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8 September, 2011  ▪  Спілкувалися: Oleksandr Narodetskiy,  Olena Chekan

Oleg Kalugin: “Putin Is a Temporary Twist In History”

Kalugin, currently a professor at the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies, speaks about Vladimir Putin’s use of Stalinist methods and the Russian Orthodox Church as a servant of the FSB

Oleg Kalugin’s life is like a roller coaster ride. At 18, he followed his conviction and joined the KGB and became the agency’s youngest general ever at 40. In the early stages of the perestroika, he openly spoke for the need to reform the KGB, in particular depoliticize and departicize it and scrap the system of political searches and investigation, while ensuring strict accountability before parliament. He was forced to retire for going public with his beliefs. He was elected people’s deputy in the USSR and stripped of all government awards and his military rank twice. In Russia, where he was tried in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in prison, his name is associated with “traitor” and “renegade.” In the USA, Kalugin set up, jointly with American counterintelligence officer David Major, a bus route that takes visitors along espionage-related places in Washington, DC. He collaborated with former CIA Director William Colby to produce the script for Spycraft: The Great Game and was instrumental in founding the International Spy Museum.


U.W.: Is it true that the Russian special services now have a powerful department tasked with forging a pro-Russian lobby abroad?

This is an idea expressed by Putin a while ago. Now it is being implemented in various public and cultural organizations under the label of the “Russian World.” The Orthodox Church, which has always been yoked together with security agencies, is a great help to the Russian government in this cause. In Soviet times, the government rested on the CPSU, security agencies and the military industrial complex, while now the Russian Federation relies on its security agencies, the Orthodox Church, which is a part of them, and Russian business, which is largely controlled by these agencies. Big businesses in Russia have learned the lesson well: if they don't have friendly relations with representatives of these agencies, their contracts may be frustrated and they themselves may be accused of bribery or even killed. Money supplied by businessman to the country leadership is an issue in its own right. This money permits the former to, mildly speaking, live in comfort, receive additional income and spend more than they are paid at work.

One of the main targets of the Russian intelligence is Russian emigration, because it has significantly grown, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Under Putin, Russians have greatly stepped up their work among the émigrés and have reached, I believe, Soviet-time levels. This is one of the most convenient ways to exploit patriotic feelings and utilize setbacks experienced by former Russian citizens in their new careers and lives.

I would like to add about the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), which has confidently occupied the niche which belonged to the Communist Party in Soviet times. We should not forget that the Russian Orthodox Church and the construction of the “Russian World” are one of the covers currently used by the Russian intelligence. Through its parishes around the world the ROC manipulates the consciousness of the faithful, pretending to be providing spiritual and moral support, while in fact instilling things inspired by Russian security agencies.

 U.W.: Does this apply to Ukraine, among other countries?

Certainly. The fact that the FSB is working throughout the former Soviet republics is beyond doubt. Sometimes it cooperates with local authorities, while at other times it acts on its own depending on circumstances. It finds it a lot easier to operate there than in any country like Canada, Australia or the USA. I believe that it has a network of agents all over the entire post-Soviet territory, for example, in the Baltic states – I have no doubt about this. And, of course, in Georgia. They will set up something in Belarus, too, because Lukashenko is drifting away from Russia. I'm sure they also have their people in Ukraine.

U.W.: Does this mean that the FSB is influencing top Ukrainian political circles, the central authorities and people close to them?

Yes, it can influence them through its protégés, either former or newly recruited. This shows up in concealed, behind-the-scenes action. Intelligence and counterintelligence bodies always operate in this way, all the more so in explosive regions. The Russian Federation has always had a complicated situation with Ukraine. Ukraine is the largest and most developed Soviet republic after Russia, but Ukrainian protests against the Soviet government continued for a long time after the war, which forever made an imprint on the relations between the two countries.


U.W.: What chances, do you think, Putin stands in the upcoming presidential election?

Now he has good chances, because Russia is in a pretty good economic condition. The world crisis has affected it but not enough to divert electoral preferences elsewhere. Moreover, Putin does not have a real alternative: Medvedev is not an independent figure despite his attempts to come across as one. The KGB rose to power together with Putin. As the current prime minister, he keeps in his hands the entire state apparatus which includes up to 70% of influential Kremlin officials who are either former security officers or informers linked to the security service.

To sum up, I would say that the history of mankind has not had a case when security agencies wielded power in a country. The military did –  it happens – but not security agents, with the reputation they had in Soviet times or later in Russia to boot. This is a fairly young Kremlin generation, but its mentality and the habit of viewing everything through the lens of suspicion and distrust for people have been carried over in its entirety from Soviet times. Therefore, what is taking place there is a very graphic example of how the KGB is tightening the screws in the country. The atmosphere of fear is again beginning to reign supreme in Russia. People have started to fear.

