Thursday, December 07, 2006

Spy Wars: The Federal Security Forces

The only way I made it through Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in school was to make my own list of all the characters. Without it I would get completely lost in all the Russian names. I was having the same feeling when I was trying to read articles on the poisoning of KGB defector Alexander "Sasha" Litvinenko (left). It sounded better than anything Le Carre has done recently, but I couldn't keep track of all the characters. I didn't find any easy reference chart online (where's the BBC when you need 'em?), and so I figured I'd spend a few minutes making a cast list of my own so that I could follow the story.

Well. I had no idea how insanely big this story actually was, nor how far back it went. I geeked out on this one, and ended up with a three page list of facts, dates, and players. I'm hooked on this. It's big, it's scary, and thanks to the internet we can follow it in real time.

Litvinenko fled into exile after going public with accusations of corruption within the Federal Security Forces, or FSB (Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoi Federatsii). He claimed to have evidence that the FSB was behind a series of apartment bombings in Russia in 1999 that the government used as a pretext to declare war on Chechnya. Furthermore, he claimed that the elevation of Vladimir Putin (left) to the presidency of Russia was, in effect, a coup d'état orchestrated by the FSB. He blamed Putin for his murder. Looking at the history of Litvinennko and the FSB seems like a good place to start, then.


Gorbachev disbands the KGB following an attempted coup.

The SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, or Foreign Intelligence Service) takes over intelligence gathering and analysis. The KGB’s military counterpart and rival, the GRU (Glavnoe Razvedyvatel'noe Upravlenie, or Main Intelligence Directorate), remains intact.

Boris Yeltsin becomes first President of Russia.


Yeltsin forms the FSB as the investigative & enforcement oriented successor to the KGB.


Putin becomes first civilian head of FSB.

18 Nov 1998

Five FSB officers organize a press conference accusing Major-General Eugeny Hoholkhov and Captain Alexander Kamishnikov of ordering them to assassinate oligarch Boris Berezovsky and FSB officer Mikhail Trepashkin (left) and to kidnap the brother of businessman Umar Dzhabrailov. The officers include Litvinenko, Lieutenant-Colonels Alexander Gusyk, Major Andrey Ponkin, and Colonel V. V. Shebalin

20 Nov 1998

Gunmen assassinate Galina Starovoitova, leader of the Democratic Russia party and opponent of FSB powers.


A series of apartment bombings in Russia kills 300 people. Prime Minister Putin blames Chechnya, and leads to the Second Chechen War. Litvinenko claims that the FSB planted the bombs to create a pretext for war. Litvinenko arrested and jailed.

31 Dec 1999

Yeltsin resigns while being investigated for money laundering. Putin becomes acting President of Russia. Putin later grants Yeltsin full pardon.

9 March 2000

Journalist Artyom Borovik, who is investigating FSB’s role in the bombings, is killed in a small plane crash.


Litvinenko flees Russia with his family.


Human Rights activist Sergei Kovalev (left) forms the Kovalev Commission to investigate the bombings. The commission collapses after Chair Sergei Yushenkov is assassinated [17 April 2003], Journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin poisoned with thallium [3 July 2003], and Legal Counsel Trepashkin jailed for “disclosing state secrets” [Oct 2003].

7 Oct 2006

Unknown gunmen assassinate journalist Anna Politkovskaya (left), who was investigating abuses in Chechnya. Litvinenko begins to investigate her murder.

1 Nov 2006

Litvinenko meets two business associates at the Millenium Mayfair Hotel, and Italian security consultant Mario Scaramella at the Itsu sushi bar in Piccadilly. Later that day Litvinenko falls sick and is admitted to Barnet General Hospital. Doctors originally believe that he has been poisoned by thallium.

23 Nov 2006

Litvinenko dies of poisoning from the nuclear isotope polonium-210. On his deathbed he accuses Putin of being behind his murder.


Putin's second term as President expires. Russian dissidents claim that he is planning a coup ahead of that time.

Media reports that there are currently more than 30 known Russian spies operating in Britain for both the SVR, and the GRU. They are believed to report directly to two controllers in London, known as rezidents.

No comments: