BOOK REVIEW: Now in Paperback, 'The New Nobility' Explores Role of FSB in Today's 'Kleptocratic' Russia

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: Now in Paperback, 'The New Nobility' Explores Role of FSB in Today's 'Kleptocratic' Russia
"Our best colleagues, the honour and pride of the FSB, don't do their work for the money… there is one very special characteristic that unites all these people, and it is a very important quality, it is their sense of service. They are, if you like, our new ‘nobility.'" —Nikolai Patrushev, former Director of the FSB, in a 2000 message when he was director of the FSB, succeeding Vladimir Putin 

Nothing has changed in Russia since I reviewed "The New Nobility: The Restoration or Russia's Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB"  in the hardback edition published last year by PublicAffairs (link: 

In a non-fiction book that reads like a spy thriller, "The New Nobility" (PublicAffairs, 320 pages, quality paperback,  $16.99) Russian investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan manage to shed a great deal of light on the famously secret world of the Russian Federal Security Service, known as FSB for its name in Russian: Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopastnosti. 

Russia is more or less a failed state, lacking even the basic oversight of aircraft safety, as the plane crash on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011  that killed 43 of the 45 hockey players and crew aboard shows.  The Moscow Times called the country the most dangerous place to fly, even worse than the Democratic Republic of Congo.(link:

From the English-language newspaper's story:

"In the worst sports-related disaster in decades, one of Russia's best ice hockey teams, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, was decimated Wednesday in a plane crash that killed at least 43 people.

"The crash also sealed Russia's position as the most dangerous place to travel by plane in 2011, with the country surpassing even the Democratic Republic of Congo in the number of aircraft-related fatalities.

"Lokomotiv's chartered Yak-42 jet, which had a crew of eight and carried 37 passengers, including natives of Canada, Latvia, Belarus, Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, crashed moments after takeoff from Yaroslavl's Tunoshna Airport.

"The triple-engine passenger jet struggled to gain altitude as it took off around 4 p.m. and struck an aerial beacon, hitting the ground beyond the runway and bursting into flames on impact, Yaroslavl Governor Sergei Vakhrukov said.

"The European Aviation Safety Agency ranked Yak Service in 2009 — the latest year for which statistics are available — as the least safe of 35 Russian airlines flying to Europe, according to Aviation Explorer, an air industry web site.

"The Yaroslavl crash is the ninth for Yak-42s around the world since they went into mass production in 1980. The last jet, a replacement for the Tu-134, was built in 2002, but more than 170 planes remain in operation worldwide.

"State Duma Deputy Robert Shlegel wrote on Twitter that Russia's hockey federation head Vladislav Tretyak told him after the crash, with tears in his eyes, “Our national team also flies a Yak-42.” Tretyak said hours later that the team would stop using Yak-42s, reported."

