Putin’s Russia. Roots of today’s regime date back to KGB under Andropov

But it’s worth getting back to Primakov’s personality one more time. Especially knowing the fact that Primakov has left the deepest footprint in Lithuania. Moreover, these footprints are related to very interesting stages of Lithuanian history. But I will focus on them in another essay. In the meantime, let’s take a glimpse at Primakov’s biography.

Shaking off the KGB traces. Why?

In Russia itself Primakov is usually called the patriarch of its politics. But it would be more accurate to call him the founder and godfather of the current political system and Putin’s regime that is based on KGB clans. It is the basis of Primakov’s clan and its power, although the politician himself has just turned 85, and is no longer occupying any powerful positions. In the West, as well as in Lithuania, he has apparently been almost forgotten.

After the putsch in August 1991 Primakov officially became the deputy chairman of USSR KGB first chief directorate (foreign intelligence). After Belozheva Forest agreement that declared the Soviet Union effectively dissolved, he started to manage Russian foreign intelligence services.

However, this journalist and academic, who was always considered a close comrade of USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev, has always claimed that he got into security and intelligence services from the outside though he hesitates to completely deny his liaison with KGB.

‘I sometimes receive questions whether I have worked at the KGB. No, I haven’t. At the time, workers who were involved in party’s central committee, were not allowed to become agents, and ‘Pravda’ newspaper was operating under the central committee. But we were performing certain missions. For instance, I have been visiting Kurds in northern Iraq several times during the war. We were trying to help restore peace,’ Primakov explained in his interview for DELFI on October 15 this year.

In other public addresses Primakov has also denied his ties with KGB but revealed that he had ‘lots of friends’ in the first chief directorate which he ‘coincidentally’ started to manage after the putsch in 1991.

The testimony of Stanislav Levchenka (who was working in KGB under journalist’s smokescreen, and escaped to the US in 1979) raises doubts about Primakov’s earnestness. The testimony was brought out back in Autumn 1993 in a special international conference ‘KGB: yesterday, today, tomorrow’. Conference’s material was released as a special collection called ‘KGB: yesterday, today, tomorrow’ in 1994.

‘The position as a correspondent at any soviet newspaper was a convenient smokescreen for KGB officers working abroad. In 1970s and 1980s half of all the correspondents abroad were actually working for the intelligence, and I’m not exaggerating. For example, in 1970s ten out of twelve ‘Novoye Vremya’ correspondents were KGB officers, and one of the remaining two was a well-known Iona Andronov who was sent to the US under the personal order from Yury Andropov. A big part of ‘Komsomolskaya Pravda’, ‘Izvestiya’, ‘Pravda’ correspondents abroad were working for KGB or military intelligence – GRU – at some point’ – Levchenka recounted the contemporaneous realities, at the same time indirectly denying Primakov’s statements.

An academic and an officer

In Russia, rumour has it that Primakov collaborated with KGB from his first year at the Arabistics faculty at Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies. According to other sources, the collaboration started from his fourth year of studies in this institute.

There is no possibility to verify such rumours. But there are at least two important witnesses who, independently of one another, claim to personally know the secret side of Primakov’s career. The first of them is a former KGB general Oleg Kalugin who had escaped to the West.

Recalling a certain episode from Primakov’s career in 1972 (he was then the deputy director of Moscow Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO)), Kalugin was unequivocal. He called Primakov the ‘rising star of Soviet science and a famous KGB agent who went by a nickname of Maksim’ (the name of Primakov’s father – aut. note).

Moreover, Kalugin reveals that Primakov was no ordinary KGB associate – he ‘performed some most subtle KGB missions, was meeting with representatives from Palestine liberation organization and Kurdish rebels. He reached a mutual understanding with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani. He predicted the battle for power in Iraq and the victory of Saddam Hussein over the general Abd al-Karim Qasim. The close personal acquaintance with Qasim became very valuable to Primakov. Later on he became friends with Hussein himself, his close comrade Tariq Aziz, fostered friendly relations with Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, Syria’s president Hafez al-Assad and dozens other politicians of various calibers’.

This very outspoken Kalugin’s testimony, which already rather openly reveals not only Primakov’s ties with KGB but also the particularly important role that he played in Soviet intelligence structures, involves yet another famous turncoat to the West – the former head of Romanian foreign intelligence – Ion Mihai Pacepa.

In his book ‘Disinformation’, released in 2013, Pacepa, who became the highest-ranking security service officer of the Soviet block to ever escape to the West, writes: ‘Not many are aware of the fact that Palestine Liberation Organization was established and funded by the KGB, and not many are aware that the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, where Mahmoud Abbas (the current Palestinian leader studied in this Institute as well as Primakov – aut. note) developed politically, was actually under the authority of the KGB, and only the KGB-recommended foreigners could enroll in study programs there. And if it wasn’t enough, not many are aware that the supervisor of Abbas’s doctoral dissertation was a KGB officer Yevgeny Primakov, who went on to become the head of intelligence in the ‘democratic’ Russia. Back then Primakov also worked as Hussein’s advisor’.

It should be noted that Pacepa, who talked business with Andropov (head of USSR KGB) various times and was aware of many KGB secrets, calls ‘academic’ Primakov (the title he’s often referred to Russia) not the KGB associate or a super valuable agent, but simply the KGB officer.

A person from Andropov’s environment

The exceptional Primakov’s role in Russian intelligence is described in the book ‘The Russia Hand – A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy’ written by the American Strobe Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State, former journalist in Moscow, currently the head of US research centre ‘Brookings Institution’.

Talbott claims to have personally known Primakov and another academic, a friend of Primakov – Georgy Arbatov. Claiming that Primakov was closely liaised to KGB, Talbott goes on to call him and Arbatov neither more nor less than Andropov’s ‘protege’ (who was the KGB chairman at the time).

In Russia itself the information about Andropov’s personal relations to Primakov is rather controversial. But another fact is undoubted – Primakov can deservedly be called a personal trustee of Vladimir Kryuchkov, who was the chairman of KGB’s first chief directorate from 1974 to 1988. Back in 1967 it was none other than Andropov who brought Kryuchkov to the KGB. From then on Kryuchkov has been considered one of the closest Andropov’s comrade.

Vladimir Kirpichenko, who was Kryuckov’s deputy at KGB and the chairman of the board at ‘S’, was a close friend of Primakov’s from their study years at Oriental Institute.

Another friend of Primakov’s was the economist dr. Igor Belyaev. His son was married to Viktor Cherbikov’s daughter. Chebrikov, in turn, was a member of Andropov’s team. He joined the KGB from party structures in 1967 when Andropov became the chief, and was appointed a very important position of human resources manager.

In 1992, when Andropov became a factual leader of USSR – the General Secretary of the Communist Party – Chebrikov was first appointed the first deputy chairman of KGB, and after a couple of months – the head of KGB. It is stated that by climbing up the corporate ladder of USSR Andropov was actually seeking to retain personal control of the KGB.

Another close friend and a long-time clan member of Primakov – Arkady Volsky – was Andropov’s economic advisor when he was already leading the whole USSR.

The role of Kosygin’s son-in-law

Such Primakov’s relations in the closest Andropov’s environment are eloquent in themselves. But there is another key part.

The researchers of the Soviet Union and its KGB almost unanimously agree that the initiator of the so-called ‘perestroika’ and the attempt to reform the Soviet Union was not the famous Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but namely Andropov.

The aforementioned Volsky (economic advisor for Andropov) in his interview for ‘Moskovsky komsomolec’ in 2002 claimed that the Soviet Union would have stayed intact if Andropov, not Gorbachev, had been able to implement the reform.

Truth is, some experts, including Oleg Grechenevsky, the famous researcher of KGB clans and protector of human rights, claims that the necessity of economic reform in Soviet Union was perfectly understood by Alexei Kosygin who became a chairman of the Council of Ministers back in 1964.

‘Vague allegations that something wrong was going on with Soviet economy hit the government elite in the middle of 1960s. Thus, the very idea of economic reforms arose independently of ‘Czechists’ – a few years before Andropov took command of the KGB. The first to try to tackle some of the state economy reforms in 1965-1970 was Kosygin, the chairman of the Council of Ministers. However, the party machine saw these reforms as a threat to his powerful post – as a result, this first timid attempt to switch to market relations was suppressed’ – Grechenevski writes in his essay collection ‘Istok nashiego demokratichieskogo rezhyma’ (‘The origins of our democratic regime’).

However, it can be doubted whether KGB was not related to Kosygin’s attempted reforms. Because many agree that Kosygin’s son-in-law Djerman Gvishiani can be considered one of the architects of Kosygin’s and Andropov’s reforms.

The origins of Gvishiani are really eloquent. He is the son of Mikhail Gvishiani, the head of personal security of NKVD general Lavrentiy Beria. Gvishiani became famous as the executor of Chechen and Ingush nations. He not only personally managed the mass deportation of these nations, but also gave the order to burn alive the 700 inhabitants of one village.

But Djerman allegedly took other direction than his father, and became an academic. Similar to Primakov. Truth is, Grechenevsky claims that Gvishiani ‘clearly was either a general of foreign intelligence or a freelance associate who had a possibility to personally contact Andropov’.

Coincidence or not – Gvishiani’s stepsister was Laura Charadze, Primakov’s first wife. Although Primakov himself has never hidden these links, in public he usually claims the same thing that he stated in his interview for DELFI.

Ostensibly Kosygin’s son-in-law had no influence on his career, and neither himself nor his wife Charadze had any career ambitions, so it was all determined by destiny.

Mysterious reform institute

But it is worth to take a closer look at Gvishiani’s role in implementing or preparing to implement the KGB plans on reforming Soviet Union, as well as Primakov’s role in these plans.

Shortly after Kosygin became the chairman of USSR council of ministers in 1964, Gvishiani was appointed the deputy director of the State Committee of Science and Technology (GKNT) in 1965. Many researchers draw a direct link between the USSR scientific-technical intelligence, and state that many KGB and GRU officers were working for it, therefore it is sometimes referred to as ‘KGB scientific-technical branch’. In various reform plans it has always been granted a key role.

However, Gvishiani’s role was not limited to merely GKNT. He was behind the first cold war attempts to build a stable relationship or at least a connection between USSR and the West. In 1968 Gvishiani together with a famous Italian industrialist and activist of anti-fascist movement – Aurelio Peccei – were at the roots of the so-called Rome club.

In 1972 Kosygin’s son-in-law and the aforementioned Peccei founded the International institute for applied systems analysis (IIASA). This institute was a realization of the idea (formulated back in 1966 by the then-president of the US – Lyndon Johnson) of the necessity for Western and Eastern scientists to collaborate on the non-military areas. From the US side, the responsible person for implementing the idea was McGeorge Bundy. But from USSR side he was assigned the tasks of intelligence and preparing USSR reforms.

In 1976 Gvishiani established an IIASA branch – the All-union institute of systemic and scientific research (VNIISI). The role of this institute in preparing various reform plans is unequivocally described by the quote of Stanistav Shatalin, the author of a famous ‘500-day program’ which was based on a mutual agreement between Gorbachev and Yeltsin to switch from the planned economy to market relations.

Shatalin, who has worked at the VNIISI himself, told after the collapse of USSR: ‘fate determined that VNIISI was increasingly becoming the ideological centre of transplanting ‘alien’ methods into Soviet economy. Moreover – USSR government has purposefully turned a blind eye.’

Who appointed Gorbachev?

The name VNIISI is worth keeping in mind. I will return to it when I examine other clans – mostly the so-called ‘liberals’. But this time, while trying to find out the real story behind Primakov’ clan, several aspects will be discussed: Gvishiani’s personality, his relations with Primakov and ties with the West that have been built back in 1960s.

They can be great addition to the information about the old connections of Primakov’s clan and even the structures in the West that I have already addressed when researching clan’s ‘peace efforts’ after Russia’ aggression in Ukraine.

But let’s go back to Primakov. His influence in USSR government elite and a role in implementing Andropov’s plans is best described by the fact that Primakov has personally participated in political intrigues regarding Gorbachev’s election as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and contributed a lot to win this fight.

