“We did not
reject our past. We said honestly: ‘The history of the Lubyanka in the
twentieth century is our history…’ - Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB,
Excerpt from an interview in Komsomolskaia
Pravda, December 20, 2000.
services of Russia have garnered an enduring reputation for ruthlessness.
with internal opponents (Think: Ivan The Terrible’s Oprichnina, the Tsarist Okhrana,
Felix Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka and the
NKVD terror orchestrated by the likes of Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov and
Lavrenti Beria) or the external apparatus (Think: Viktor Abakumov’s SMERSH, the
role of the KGB in smashing anti-Soviet movements in Hungary and
Czechoslovakia, as well as the exploits of the GRU, Soviet military
intelligence), the apparatus’ of espionage and counter-espionage have set
unenviable standards in uncompromising brutality.
extraordinarily repressive capacities of the gulag system was of course
immortalised by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The
Gulag Archipelago and the Lubyanka has become synonymous with Bolshevik
terror replete with a signature style of execution every bit as emblematic as
revolutionary France’s guillotine: a bullet to the back of the head.
provided the label for the most brutal part of Stalinist terror in the 1930s,
the Yezhovshchina. That term was the
invention of a scared, scarred and cowed populace. But the protagonists of
terror have not shirked from either publicly extolling the merits of the
wielding of terror or in revealing the ruthless objectives of particular
institutions created to promote the security of the state.
Thus it was
Dzerzhinsky who declared during the early Bolshevik era that “we stand for
organised terror”. And it was Stalin who coined the phrase Smert Shpionam, “Death to Spies”, from which the name SMERSH, a
conglomerate of counter-espionage organisations within the Red Army, was
And death has
often been the lot of Russian and Soviet traitors: Major Pyotr Popov in 1960,
Colonel Oleg Penkovsky in 1963 and Major-General Dmitri Polyakov in 1988 were
officers of the GRU who were executed as agents acting in the service of foreign
case, the legend persists that he was bound to a stretcher and incinerated
while alive in a crematorium as a warning to potential traitors. All the
evidence points to him having been shot, but the tale of his presumed fate is
indicative of the perception of many in the West of a Russian predisposition to
cruelty and even barbarity in dispensing ‘justice’ to those perceived as
enemies of the state.
“Fear has large
eyes” warns an old Russian proverb, and to many in the West, this is as true
today as it was in Joseph Stalin’s time. Apart from presiding over numerous
purges and the entrenchment of a repressive, totalitarian order, Stalin, who
was Georgian, is claimed to have been influenced by Caucasian notions of honour
and vengeance in the pursuit of his former rival Leon Trotsky. Not only was
Trotsky assassinated by an agent of the NKVD in 1940, his family was destroyed by
assassinations and persecutions inflicted by the Soviet state.
Some now seek
to paint contemporary Russia with a similar brush. Under Vladimir Putin, who is
often posited as a practitioner of the Russian brand of oriental despotism,
they point to the deaths of dissenting journalists, political opponents and
dissident former members of Russia’s security services. A case was made against
two former FSB officials, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun for responsibility
in the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former colleague of the FSB who died
from polonium poisoning in 2007.
Now, the same
allegation is being made in regard to the suspected poisoning of Sergei
Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence. Skripal had been
convicted of revealing the identities of Russia’s secret agents to MI6,
Britain’s foreign intelligence service. In 2010, he was released into British
hands as part of a ‘spy swap’ in Vienna.
At the time,
Putin was quoted as declaring that “traitors always end badly. Secret services
live by their own laws and these laws are very well known to anyone who works
for a secret service.”
But those who
consider this a self-incriminating statement need to bear the following in
mind. Skripal, who was officially pardoned by Russia’s then-President Dmitry
Medvedev, did not suffer the fate of those who committed similar acts during
the Soviet era. In fact, many would argue that he got off lightly with a
It begs the
question: why would Russia attempt to kill Skripal at this time?
Western observers will pooh-pooh Andrei Lugovoi’s assertion that Skripal’s
targeting is “another provocation by British intelligence agencies” aimed at
demonising Russia, others will be more circumspect and reserve judgement
because such a campaign of demonisation has been orchestrated in the West and
promoted by the mainstream media for over a decade.
notion that Britain’s intelligence services cannot themselves be involved in
the dark arts of murder and ‘black operations’ is simply not tenable. From the
so-called ‘Lockhart Plot’ against Vladimir Lenin engineered by M1-1C the
precursor to MI6 to complicity in the murder of Congolese leader Patrice
Lumumba and a plan to assassinate Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, Britain’s
intelligence services have been involved in homicidal conspiracies. Yet, the
official narrative continues to uphold the pretence of an almost benign
intelligence apparatus averse to plots involving assassinations.
aforementioned remarks of Nikolai Patrushev have been taken as evidence by
Western analysts that the Russian intelligence service continues to embrace a
draconian ethos, it is also worth recalling his comments about British
intelligence which he insisted in 2008 has since the times of Queen Elizabeth
I, “operated on the principle that the end justifies the means.”
There may be
more to this episode than meets the eye.
Makinde is a writer based in London, England.
Nice. I like the quote about fear. Haven't heard that one in a long time!ReplyDelete