* * *

Convicted in a show trial reminiscent of those held in Stalin's Soviet Union, "oligarch" Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- who served more than seven years in prison after an earlier show trial and conviction of fraud -- was sentenced on Dec. 31, 2010 to another six years in prison, The new sentence was criticized throughout the world. A U.S. diplomat who was monitoring the trial said the sentence was "clearly political" -- meaning that it "clearly" came down to the judge from former Russian president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin, who, as Soldatov and Borogan document, controls everything in today's Russia.          
When the hardback edition appeared in September 2010, the FSB was in the Western spotlight because of the July 2010 U.S. expulsion of ten Russian sleeper spies, including 28-year-old Anna Chapman, who reportedly at the time considered running for a seat in Russia's parliament, known as the Duma. She could consider an alternative career as a glamorous star in one or more of the feature films and/or TV "documentaries" underwritten by the FSB. 
In Chapter 9, "The Propaganda Machine: Image Making and the FSB" the authors write about this aspect of the FSB, which calls to this reviewer's mind our own FBI's support of radio and TV series telling the story as J. Edgar Hoover wanted it of the FBI. (The most famous actor was Efrem Zimbalist Jr., born in 1918, who starred as Inspector Lewis Erskine on the 1965 series "The F.B.I.). Soldatov and Borogan describe movies and TV specials that glamorize the FSB and similar agencies. Shades of Angelina Jolie and her spy thrlller "Salt", where she was suspected of being a Russian spy). 
If she does decide to enter politics, Chapman will hope to emulate a string of former agents who have run for office -- including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent and later head of the FSB, and Andrey Lugovoy, the former spy that British police want to quiz over the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Anatoly Korendyasev, the deputy who represents Chapman's native southeastern city of Volgograd in Putin's United Russia party, is about to retire, Der Spiegel points out. Korendyasev was also an intelligence agent, according to the German news magazine. 
The July 2010 spy swap -- Russia released U.S. operatives in exchange for the ten sleepers -- was the biggest spy exchange between the U.S. and Russia since the end of the Cold War. Outed as sleeper agents by the FBI, Chapman and her nine fellow spies were expelled from the U.S. in disgrace -- but she was welcomed with enthusiasm by Putin, who sang patriotic songs with the group to herald their return. (Maybe they even sang the FSB's own anthem, which begins with the stirring words "Always at the front / Always at one's post / Don't touch Russia / A Chekist is always vigilant"). The word "Chekist" refers to one of the FSB's ancestors in spying, the dreaded Cheka, founded in 1917 by the Bolshevik regime and headed by Felix Dzerzhinski, whose statue at the Moscow headquarters of the KGB (and today of the FSB) was hauled down by anti-Communist forces in 1991. 
The old KGB, dissolved with the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, was controlled by the Communist Party. The new FSB, created in its present form in 1995 and headed by Putin from 1998 until he took over from Boris Yeltsin in 2000, has been deployed by the Kremlin to intimidate the political opposition, reassert the power of the state, protect the Russian Orthodox Church against all enemies foreign and domestic, and carry out assassinations overseas. At the same time, its agents and spies were put beyond public accountability and blessed with the prestige, benefits, and legitimacy lost since the Soviet collapse. 

While Vladimir Putin has been president and prime minister of Russia, the Kremlin has deployed the security services to intimidate the political opposition, reassert the power of the state, and carry out assassinations overseas. At the same time, its agents and spies were put beyond public accountability and blessed with the prestige, benefits, and legitimacy lost since the Soviet collapse.

The security services have played a central— and often mysterious—role at key turning points in Russia during these tumultuous years: from the Moscow apartment house bombings and theater siege, to the war in Chechnya and the Beslan massacre. The security services are not all-powerful; they have made clumsy and sometimes catastrophic blunders. But what is clear is that after the chaotic 1990s, when they were sidelined, they have made a remarkable return to power, abetted by their most famous alumnus, Putin.
It goes without saying that Soldatov and Borogan are courageous practitioners of journalism. They live in a country where both foreign and Russian journalists have been murdered, undoubtedly at the behest of the government. This fact of life is well documented. 
At the center of the FSB spider web is current Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, who officially retired from the KGB in 1991 and who, as noted, headed the FSB in the last years of the 1990s. There's a saying in Russia, the authors note, that there's no such thing as a former KGB agent, and Putin is living proof that this saying applies to the FSB as well. It's difficult to compare spy agencies, but the FSB seems to combine the functions of our CIA, FBI, NSA, and military intelligence agencies, with the ruthlessness of the spy agencies of the Arab dictatorships, the authors note. 
In the revised and updated paperback edition of "The Oligarchs", originally published in harcover in 2002 and also from PublicAffairs,  David  E. Hoffman points out there is no tradition of democracy or rule of law in Russia. Hoffman is a former Moscow bureau chief of the Washington Post, serving from 1995 to 2001, at the height of the rush to acquire the most desirable state-owned businesses. My review of "The Oligarchs" will appear soon on this site.
By almost any standard -- life expectancy, alcoholism, infant mortality, transparency, population decline, lack of real democracy -- Russia is a failed state. It's important to the rest of the world because of the vast number of nuclear weapons in the country. It's also a major source of energy to much of Europe, both oil and natural gas. (For a CNN story about Russia's dismal statistics, click:  
"The New Nobility" is an important book, well written and meticulously researched by two journalists with the right sources, both inside and outside the FSB. The authors are founders of the website www. Agentura. Ru, which has a built-in English translation button. 
 Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan are co-founders of the Agentura.Ru website. Soldatov worked for Novaya Gazeta from 2006 to 2008. Agentura.Ru and its reporting have been featured in the New York Times, the Moscow Times, the Washington Post, Online Journalism Review, Le Monde, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Federation of American Scientists, and the BBC. The New York Times called it "A Web Site That Came in From the Cold to Unveil Russian Secrets." 
Publisher's website:

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