Post-KGB spies keep the old flag flying

It is smaller and more discreet than in its Cold War heyday, but Russia's replacement for the KGB, broken up in 1991, is still very much in business, and has an estimated tens of thousands of employees to prove it.

Nor does it make much secret of that fact. Only a few months ago, Nikolai Kovalyov, head of the Federal Security Service, boasted that the service was monitoring 400 foreign spies and 39 locally recruited Russian spies.

The agency, known as the FSB, has an estimated 75,000 employees which, though small when compared with the network of the KGB of 400,000 agents in the mid-Eighties, is still - a considerable force, and one which includes elite armed forces.

Still based at the Lubyanka in central Moscow, the security services play a diminished role in the daily life of most Russians, and have switched their focus to embrace the conditions in post-Soviet Russia - for instance, the mafia, new technology, weapons-smuggling and industrial espionage. Yet, particularly in more backward regions, they remain powerful and occasionally intrusive.

In the past few years, there have been increasing warnings that - despite hefty budget and staff cuts - the Russian security services are regaining their strength. The head of Germany's counter-intelligence service, Hasjoerg Geiger, last year accused Russia of espionage of Cold War proportions, claiming that KGB-type spies were working under the guise of businessmen. And British parliamentary committees have, on several occasions, complained about an increase in Russian spying. Last month MPs warned of the risk that Russians would infiltrate the security services by preying on impoverished agents.

The FSB has, however, also suffered some major setbacks, particularly in Chechnya. The security services ran the war and eventually suffered the humiliation of seeing Moscow's troops withdraw.

Its influence on the Kremlin - once huge - has fallen off with the ousting of several hardline generals. Last month, Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President, fired the FSB's deputy director, Colonel General Vasily Trofimov, accusing him of financial irregularities. He was reportedly involved in an investigation into a scandal in which two of the President's campaign officials were caught leaving the White House with $500,000 (pounds 312,000), just before last year's presidential election.

Shortly before that sacking came news that two FSB officers had been detained for suspected drug trafficking. Even last year's spying row with Britain was far from an outright triumph for the service; it had wanted nine British expulsions, but - under pressure from the Russian Foreign Ministry - settled for four.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living