The notorious KGB chairman Yuri Andropov recruited Mikhail Gorbachev, cultivated him, and placed him in the Kremlin leadership to ultimately take power. Once he led the Soviet Communist Party, Andropov’s recruit protected and rewarded the Soviet secret police by making it off-limits to any truth-telling, accountability, or reform.
Gorbachev has died, but the KGB that he nurtured and protected lives on under an ungrateful Vladimir Putin.
Until the day he passed away at age 91, Gorbachev got an international pass for saving the core of Soviet power: the ever-watching secret police and its global spy and active measures networks.
Gorbachev didn’t stand up for the KGB’s victims. While he opened Soviet society, he protected the tormentors. He shielded the KGB from the “openness” of glasnost, keeping it unaccountable for decades of industrial-scale crimes. He insulated it from the reorganization of perestroika. Gorbachev even preserved the KGB’s cult-like devotion to the Bolshevik Cheka. To this day, Russian intelligence and security officers still call themselves chekisti or chekists.
He kept the KGB’s entire archives secret to save the chekists’ reputation and prestige.
The internal repression and informant files? Gorbachev kept them secret and the networks operational. The international subversion files? All secret. The Soviet terror network files? Secret. Indeed, as the USSR was collapsing, Gorbachev promoted one of the architects of the Soviet terror network, Yevgeny Primakov, to run KGB foreign intelligence.
He knew the big names in Western business, politics, journalism, and culture who worked for the KGB or the Soviet Communist Party. He could have known all the names had he chosen too. He could have exposed them all. But he protected them. And they heap praise on him today.
Gorbachev could have un-done the KGB’s ghoulish presence with the stroke of a pen. But he didn’t do it.
When, under perestroika, Gorbachev authorized the creation of joint ventures with foreign companies, he required a KGB officer to be assigned as a vice president of each enterprise. This undermined enduring economic reforms, subverted western companies, and built the foundation for the KGB gangster-state that would beget Putin.
Gorbachev made sure that glasnost and perestroika would keep the KGB on top. He never permitted lustration, the screening out of KGB assets from holding posts of public trust, the way the post-Communist Czechs and East Germans were doing. He did not permit the KGB’s victims to see their files. He protected every last KGB informant.
He never truly sought to become part of the civilized world by ripping out the KGB’s peerless global human intelligence networks, subversive political warfare penetrations and operations, and putting it all out on the table so such cancer could never spread again.
Indeed, Gorbachev gave the KGB so much power that the chekists, under KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, led the coup to overthrow him in August 1991.
And when Gorbachev returned to the Kremlin, in a meeting with the presidents of the union republics of the USSR, he did nothing to punish the secret police. Instead, it was Boris Yeltsin who gleefully forced a reluctant Gorbachev to sign a decree dividing the KGB into separate parts. Gorbachev’s handwriting on the decree, never meant for public view, is strained, as if under duress.
Even so, the splitting up of the Soviet KGB kept the hated old chekist apparatus in place. Nothing was torn out by the roots. No perpetrators were investigated, let alone put on trial. Gorbachev held nobody accountable – and his fans in the West didn’t hold him accountable, either.
The KGB’s First Chief Directorate that did the foreign spying was simply renamed Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). The chekisti Second Chief Directorate responsible for “internal security” changed its name to what is now called the Federal Security Service, the FSB.
The world today is confronting the results of Gorbachev’s strategy to preserve the chekist legacy and the KGB itself, to protect all perpetrators and deny justice to its victims, and to merge KGB officers into the rising gangster state. Gorbachev paved the way for the rise of Vladimir Putin. He had thirty years to reconsider. Thirty years to expose. He never did.
J. Michael Waller is senior analyst for strategy at the Center for Security Policy. His areas of concentration are propaganda, political warfare, psychological warfare, and subversion. He is a former professor at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school in Washington, DC. A former instructor with the Naval Postgraduate School, he is an instructor/lecturer at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg.