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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 11:44 GMT
Russia boosts secret police
Vladimir Putin meets defence and security chiefs
The changes came out of the blue
Russian President Vladimir Putin has restructured his government to extend the powers of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

The secret police will now absorb the border guards and the government agency for monitoring communications (Fapsi).

Liberal opposition politicians say the change amounts to the return of the KGB - the FSB's notorious predecessor.

"An initial analysis of this would lead you to believe that the FSB has virtually taken on the form of what used to be the KGB," Russian MP Boris Nadezhdin told Reuters news agency.

Government shake-up
  • Federal Border Guard Service
  • Federal Tax Police Service
  • Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI)
  • State Committee for Combating the Illegal Trade in Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
President Putin, who himself once briefly ran the FSB and before that served as an officer in the KGB, also set up a new federal agency to fight drug trafficking and abolished the tax police.

The Interior Ministry will now take over the tax police's duties and the defunct department's resources are being ploughed into the anti-drug agency.

The Russian president said he had taken his decision to restructure because the fight against drugs and terrorism was "getting tougher".

"Unfortunately, it cannot be said with any certainty that authorities have been acting effectively and in a generally agreed fashion," he told his ministers in remarks broadcast on TV.

Throwback to USSR

The new powers given to the FSB by President Putin's decrees were enjoyed by its Soviet predecessor.

Post-Soviet reforms had gradually stripped the secret police of its control over the border guards - a force now numbering about 174,000 which still plays an important part in Tajikistan and other flash-points - and Fapsi.

The Lubyanka building
The KGB was notorious for repressing dissidents
The FSB's headquarters remain in the old KGB building on Lubyanka Square, a few streets away from the Kremlin.

One continuing difference, however, is that the foreign intelligence service remains a separate department from the FSB, whereas they were all once part of the KGB.

Boris Makarenko, deputy head of Russia's Institute of Political Technologies, said the restructuring announced this week was "logical and rational".

"Previous years were devoted to rooting out the image of the KGB by decentralising it and this was done well," he said.

"But the sheer size of security agencies was not reflected in their success."

Viktor Cherkesov, an ex-intelligence officer and prefect for the St Petersburg region, was brought in to lead the new anti-drugs agency.

One Russian commentator, Yulia Latynina of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, suggested that Mr Putin's abolition of three agencies conveniently removed three surviving members of former President Boris Yeltsin's elite: Mikhail Fradkov of the tax police, Konstantin Totsky of the border guards and Viktor Matyukhin of the Fapsi.

Who is Putin?
09 Feb 01 |  Correspondent
How Russia faced its dark past
05 Mar 03 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
05 Mar 03 |  Country profiles

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