Russia: Federal Security Service (FSB)

Europe’s Largest

The FSB, the largest security service in Europe, reportedly employs 66,000 uniformed personnel.  Established  in 1994, the FSB evolved out of the communist-era KGB. It  is the Russian equivalent of the American FBI and Border Patrol combined. The FSB’s chief responsibilities are controlling borders, combatting organized crime, counterterrorism, and counterintelligence, where it is considered extremely effective. The FSB also play a leading role in the policing the media and the internet to marginalize opponents of the government.


Russia's FSB
Россия: Федеральная Служба Безопасности (ФСБ)

The roots of the FSB (and the military intelligence service, the GRU) go back a century. When the communists took power in December 1917 and established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), they immediately set up an “Extraordinary Committee,” known by the Russian term “Cheka,” to root out counterrevolution and sabotage.


The Cheka,  a division of the national police force known as the NKVD, became the secret police of the new regime. Domestically, the Cheka focused on anti-communist elements in the peasant and merchant classes, particularly their connection with British intelligence agent seeks to overthrow the communist government. From the start, Russian intelligence combined domestic and foreign operations.


With the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, the Soviet leadership reckoned with the Stalin’s massive repression by reorganizing the NKVD out of existence. The new KGB (Committee of State Security) took over responsibilities for both domestic and foreign intelligence. Repressive measures were eased while the KGB retained tight control on Russian society.


Yet for all of its repressive power, the KGB was built on a faulty foundation, a dysfunctional society stifled by decades of repression. When Mikhail Gorbachev sought to renovate the Soviet system with economic restructuring (perestroika) and political freedoms (glasnost) in the 1980s, the authority of the state withered. The KGB was helpless as the people abandoned even the pretense of loyalty to communism. When old-guard communists sought to overthrow Gorbachev in 1991, Russian nationalists took led by Boris Yeltsin took power in Moscow and the Soviet republics declared their independence. The KGB was disbanded.


In the 21st century

Alexander Bortnikov
Alexander Bortnikov

Vladimir Putin, a KGB officer stationed in Germany, during the collapse of the Soviet regime, succeeded Yeltsin in 2000. With the dream of reestablishing Russian power and prestige with the techniques he had learned in the KGB, Putin revived Russian intelligence with the creation of FSB, Federal Security Service. The growth of the FSB in the 21st century embodied the phenomenon of the siloviki, the network of military and intelligence officers who rose to power with Putin.


The FSB enforces Putin’s policies of harassing and controlling non-governmental organizations, human rights groups, and independent think tanks and publications. According to the U.S. State Department, Russian law requires internet service providers to give the FSB has access to user accounts, including email, text messages, contacts, user information, and audio and video files.


In theory, the FSB does not operate outside of Russian borders but its agents were allegedly involved in the 2006 fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, an FSB defector living in London.