U.W.: In other words, security agencies can completely control presidential elections?

Of course, they have always controlled everything, both in the Soviet Union and in Russia. At one point I participated in elections – I was a people’s deputy and also served on election commissions, so I know all this technology, the way ballots are counted, etc. In this sense little has changed.

U.W.: In your opinion, what is the difference between Putin’s system and the Soviet system? Between Stalin’s and Putin's ways of running the country?

The Soviet system was heterogeneous. There was Stalin’s variety and then Khrushchev’s, Brezhnev’s, Andropov’s and Gorbachev’s. Each one had its own special traits. Putin has partly reverted to Stalinist methods. The difference is that under Stalin repressions were carried out on a mass scale. He imprisoned and killed hundreds of thousands and millions of people, while Putin is acting selectively. He has set up an authoritarian state in Russia again: his regime is not as bloody but no less criminal than Stalin’s.

U.W.: Several years ago in a public lecture in New Jersey you said that Putin had never worked in intelligence. But what about his post in the German Democratic Republic?

He has never been in any intelligence service. Incidentally, Vladimir Kriuchkov, the then chief of the Soviet intelligence service and one of the masterminds of the abortive putsch in 1991, says as much in his book. That Putin's work in Dresden has nothing to do with intelligence activity. Agents who were dispatched to the so-called countries with people's democracy – Poland, GDR, Bulgaria, etc. – worked in the internal apparatus and their task was to reinforce the local security forces rather than carry out intelligence activity.

I did not know Putin in person: his position was too insignificant for him to be my direct subordinate. He was a mere operative agent, one of the 3,000 who walked along our corridors.

U.W.: Why was Putin picked as Boris Yeltsin’s successor?

Let me begin the story from the end. Several months before his death Yeltsin said, in answering a question, that his worst mistakes were the war in Chechnya and the selection of Vladimir Putin as his successor. So why did he pick him? The thing is that his family was under an investigation for alleged economic crimes and the news was picked up by the media. Yeltsin was irate: let them investigate but why tip the media? Putin was the FSB chief at the time. When Yeltsin asked him how the slanderous campaign against his family could be stopped, he said it was no problem. After less than a month Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov, who was not without certain weaknesses, was invited to an apartment where two girls were waiting for him. The orgy was captured on video and immediately found its way to the Russian television in a documentary form. All of this was set up by the FSB. When the Duma saw what the prosecutor general was into, it immediately called for his resignation, and Yeltsin decided that Putin was the man that could be relied on in any situation.

U.W.: In 2000, Putin became the president of Russia and you were pronounced a traitor. Was this his personal revenge?

Until 1995, I lived in Moscow, often traveled abroad, spoke on television and at different gatherings where I talked about the evil perpetrated by the KGB. If I had behaved differently, I could have remained in the security agencies, but I retired. Then the private sector began to grow in Russia, and I set up a joint Russian-American telecommunications venture together with former colleagues. As a representative of this firm I legally traveled to the USA. But Putin soon came to power and in one of his public addresses he called me traitor. He is a representative of the old KGB school, and this system never forgives open denunciations. In response I publicly called him a war criminal for what he had done in Chechnya, adding that, just like former Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic, he would surely face an international tribunal some day and would be severely punished for his crimes against the people of the North Caucasus.

After that a case was opened against me and I was summoned to appear before an investigator. Aware of how the Soviet-Russian court system operates, I did not go to Russia and instead applied for a residence permit in the US. I later became a naturalized US citizen. They did not strip me of my Russian citizenship but took away all my titles, decorations and my pension and sentenced me to 15 years in prison. The American state now provides me with protection and the ability to travel around the world.

U.W.: Do you believe that a true democracy will be possible in Russia some day?

It depends on what you mean by democracy. The Russian democracy does not even come close to the Western variety, even though the latter is special in its own way. Russia only has the formal marks of democracy: a multiparty system, presidential elections, etc., but I believe that these are simply manipulations of public opinion. The Cheka is essentially holding the country in its grip again. This process seems irreversible, but I hope that there will be progress at some point, because a young generation is growing up which is not necessarily tied to the traditions of the Soviet Cheka past.

Today young people want to study in places of their choice. There are also financial opportunities: scholarships, grants, travel allowances, etc. Fairly objective information is shaping the minds of young people, and I think that they will change the face of Russia and will make it a member of the democratic community. Putin’s rise to power is a temporary twist in history.

U.W.: What national intelligence service is the best one in the world, in your opinion?