Famous Russian historian Alexander Ostrowsky in his book ‘Who appointed Gorbachev?’ describes this role in detail. But it is probably best described by the quote form this book: ‘It (Gorbachev’s appointment – aut. note) was all staged behind the scenes by Anatolij Gromyko, Yevgeny Primakov, Alexander Yakovlev and Vladimir Kryuchkov.

Though there are a lot of witnesses of the events related to Primakov’s role in electing Gorbachev, I will quote one more sentence from the same book by Ostrowsky: ‘the same institution was standing behind Primakov and Yakovlev. It was USSR KGB and, most importantly, the first chief directorate, headed by Kryuchkov’.

From KGB to mafia

All those facts need to be born in mind when speaking about Primakov’s clan. In this light, his rise to the elite of USSR and, later, Russian government (head of foreign intelligence, minister of foreign affairs, prime minister) does not seem like a big coincidence.

It is important to understand that the clan KGB ties, that formed back in USSR days, remained stronger than any ideological or party attitudes. The best example is a destiny of Kryuchkov.

Though Kryuchkov (who became the last leader of USSR) supported the putsch against Gorbachev in August 1991, and became the member of the State Committee on the State of Emergency while Primakov remained loyal first to Gorbachev, and then to Yeltsin, that didn’t mean the cut off of the clan ties.

Kryuchkov, right after his release from prison, became a very important figure of Primakov’s clan – he started to work in the security and analytics services at Yevtushenkov’s business empire.

Chebrikov, who also did not get along well with Gorbachev, later became another member of Primakov’s clan, the head of personal security of a singer Iosif Kobzon who was publicly called the godfather of Russian mafia.

The publicly announced memories by Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana Yumasheva (Diyachenko) can help understand the seemingly strange roles of Kobzon and some other individuals in Primakov’s clan system.

‘The first political conflict (between Yeltsin and Luzhkov, the then-mayor of Moscow and member of Primakov’s clan – aut. note) occurred in autumn 1994. Korzhakov (Head of Yeltsin’s security service, KGB general, member of competing group – aut. note) started convincing the president that Luzhkov was preparing a conspiracy against the head of state. He allegedly reported about the connections between mayor’s office (and Luzhkov personally) and Moscow’s criminal groups. Kobzon fell prey to this attack involuntarily. It was enough that he was once named the godfather of mafia in certain files (not without Korzhakov’s ‘help’), and, as a result, he was banned from ever crossing the US border by American immigration offices. And despite multiple attempts by Russia’s official authorities to convince US immigration office and special services that the information about Kobzon is false, he is denied the right to enter the US to this day.

Conflict with Luzhkov was becoming tense. It reached its peak when shots were fired in front of Moscow’s Mayor office. President’s security service officers and agents from federal counterintelligence (FSK) service were shooting at each other. It was a miracle that saved the city from bloody clash of two special services. After this incident, the head of FSK – Yevgeny Savostyanov – was fired’, wrote Yumasheva in 2010. She was so indignant about Gaidar’s slandering after his death that she decided to shed light on the battles that were going on in Russian government elite

Savostyanov’s eloquent career

In Yumasheva’s story Savostyanov’s role is important as well because it can reveal another aspect about Primakov’s and his clan’s strengthening power in Russian government during the period of URRS’s collapse.

There is this eloquent quotation in the book ‘FST blowing up Russia’, written in 1978 by a former FST agent Alexander Litvinenko (who was poisoned in London) and historian Yury Felshtinsky.

‘The aim of the series of various transformations and name changing, that was initiated by the secret service itself, was to divert the impact to state’s security service as a structure, save not only the organisation itself, albeit decentralised, but its human resources and archives as well. A tremendously important role in saving KGB from collapsing was played by Yevgeny Savostyanov (the same person mentioned by Yumasheva – aut. note) in Moscow, and Sergey Stepashin (former Russian prime minister, leader of one of the KGB clans – aut. note) in Leningrad. Both had democratic reputation and were appointed to reform and control KGB. But, as a matter of fact, both of them were at first infiltrated into democratic movements by state’s security, and later promoted to managing posts in the new special service in order to stop democrats from attacking KGB. And though many official and freelance agents of KGB-MB (Ministry of Security) and FSK-FSB (Federal security service) turned to business or politics over the years, the structure was saved thanks to Savostyanov and Stepashin. Moreover, KGB used to be politically controlled by a party (which was a kind of an obstacle because no serious operation could be executed without Politburo’s approval), and after 1991 MB-FSK-FSB started to act on their own and without control’, – stated Litvinenko and Felshtinsky in their book.

