KGB alive and well to bring us the G8 Peter Wilson 15jul06
VLADIMIR Putin would like it to be seen as the "energy security" summit, or the "Russia regains its pride" summit, or perhaps even the "Putin leads the world" summit.
But this weekend's gathering in StPetersburg of leaders of the Group of Eight nations would more accurately be called "the KGB summit". The streets are crawling with FSB officers, the modern incarnation of the KGB, trying to impose remarkably tight security for the first G8 summit in Russia.
The host himself is a former KGB agent. Dozens of his ministers, regional governors and top Kremlin aides are former KGB men, as are hundreds of their staffers. And even the companies whose success in oil, gas and other strategic industries have strengthened Putin's economic hand at the summit are in many cases run by Putin's former KGB colleagues.
The notorious security agency formed just six weeks after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution is now enjoying a broader role in Russian society than at any time since the darkest days of the Soviet Union, a role that would be unimaginable in any of the other G8 nations.
The KGB was supposedly dissolved in August 1991 after its leader Vladimir Kryuchko was involved in an abortive coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, but it carried on under a different name, with the Russian acronym FSB.
During his 6 1/2 years in power, Putin has poured enormous amounts of money into it so that it now has more agents in proportion to the general population than ever before. The collapse of totalitarian rule means the KGB no longer terrifies ordinary Russians, but its influence stretches from the TV screen to the church pulpit, from the boardroom to the long corridors of the Kremlin.
Russian TV channels, which are either state-owned or heavily influenced by the Kremlin, serve up a heavy diet of KGB action heroes, and the Government is investing in a film called Krasivaya (The Beautiful One), starring Anastasia Zavorotnyuk as a sexy and deadly agent.
The Orthodox Church is co-operating with the once-atheist FSB like never before to protect the nation's "spiritual security" by keeping a lid on foreign "cults" and Western cultural influences such as the Catholic Church.
And Putin, who began by monitoring students at Leningrad University and was an agent in East Germany before heading the FSB in 1998-99, has drafted dozens of his old colleagues into senior positions in the Kremlin and elsewhere.
They form the nucleus of the siloviki (men of power), hundreds of military, police and Interior Ministry officers who make up the Kremlin's strongest power bloc and whose centralising, authoritarian instincts generally have them urging Putin to try to stage-manage Russia's politics as well as its economy.
"You just have to look at the people around Putin to see the remarkable power those KGB people have in politics today," says Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University, the leading expert on the history of the KGB. Putin's closest KGB friend, Viktor Ivanov, who served in Afghanistan, is now the deputy head of the presidential administration - not to mention chairman of the airline Aeroflot.
Former agent Igor Sechin acts as the gatekeeper for people and documents reaching Putin's desk, and chairs Rosneft, the oil company floating on the London stock exchange next week with a valuation of about $US80 billion ($107billion). Sergei Chemezov, chair of the state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, served with Putin in East Germany.
One of the main contenders to replace Putin in 2008 is Sergei Ivanov, the Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. His intelligence career included stints as an agent in Europe and Africa and as Putin's deputy at the FSB.
Richard Sakwa, of the University of Kent, says the siloviki are one of five or six factions in the Kremlin and do not always get their way because "the only dominant faction is Putin himself".
"It is Putin alone who makes the big decisions, but the siloviki are always there as his wild boys," he says.