I cannot call any particular intelligence service the best, because in different periods in history British intelligence was of very high quality, to say nothing of Americans. The Soviet intelligence service was very serious and successful, while the current Russian one is, in fact, the broken pieces of the past. The story with illegals headed by Ms. Chapman who were arrested in New York is ridiculous. The press says that one of the main tasks of this group was to have their man get into the U.S. Department of State. I worked in intelligence for many decades, and sometimes we were lucky, particularly with a task like this one, but it does not require keeping a crowd of unemployed people in New York who wasted government money and posed a threat to people. There are simpler and less expensive ways of penetrating the U.S. Department of State and obtaining necessary information. What happened is, I believe, a sign that the Russian intelligence has lost its professionalism. They hugged and kissed Champan in the Kremlin, but this was putting a brave face on a sore business.

U.W.: Is it true that industrial and scientific espionage is coming to the fore now?

It's becoming one of the priority directions – let’s put it this way. As far as what conerns the Russian Federation, industrial and economic espionage will be the topmost task for foreign intelligence. In order to upgrade Russian industry, Skolkovo alone will not be enough. It will require researching information about competing technologies and computer innovations, because otherwise Russia will definitely fall behind the West and China. These secrets are best obtained using the potential of intelligence services. With such colossal finances in the country being concentrated in the hands of a fairly narrow circle of businessmen, it is much easier to buy new technology through front companies in Europe than investing in national science.


U.W.: After the murder of Aleksander Litvinenko you said that “the FSB is worse than the Gestapo.” What did you have in mind?

I may not know the history of the Gestapo that well, but I'm sure that it did not resort to such refined methods of destruction as radioactive polonium. The British investigators should be given credit for checking whether radioactive substances were employed. Litvinenko was killed because he had often been unrestrained in his evaluations of Putin. I never met him in person, but we often talked on the phone and discussed current affairs. He gave me links to his articles on the Internet, and one of them was so scathingly critical of Putin that, I believe, he refused to tolerate it any longer.

U.W.: Do you believe that, just like the Litvinenko murder, explosions of residential buildings in Moscow which were used as an excuse to invade Chechnya were planned and carried out by Russian special services?

It is hard to believe that the Chechens would have done something like that. I could understand it if they had blown up a government institution or something in the Red Square – it would have been some kind of symbolic gesture. But in this case, destroying buildings in a not-so-rich city district and killing people – it looked like a purposeful attempt to induce in society a negative attitude against the Chechens. It was done by those who were interested in having a war in the Caucasus.

U.W.: Do you mean the FSB?

Yes, of course. There were different people there. The State Duma selected Yuri Shchekochikhin, a prominent Russian public figure, to investigate the explosions. He was a good friend of mine and he also died under strange circumstances. It all looked very much like the Litvinenko murder. He even had similar symptoms: he lost all of his hair and was in a coma for 12 days. There are commonalities between these two cases, which I publicly emphasized. Sergei Yushenkov, member of the same investigation commission, was shot to death near his apartment. This series of murders clearly reveals the nature of the current regime. All those who tried to investigate the case are no longer among the living.

U.W.: Is there a real threat to your life?

I can quote from a recent book by Robert Eringer in which one of the former top KGB officers said about me: “If he lived in Europe, he would have been dead a long time ago. But it is difficult to do it in the USA.” Litvinenko died in Great Britain. In contrast, not one Soviet or Russian “non-returnee,” as they used to call them, was ever killed in the United States. The security services work at such a level here that this simply cannot happen. This is statistics and not a reproach against security services in European countries. The Litvinenko case is vivid proof of what may happen, but one of the forms of my defense is being a public figure: I often speak on the radio and television and in various government organizations and NGOs. An open way of life is part of my security.


Oleg Kalugin, ex-Major General of the KGB, former head of central KGB departments, former people’s deputy of the USSR.

1934– born in Leningrad into the family of a Cheka officer

1952-56– studies at the Foreign Languages Institute of the Soviet State Security Ministry

1956-58– attends the KGB Higher Intelligence School attached to the Soviet Council of Ministers

1958-59– undergoes training in Columbia University, New York (USA)

1960-71– intelligence activity in the USA under the cover of a journalist and diplomat

1971-79– deputy chief and later chief of the KGB Foreign Intelligence Directorate

1980-87– first deputy head of the KGB Directorate in Leningrad city and oblast

1987– submits a draft KGB reform proposal to Mikhail Gorbachev

1987-89– directs counterintelligence operations for the Academy of Sciences and the Soviet Ministry of the Electronic Industry

1989– forced resignation

1990– exposes the activities of the KGB; stripped of all of his 22 government decorations, the rank of major general, etc., as as well as his personal pension. The decorations and the pension were restored to him by Gorbachev after the attempted August 1991 coup.

1990– quits the CPSU and participates in the constitutional assembly of Democratic Russia; elected people’s deputy of the USSR

1995– goes on business to the USA

2002– tried in absentia, found guilty of “high treason” and sentenced to 15 years in prison; again stripped of his military rank, all Soviet decorations, etc.

2003– becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen; professor at the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies; engages in public, teaching and writing activity.

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