In April 1995, KGB-successor FSB was born under president Boris Yeltsin. In a presidential decree that Yeltsin issued that same year, 20 December aka Chekist Day was appointed as annual professional holiday for Russian state security officers.
The choice for that date can be traced back to 20 December 1917: the day Cheka agency was born, “the first of a succession of Soviet secret-police organizations”. The UK government has a short piece on it: What’s the Context? 20 December 1917: formation of the Cheka, the first Soviet security and intelligence agency. Also, on 20 December 1920, the Cheka’s Foreign Department was born — a predecessor of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate.
From a layman’s perspective I’m curious what meaning that day holds to present-day officers, considering that the date also bears an association with historical political persecutions by Cheka. I have no answer that question; but did find a relevant interview with FSB director Nikolai Patrushev that was published in daily tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda on 20 December 2000 (a few months after Vladimir Putin was elected).
The remainder of this post consists of an automated translation (using DeepL) of that interview; some 2800 words. The translation is legible, but beware non-obvious inaccuracies. That being said, I found it worth taking note of.
FEDERAL SECURITY SERVICE
IF WE “BREAK DOWN” AND LEAVE THE CAUCASUS, THE COUNTRY WILL COLLAPSE.
“Komsomolskaya Pravda”, December 20, 2000.
WHAT’S THE HOLIDAY IN THE LUBYANKA TODAY?
- Mykola Platonovych, you always emphasize that the FSB is a new domestic intelligence service. And at the same time, the Day of Chekist is celebrated on December 20 – on this day in 1917 the Chekist Committee was created. Is there no contradiction here, which gives the ill-wishers an excuse to claim that “the spirit of nostalgia for the former omnipotence of the Soviet intelligence services is hovering on Lubyanka”?
- We’re not sneaking around, calling the FSB a new security service. It was created in April 1995 on the basis of the Federal Counterintelligence Service. That year, laws were adopted that opened a new stage in the development of domestic security agencies – “On Bodies of the Federal Security Service” and “On the Operational and Search Activities”. For the first time in the history of the country, including the Tsarist period, the legislator regulated the activities (including tacit) of intelligence services, outlined the tasks and functions of the FSB, defined its rights and powers, prescribed mechanisms of state and public control over its activities. This is a qualitative difference from those times when the activities of state security agencies were dominated by the principle of partyhood, i.e. the supremacy of interests of the ruling party (or, more precisely, its top). Loyalty to the law, not to anybody, work only in the legal field – a guarantee of not repeating the tragic pages of the past. This is a sensible position of today’s generation of Lubyanka employees.
We have not given up our past, honestly said: “The history of Lubyanka of the passing century is our history, no matter how bitter and tragic it may be”. Everything in it that works for the benefit of Russian statehood, serves the interests of development and prosperity of Russia, its national security, should be preserved and multiplied.
It was December 20 that was unofficially celebrated for many decades as “the day of the Chekist” in the teams of state security officers. The decree on this, signed exactly five years ago, demonstrated demand for and social significance of the work of security service employees. And the departmental sign of the FSB combines the two-headed eagle of Tsarist Russia and “shield and sword” – a traditional symbol of the Soviet era security services.
- What toast, by tradition, will be the first in the circle of counterintelligence on the day of professional holiday?
- You must be impressed by movies like “National Security Agent” and think that the whole FSB will be “buzzing” in the morning. No, of course not. The units will hold personnel meetings, hand out certificates and departmental insignia, congratulate the veterans, visit the families of the victims. And when we gather at the festive tables in the evening, we will definitely wish good luck to our colleagues who are currently on a mission: in Chechnya, at checkpoints, in operations – to get out of the fight alive. And a third toast to those who haven’t returned – that stack will be very bitter… After all, the FSB is a fighting organization. We honor the memory of our fallen comrades, constantly taking care of their families, helping widows to solve domestic problems, raising children. This is one side of our corporate brotherhood, our best traditions.
WHAT DOES THE FSB DO IN CHECHNYA?
- What tasks were a priority for your department in the past year?
- First of all, it’s the fight against terrorism. We should not have allowed a repetition of the terrible tragedies of “black September” last year, when 305 people died. I would like to note at once that in 2000 law enforcement agencies prevented another 13 explosions of powerful explosive devices, including six in Moscow, five in Pyatigorsk, one each in Buynaksk and Vladikavkaz.
Investigations into the September bombings of residential buildings clearly showed that the traces of the crime were in Chechnya, which during the years of the Dudayev and Maskhadov regimes became a springboard for the forces of international terrorism. It would have been impossible to protect the population of Chechnya from terror without defeating the militant groups, depriving them of their training bases and resources, and freeing the republic from the criminal and terrorist clique that had seized it.
Modern terrorism is a complex social and political phenomenon, and Chechnya is only one of the nodal points on its map. The ability of our people to defend themselves is being tested there. If we break down, leave the Caucasus, the process of irreversible collapse of the country will begin. The state will expressed in 1999 – for the first time in recent years – is the guarantee that this will not happen.
