Remember the news stories and op-eds a month ago saying that Vladimir Putin was about to ‘recreate the KGB’ by merging Russia’s various intelligence and security agencies into one super-agency, to be called the Ministry of State Security, MGB? The story originally appeared in Kommersant, and then spread far and wide. ‘If true’, wrote Mark Galeotti, ‘it suggests Putin is seriously worried about his future. … Besides this fits a wider picture of a drift toward authoritarianism’. The creation of the new agency, added Galeotti, ‘would allow even more intensive and aggressive espionage overseas. … That should send alarm bells ringing across the West.’
RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore agreed: ‘I think the low turnout in the election, the supermajority that United Russia secured, and the specter of a revival of the KGB are related,’ he wrote, ‘Vladimir Putin appears to be moving away from electoral authoritarianism and toward plain old authoritarianism.’
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph sought to scare readers by noting that the title MGB was the same as that used by the Soviet security services under Stalin (at least part of the time). According to the Telegraph, ‘Kremlin critics were horrified by the possible rebirth of an organisation synonymous in Russia with political oppression. “It’s time to get out [of the country],” wrote Elshad Babaev, a Twitter user. “Anyone who can should take the opportunity”.’
Since then, the much touted new super-agency has mysteriously failed to materialize. On Monday, Komsomolskaia Pravda published an interview with Putin’s former chief of staff Sergey Ivanov, in which Ivanov was asked whether it was true that he was going to head this agency. Ivanov replied:
This is one hundred percent fake! No Ministry of State Security has been considered or will be considered. I can confidently say that. It’s a classic example of somebody thinking up a fake, throwing it out, and then people commenting on it for a long time. It’s the production of news in the absence of real news.
Where does that leave the ‘drift toward authoritarianism’, I wonder?