“After a merger with the criminal underworld, siloviki faced two problems. The old problem was that their Communist Empire couldn’t match the power of the capitalist NATO. The new problem was that they couldn’t own property. But now they saw a way to kill two birds with one stone. The solution was to conduct such a transition of the USSR to market capitalism in which the KGB men would simultaneously preserve power to take on the West and make lots of money for themselves. ‘Unlike the Communists, the new generation of siloviki… declared themselves in favour of the market. But they aimed to use and distort the market as a weapon. They wanted to establish a form of quasi-state capitalism that would further their own—and as they saw it, Russia’s—power’.
Already before the collapse, secret servicemen had established themselves as the exclusive economic mediators between the West and Russia because, before in the Soviet times any joint venture in the foreign country could be established only with the KGB approval. Also before the collapse there was a big wave of immigration which was fully under their control. The secret policemen were steeped in using diaspora for their own confluence of lucrative and imperial purposes. But the KGB ‘also needed more subtle ways to launder cash through business, not directly through US banks’. And with the help of the joint ventures and curated immigrants, they were able to make connections with the local Western businessmen. ‘There was’, for example, ‘Trump and his financial problems – it was a solution that was very much on time’.
When the USSR started to collapse, the siloviki were able to quickly syphon Russia’s wealth to their secret offshores. The international spy network of the KGB succeeded in functioning as the key conduit of the ‘party wealth’ to the slush funds in the West. This solved both of the siloviki’s problems: they secured the ‘gold of the communist party’ for themselves and infiltrated the West with a system of black cash laundromats.
Thus at the early dawn of Russian capitalism, KGB were already many steps ahead with their off-shores, slush funds, laundromats, friendships and resident agents. When the privatisations began in the 1990s, the secret police with its access to mountains of ‘hard currency’ had a head-start. It was in fact the KGB people who selected and fostered a first generation of the richest Russian entrepreneurs among the young apparatchiks of the Communist Party. For example, they funded the early privatisations by the muscovite Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a leader of the local Komsomol chapter, who would become the richest man of Russia’s early 2000s.
Yet soon the KGB faced a serious problem. Under the advent of capitalism, siloviki were gradually losing control over Russia to the nouveau-riche capitalists whose iconoclasm and inventiveness were better adapted to the wilderness of the nascent free market. Siloviki understood that they can stay in power and subsume these pesky billionaires only if they take Russian business in the pincers of the power structures of the fatherland (and, one may argue, the criminal structures of gangland). They could outcompete the oligarchs only if they’d built a regime based on the kleptocratic interdependence of corruption and coercion, kleptes and kratos. Thus, even though Russian liberalism was just being born, the coalition of law-enforcement and organised crime had laid the foundation for a different kind of order, the regime of ‘crime-enforcement’. All of this made the FSB (the freshly renamed domestic branch of the KGB) desperate and ready to go to great lengths to ensure the election of one of their colleagues as the president of Russia.
After the fall of the USSR the liaison between the siloviki and blatari was most pronounced in the newly renamed St. Petersburg. The alliance was overviewed by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer posted in East Germany and by then an aide to the local mayor. He was among those younger siloviki who realised early on that Russia can overpower the West only if it adopts market capitalism. He was able to infiltrate the ascendant liberal circles and win the trust of the members of Yeltsin’s family whose corruption made them desperate to seek reliable protection from the secret services. This despair of the liberals together with the despair of the FSB found resonance in the plights of the majority of Russians. Like stars, three despairs of siloviki, liberaly and rossiyane aligned to cause the unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin.”
Denys Bakirov, 27, is a lecturer at the University of Kharkiv, Ukraine who currently works as a researcher at Metamoderna in Sweden. When war broke out on February 24th, his village north of Kharkiv right on the border with Russia was occupied by the Russian Army. Denys was forcefully deported from….
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