- “Komsomolka” has repeatedly written about the threat of pseudo-Islamic Muslim extremism. Does the FSB share this concern?
- To the fullest extent, and you are right to raise this issue. The threat is really great, but you can only fight it in the legal field. For example, Wahhabism is prohibited by law in the Republic of Dagestan.
- According to your estimates, in what condition are the leaders of Chechen fighters currently in? Have the military, border guards, the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service managed to seriously impede the inflow of mercenaries into gangs, limit the flow of money and arms of the terrorist?
- One of the tasks is to uncover and cut off the channels of resource supply for the militants. But we are also responsible for investigation and prevention of terrorist attacks, search for the leaders of the separatists, participants in the attacks on Budennovsk, Kizlyar and Pervomaiskoye and armed invasion of the Republic of Dagestan. Recently our officers detained former chief of the so-called “special service of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” Atgeriev. Work on the leaders of the militants continues…
I will highlight the problem of mercenarism in particular. Recently FSB officers detained in Chechnya a native of Iraq, Abd al-Aziz Mohammed Abd al-Wahhab. This adherent of “Wahhabism ideas” not only took part in illegal armed formation, conducted ideological processing of its members, but also kidnapped, tortured and raped 4 women, turning them into slaves.
In the passing year illegal activities of foreign security services in the North Caucasus that were carried out under the cover of international organization Khalo-Trust were revealed. Its activists assisted Chechen militants in training local subversives.
The separatists continue their attempts to stir up tension in the neighbouring Russian regions of Chechnya – Ingushetia, Dagestan, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria. There is information about attempts by extremist leaders to establish militant bases here and to involve certain ethnic groups and supporters of various Islamic currents in armed conflict with federal forces. Therefore, there will be a long and difficult struggle to preserve the territorial integrity of the country, interfaith harmony and peace and tranquillity of our multi-ethnic people. I am talking about this directly, without hiding anything in front of the million audience of Komsomolka.
SHOULD ONE FEAR THE CHEKISTS IN POWER?
- Coming to the higher echelons of power of people who started their way in special services, generates different conversations – up to categorical statements about “threat to democracy”…
- This thesis, willingly picked up in some media, is, in my opinion, an attempt to “demonize” the former employees of SVR and FSB who came into power. The aim is understandable – to create an image of some “dark force” defending not the national, but its own narrowly corporate interests, and thus to weaken the resource of people’s trust in the new leadership of the country. The appearance of people in the Old Square, in the Kremlin and in the regions who have completed the school of leadership in the national security structures is a vital necessity to pour “fresh blood” into the Russian management corps, an aspiration to use the potential of responsible and organized people who have preserved, despite everything, the “spirit of public service. I know many of them well. They are modern thinkers, educated people. They are not unwilling idealists, but tough pragmatists who understand the logic of international and domestic political developments, emerging contradictions and threats. At the same time, they understand well the impossibility of returning to the old, the need to develop the country based on a reasonable combination of liberal and traditional values.
HOW DOES COUNTERINTELLIGENCE “CATCH MICE”?
- What other priority lines of work did the FSB have in the past year?
- These are the fight against the intelligence and subversive activities of foreign intelligence services, work to identify and prevent threats to economic security, fight corruption, illegal export of goods, smuggling of drugs and weapons, cultural values.
- Can we elaborate on the fight against espionage?
- Special services of foreign states have made significant efforts to expand operational positions in Russia. One of the main goals was to identify the true plans of the new government of Russia on both domestic and foreign policy issues. The activities of foreign intelligence services in the Russian direction are now more coordinated than ever. Intelligence of the leading NATO countries today is “welcome guests” in most European countries that were formerly part of the Warsaw Pact, as well as in the Baltic States. However, the main danger is that Western intelligence, through its residences, conducts its own intelligence from the territories of these states, including operations of communication with Russian citizens’ agents. Thus, this year counterintelligence arrested a British and Estonian intelligence agent. In the recent past, he was a senior officer of one of the Russian security services and used his connections among the security services, political and business circles to gather information.
The FSB bodies were aimed at protecting our scientific and technical potential, unique breakthrough technologies and developments, without which the country’s revival is impossible. Here too, the case of Edmond Pope, a former career U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer, is landmark. In the muddy waters, foreign intelligence businessmen were very comfortable. For a penny, it was possible to acquire know-how that had been created by thousands of people. In the Pope case, Russia showed that time was running out. The country’s leadership let the international community know that it was defending its national interests strictly and fundamentally. And the president’s decision to pardon Pope, the very time of its adoption, is a demonstration of good will.
