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The changes of the late 1980s and early 1990s in Russia caused great upheaval for the KGB, the USSR’s state security agency and one of the major bulwarks of the Soviet totalitarian regime. The agency quickly became discredited in the eyes of the public, as the glasnost process flooded Russia’s streets with information about the role it had played in repressing generations of people during the Soviet period. The rise to power of Boris Yeltsin, known to be very suspicious of the KGB, signified the start of a period of significant loss of influence for the security services. In 1991, the demise of the Soviet Union brought an end to the KGB. In the next four years, the agency’s name was changed six times,11 its was budget was significantly cut, and it lost several of its functions, including responsibility for foreign intelligence gathering, the border troops, government communications, and the federal guards service. The security services also gradually lost their aura of an omnipotent institution with an unquestioned right to decide people’s fates.

As Russia opted for a democratic transition in the early 1990’s, the security services were supposed to accept a fundamentally different role in society. They could no longer be a state within a state, free from real judicial oversight and accountable to no one. When it accepted Russia as a member in 1996, the Council of Europe set basic parameters for reform of the security services. It required that the FSB be stripped of its authority to conduct criminal investigations and run detention centers. These reforms never took place.12 The FSB continues to lack transparency and real accountability.

However, despite the lack of reform, by the mid-1990s the FSB ceased to be the object of public anathema at the same time as public disillusionment with democracy and its values grew, along with nostalgia for the Soviet era. The security services received a major boost in 1999 when Vladimir Putin, himself a former intelligence officer, was appointed prime minister and then elected president of Russia. Also, with Putin, numerous other security officers rose in the ranks of the government. In 2003, the FSB reacquired control over the border troops and government communications.

11 In the four years after the demise of the Soviet Union, the agency’s names included: Interrepublican Security Service (MSB), KGB of the Russian Soviet Republic, Agency of Federal Security (AFB), Ministry of Security (MB), Federal Intelligence Service (FSK). Finally, in 1995 the agency received the name by which it is still known: Federal Security Service or FSB. See: official site of the FSB: (retrieved on October 9, 2003).

12 See: Opinion No. 193(1996) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “On Russia’s request for membership of the Council of Europe,” paragraph 10(xvii), (retrieved on October 9, 2003). In periodic reports on Russia’s implementation of the accession conditions and general observance of Council of Europe principles, the Parliamentary Assembly has criticized Russia for its failure to reform the FSB. See for example the Parliamentary Assembly’s Resolution 1277(2002), (retrieved on October 9, 2003).

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October 2003