The history of Soviet and Russian state security agencies

The history of Soviet and Russian state security agencies

vchk gpu ogpu nkvd nkgb kgb for years the same organization has been hidden behind these abbreviations the soviet regime muscle which ensured state security your moms your dads your grandmothers your grandparents and maybe you were once terrified of the all-powerful kgb moscow on the hudson jumping jack munich firefox red heat james bond films during the cold war it felt like kgb agents were everywhere and impossible to counter the kgb no longer exists in russia but its successor the fsb or federal security service exercises methods not significantly different from those applied 50 years ago but more about that later let’s examine some history to understand how this organization has evolved and changed over the past hundred years [Music] the early years of what would become the kgb is perfectly encapsulated by the expression the road to hell is paved with good intentions in 1917 there was a revolution and the monarchy was replaced with socialism of course this political change had its opponents those seeking to dismantle the new system so the bolsheviks needed an organization that would protect the young state from enemies both internal and external the cheka or all russian extraordinary commission for combating counter-revolution and sabotage was formed in december 1917. the founder of the new organization felix starzinski became its head who were the external enemies the agents of capitalist countries that did not recognize soviet power and the internal enemies saboteurs speculators aristocrats who could not tolerate the power of workers and commoners and wealthy peasants who came to be called collax what according to the cheka were these people doing terrorism to be clear the all-russian extraordinary commission was initially established to fight terrorism however 15 years later it became that very thing a terrorist organization holding the country captive with fear throughout the 1920s joseph stalin then an ordinary government member began concentrating power he systematically eliminated other leaders and deployed supporters anywhere they could be of service the security body was called ogpu until 1934 when it was renamed the nkvd the people’s commissariat of internal affairs of the ussr the worst and darkest years of soviet history echo in this name [Music] as an illustration of just how frightening soviet 30s and 40s era dictatorship was any change in organizational leadership resulted in new bosses outing their predecessors as criminals and enemies of the people the second half of the 1930s in the ussr was the heyday of internal political terror and a brutal soviet regime campaign known as the great purge or great terror people were arrested based on denunciation wrongful accusation and sent to concentration camps they were shot over an anecdote a stolen spikelet from the fields during a famine or for simply being a relative of someone deemed an enemy of the people it was the agents of state security who performed these undertakings regardless of their terminology at the time during these years many prominent writers poets artists academics military and other figures were tortured and summarily executed without due court proceedings not to mention ordinary citizens according to historians during stalin’s reign from 1921 to 1953 roughly 12 million people suffered from systematic repressive terror half of them being victims of the holotamor a state-orchestrated starvation in the major grain-producing regions of the soviet union including ukraine and kazakhstan as a result of incessant party purges internal party member reviews and the prevailing atmosphere of paranoia and fear the ussr was not ready for world war ii the nkvd was not just an organization of executioners and sadists and kvd border guards were the first to bear the brunt of hitler’s aggression many died in the first weeks of the war during the great patriotic war 1941 to 1945 intelligence and counterintelligence were effective in preventing bombings and raids in 1943 somewhere in the bowels of the nkvd a unit called smearsh was created meaning death to spies yet searched for spies deserters and traitors during the war years smersh arrested around 700 000 people of which roughly 70 000 were shot so to say the nkvd contributed to the ussr’s victory over hitler and the third reich after the war things changed many of those who survived fighting through the entire war were arrested released prisoners of war were sent all mass to soviet camps instead of receiving support and medical treatment at home being captured was equated with treason then in the second half of the 1940s the soviet union embraced a stalin-inspired wave of anti-semitism a notorious case occurred in 1948 when jewish actor and director solomon mccoyles was arrested just after returning from an anti-fascist rally in the united states jewish repression was also implemented by the nkvd which was eventually renamed the mgb ministry of state security in 1943. it existed under this name until stalin’s death in 1953. stalin’s death and the subsequent execution of nkvd and mgb head lavrenti baraya should have stopped that bloody meat grinder nikita khrushchev came to power softer in his views and sought to befriend the united states many remember kennedy hosting khrushchev khrushchev also carried out a large-scale amnesty for prisoners some 1.5 million people were released many were pardoned some posthumously in the late 1950s and early 1960s many books were printed by previously banned authors but of course criminals and executioners still existed in the system nikita khrushchev was deposed in a coup d’etat in 1964. others came to power reactionaries and conservatives and in 1954 the state security committee became the foundation for the new reactionary government of the 1960s this is the kgb that many of us remember from movies and spy novels unsurprisingly then secretary general brezhnev had an excellent rapport with nixon unlike the 1930s they no longer put inconvenient guys up against a wall by printing lists of people’s enemies on front pages the kgb of the 1970s and 80s was a relatively quiet organization those considered criminals were either expelled from the country like nobel prize laureate joseph brodsky and alexander solzhenitsyn or as was the case with the inventor of the hydrogen bomb academic and nobel peace prize awarded human rights activist andre sakrov exiled to closed cities they choked them off and placed them under surveillance preventing them from working speaking or printing many were forced into psychiatric institutions including soviet human rights activists natalia garbanev constantine babitsky joris medvedev victor feinberg and valeria novo dvorskaia the kgb continued to lead the country in some sense but in the shadows giving the impression that the organization did not exist over time soviet citizens even stopped calling it by name simply referring to it as the committee and usually doing so in a whisper it was in this oppressive atmosphere of late 70s fear that russia’s current rulers came of age in 1991 along with the collapse of the soviet union the kgb was abolished and in 1995 the federal security service fsb a functionally synonymous organization was created and still exists and current fsb methods are no different than the kgb in the history of russia there have been three occasions when representatives of state security groups have found themselves at the very top of power the first beria held out for several months and was executed the second and dropov made it one and a half years and died under mysterious circumstances you know the third and he’s been in power for 22 years kgb lieutenant colonel and fsb colonel vladimir putin it’s safe to say that the state security bodies have taken power not as a shadow but quite transparently let’s see where this goes
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The history of Soviet and Russian state security agencies

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