The shooting incident between Korzhakov’s and Savostyanov’s services in 1994 (that Yumasheva already wrote about) is more openly described by Savostyanov himself in his biography posted on his personal website. It turns out that, even without the permission from FST authorities, he sent his subordinates to allegedly prevent the ‘illegal operational actions against Most-Bank president Vladimir Gusinsky’.

So the clan interest was more important to Savostyanov (who was infiltrated into democrats by KGB) than his official instructions, subordinate relations and other similar things. According to Felshtinsky, in Soviet days Gusinsky himself was the agent of Philipp Bobkov who was a member of Andropov’s team and former director of KGB’s Fifth Directorate.

By the way, Vladimir Popov, the officer of KGB first directorate who emigrated to Canada in 1996 and wrote a book ‘KGB Plays Chess’ together with Felshtinsky and chess masters Viktor Korchnoi and Boris Gulko, claims that Kobzon was also an agent of the very same Bobkov.

Gusinsky can be that link which forever connected this clan with Luzhkov. Because, according to Paul Khlebnikov, the famous journalist of Russian ‘Forbes’ who was killed in 2004 and who wrote a book called ‘Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the looting of Russia’, Gusinsky got acquainted to Luzhkov during the period of cooperative creation. Later on, Luzhkov’s position as a mayor became a foundation of Gusinsky’s business empire.The more interesting is the fact that after such ‘outburst’ Savostyanov’s career was nowhere near buried. The turn of this career should also be noted. In 1995-1996 Savostyanov was a chairman of social democratic party’s Moscow department that was established by Yakovlev, Primakov’s close friend and comrade and a famous activist of Gorbachev’s ‘perestroika’. Savostyanov was also the advisor of Mikhail Shmakov (the leader of Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia) and one of the leaders of the election project of these trade unions. By the way, Shmakov is still considered an influential member of Primakov’s clan.

Even more interesting fact is that Savostyanov, who was fired by Yeltsin in 1994, was significantly promoted in 1996 by the very same Yeltsin. He was appointed a deputy head of presidential administration, and was responsible for the policy of human resources. It happened after the infamous scandal when two members of Yeltsin’s election headquarters – Sergey Lisovsky and Arkady Yevstafyev – were arrested in summer 1996 under the order of Korzhakov, the head of Russian president’s security.

The arrested men had computer box with half a million US dollars. It turned out that this money was from the ‘black cashier’ of Yeltsin’s election headquarters. The fact that the head of Yeltsin’s security suddenly started to unmask the dirty tricks of his boss’s election campaign looks very clear looking through the KGB prism – this was a way clans were fighting against each other. Just like in1994 when the shooting incident happened.

When Yeltsin fired Korzhakov and his comrades Mikhail Barsukov (head of FST) and Oleg Soskovets (deputy prime minister) after the ‘money box scandal’, Savostyanov was promoted to a high position in Yelstin’s administration, but lost this post in 1998. When examining the clan system in Russian government, it is important to know the reason why Savostyanov was fired by Yeltsin twice. It turns out he wanted Primakov to become a prime minister too eagerly. Thus, Savostyanov’s biography reveals both the clan nature of modern Russian system and the roots of Primakov’s clan that date back to Andropov’s KGB plans.

To conclude these facts about Savostyanov it could be mentioned that he was always related to political or business structures of Primakov’s clan even after 1998. Until July this year he was the chairman of the board of directors at ‘Sistem Mass-Media’ (a branch of Yevtushenkov’s empire). He still is a member of various other structures of Primakov’s clan, including international ones.

It could be Primakov instead of Putin

Knowing all these historical facts, a whole new level of credibility is sensed in Felshtinsky’s statements that Yeltsin’s selection operation actually was a battle between two main clans that formed on KGB basis.

