that they are essentially working for a bunch of gangsters, encouraging more defection (much as the suppression of the “Prague Spring” in 1968 was a factor in the Mitrokhin case).

The way the case has been handled so far displays an extraordinary lack of understanding of basic human psychology by the SVR senior staff, and is likely to be extremely counterproductive over the medium-term. 

More generally, it serves to act as yet another example of how high-level corruption has considerably weakened the Russian state.

4 Responses to “Tough times ahead for the SVR”

  1. [...] the Russian spooks once again come across as inept and perhaps rather desperate, since they chose to place a source with an MP whose actions were certain to eventually draw [...]

  2. [...] the Russian spooks once again come across as inept and perhaps rather desperate, since they chose to run someone working for an MP whose actions were certain to draw attention [...]

  3. [...] Since the US-Russia spy exchange in July, Democratist has become more sceptical about the SVR’s abilities. It appears a mere shadow of the KGB’s “First Directorate” (Первое Главное Управление), has evidently been penetrated by the CIA, suffers from seriously lax personnel security (also stemming partly from corruption), and is likely to face similar problems in the future. [...]

  4. [...] even if (what is probably a much weakened) SVR or FSB still manage to come up with the goods in terms of stolen intellectual property, [...]

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