In October 1999, Sutyagin, an employee of the US and Canadian Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was detained. The investigation revealed the facts of spying activities of his connection – an American citizen Joshua Handler, a specialist in nuclear safety, who is now in the United States. It has been preliminary established that Handler received from Sutyagin secret information about the Russian Armed Forces and passed it on to U.S. intelligence agencies. Unfortunately, some journalists, unaware of this, show Sutyagin in their publications as “an honest and courageous citizen who advocates democratic freedoms.
SO WHAT IS THE POWER, IF NOT MONEY?
- What does the FSB keep smart people who, as far as we know, work for a modest salary?
- I do not want to say high words, but our best employees, the honor and pride of the FSB, do not work for money. When I have to hand out government awards to our guys, I look at their faces. High intellectuals-analysts, broad-shouldered weathered Special Forces fighters, silent bomb technicians, strict investigators, discreet opera scouts… Outwardly, they are different, but there is one important quality that unites them – these are serving people, if you like, modern “neophytes”. On the obelisk to an FSB officer, Hero of Russia, who died in the Caucasus, there are lines, it seems to me, accurately conveying the moral “core” of our people: “Service to the Fatherland, friendship to comrades, heart to loved ones, honor to no one. Service gives a sense of involvement in a great state affair, the excitement of struggle, when you defeat an opponent better equipped and “paid”, an enemy brazen and confident, who thinks that there are no real professionals left on Lubyanka. This will not replace even the highest salary of a private guard. He works for his master, and we – for the state. Remember the words of the protagonist in the movie “Brother-2”: “Not in money strength, American, but in truth”? That’s the truth the FSB is fighting for…
Although I do not condemn those who have to leave the service due to the difficult financial situation of their families. It’s only bitter that I can’t do anything… People in epaulets hope that the state, the new leadership of the country, which knows their problems firsthand, will approach with attention the long overdue issue of improving the living standards of soldiers.
- Tell us about those of your subordinates who did heroic deeds in the passing year.
- This year six employees of the FSB were awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation. Captain Igor Yatskov was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation. As part of the advanced units of the 136th Motorized Rifle Brigade near the village of Kiri of the Cheberloyevsky district of the Chechen Republic on January 11, 2000, he took part in a battle with superior forces of the militants. Having received several serious wounds, the officer, bleeding out, remained in the ranks. Captain Alexei Gorbunov, Major Andrei Chirikhin, FSB special forces officers Valery Alexandrov, Mikhail Seregin, Nikolai Shchekochikhin, Major Alexander Alimov and others were awarded the Order of Courage (posthumously).
- You are a man, for obvious reasons, “closed”. And yet, how do you rest? What do you manage to read?
- I’m the one who really likes the phrase: “My hobby is work” (laughs). Our work needs to be given in its entirety, it requires you everything. How am I resting? I like to play volleyball. I was serious when I was a student. It’s a collective sport. And it’s like our job: defense and assault… It’s a good way to switch hunting. I’ve been into it for a long time, just like fishing.
I start my day by watching fresh newspapers, and of course, “Komsomolka” is one of the first…
- What would you like to wish your employees today through “Komsomolka”?
- I wish them and their families, our veterans, everyone who helps us in the difficult task of protecting the homeland, I wish them health and fortitude.
Patrushev Nikolay Platonovich was born in 1951 in Leningrad in the family of a sailor. After graduating from the Leningrad Shipbuilding Institute, he worked there for some time. After joining the state security bodies, he received professional training in Minsk KGB school. Then he worked for a long time on various positions in the KGB in Leningrad region. In 1992 he was appointed Minister of Security of Karelia. In 1994, he was transferred to Moscow. Since August 1999, he has been Director of the FSB of Russia. Colonel-General.
Patrushev’s wife – doctor, specialist in ultrasound. The family has two sons.
At leisure, Nikolai Platonovich manages to read books, but, as he himself admitted, prefers “short forms” – it’s painfully short time. For example, he reads Chekhov and Zoshchenko’s stories in the mood.
Experts have not yet “come to terms” with a specific date on which to count down the history of national security. But its milestones have been established precisely: the Order of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich’s Secret Affairs, the Preobrazhensky Order, the Secret Search Cases of Peter the Great’s Office, the Secret Expedition to the Senate, the Special Chancellery of the Ministry of Police of Alexander I, the III Division of Emperors Nicholas I and Alexander II’s own Office, the State Police Department, the Special Division of the Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and a number of other structures. As for counterintelligence itself, its “birthday” in the course of scientific discussions was determined on January 21 (old style) 1903. On this day, Nicholas II decided to create in the structure of the General Staff of the Russian Army, the first in the history of the country, a permanent special unit to fight against espionage – the “Exploration Department”. Its first chief was gendarmerie company minister Vladimir Nikolaevich Lavrov. The Day of the Security Bodies Employee is also a professional holiday of the employees of SVR, FAPSI, FSO, GUSP, FPS – structures that were born in the early 90s on the basis of a number of departments of the USSR KGB. It is a holiday of all those who protect the interests of the Fatherland.