‘Read my ‘Corporation’ (Felshtinsky’s book ‘The Corporation. Russia and the KGB in the Age of President Putin’), there is something about it in the book, even Gusinsky’s KGB nickname is indicated. So all of ‘Most’ (Gusinsky’s business empire) structures were actually created by Bobkov through Gusinsky. There was a parallel FSB (SB-FSK) structure being created that had to compete with Kurzhakov-led presidential security service. After that, Putin-Abramovich-Berezovsky-Voloshin became competitor of Gusinsky-Bobkov-Luzhkov-Primakov. The first group won. The second one could also win. There would’t have been any difference,’ Felshtinsky answered the readers question on the Internet.

These words were indirectly confirmed in one interview by Boris Berezovksy, Russian oligarch who is considered by many to be the main person who brought Putin to power.

In 2002 Berezovsky (who escaped to London from Putin’s regime) was asked by a famous Russian journalist Yulia Latynina whether he regrets bringing Putin to power.

‘Remember the options we had. Putin and Primakov. I can say that if I could turn back time, I would do the same thing,’ Berezovsky answered.

There is another important quote in this interview. When Latynina asked why Berezovsky ended up hiding in London if he was so powerful, the exiled oligarch admitted: ‘I did one systemic error. I thought the biggest force interfering the reforms was communists. But it actually was FST, or USSR KGB, to be specific.’

The journalist did not find this answer convincing. She started to argue that the same idea was already raised by Felshtinsky and Litvinenko in their book ‘FSB blowing up Russia’, but she didn’t think it looked serious.

This is what Berezovsky answered: ‘This organization remained the brotherhood of soul and crime. KGB was a spine of Soviet state, it consisted of people who were taught to commit crime, and who were told that it was not crime. These people did not disappear. KGB split up into many competing groups that were serving their own interests of those of other people. But it turned out that disintegration was the simplest form of mimicry. Let’s take, for example, Alexander Korzhakov. This man was Andropov’s personal bodyguard. He was ‘x-rayed’ dozen times. And you think he voluntarily stayed with the retired Yeltsin (he has in mind Yeltsin’s retirement form candidates to members of Politburo in 1987 when he strictly criticised Gorbachev and his allegedly insufficient reforms – aut. note). I watched how they tried to turn Yeltsin into an alcoholic, a complete zero. You think this is also a coincidence?’

Clan’s position is strong

After Putin’s coming to power, despite the fact that oligarchs, who did not obey the system (Primakov, Gusinsky, Berezovsky), were quickly ‘trampled’, clans did not disappear – they became stronger. Primakov’s clan as well, even though he lost to Putin.

I have already written about the current structures of Primakov’s clan – both political and business – and its members in my previous essays. Naming it all would take a separate article. Especially when the goal of this one was generally different – to show how this system developed.

But it would be enough to mention such politicians who can be attributed to Primakov’s clan as Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of the Federation Council, or Vyacheslav Volodin, the first deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Administration, and it becomes clear that the links of this clan reach the top of Russian government, even though Primakov hasn’t had any important position in it for a while.

As a matter of fact, Volodin is considered the leader of a separate clan. However, knowing the history of his rise to power, I would argue that he is a member of Primakov’s clan. Maybe he is being prepared as a new leader of the clan when Primakov has to withdraw completely due to death or old age, but for now there is a solid basis for considering Volodin an member of no other clan than Prikamov’s.

Matviyenko’s role is best described by her old nickname ‘Primakov’s legs’. This sexist attitude to a female politician (who was a deputy Prime Minister at the time) was surprising to none, especially when she really acted quite strangely, e.g., wearing short skirts even at the Government House. But the main point of this nickname is that she is not just ‘legs’ but Primakov’s protege, loyal to this day.

Mikhail Fradkov, the head of Russian foreign intelligence, is also considered to be close to Prikamov. Though there is not enough research to call him a member of this clan, Fradkov’s old relations with some of the influential members of Primakov’s clan raise no doubt.

Apart from political and business structures, there are other important influence structures of Primakov’s clan, namely the ‘independent trade unions’ of Shmakov, and Sochin’s ‘Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs’. Naming more would make no sense at this point.


Marius Laurinavičius is senior expert at the Vilnius-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre

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