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Window on Eurasia — New Series: KGB Bodies in Union Republics in 1991 Filled with Anti-Soviet Nationalists, Former KGB General Says


Paul Goble
            Staunton, September 6 – It is frequently argued that some in the KGB were instrumental in the demise of the USSR because they saw communism as getting in their way and blocking their ability to privatize the country’s wealth into their own hands. But it has seldom been suggested that some in the KGB wanted to see the USSR disintegrate.
            Now, Valery Vorotnikov, a former KGB major general who at the end of Soviet times worked as deputy chief of the organ’s Fifth Administration which was responsible for fighting ideological opponents of the Kremlin, makes exactly that charge (versia.ru/v-respublikanskix-organax-kgb-byli-lyudi-kotorye-xoteli-raspada-soyuza).
            According to the former KGB general, nationalist sentiment was strong not only in the Central Committees of the republic communist parties but also in the republic administrations of the KGB.  In the latter, there were “nationalist groups” which worked “openly” to undermine the situation.
            There were various reasons why this was so, Vorotnikov says. “In some places, the leadership of the organs of power and state security were infected by nationalism, in others, as in Tajikistan, religion and eastern nepotism played a role, and in others, responsible people were stealing so much that they feared that if Moscow found out, they’d be jailed.”
            But for whatever reason or combination of reasons, the KGB officer says, “only one thing remained for them – to leave the USSR” by supporting the independence of their republics. Moscow was fully aware of this trend, but it did not take the necessary actions, even when the situation became critical.
            Indeed, Vorotnikov argues, the August coup should have been handled entirely differently.  Instead of introducing martial law for the country as a whole, he says, what the GKChP should have done was to impose it in one of the republics, in Lithuania, in Estonia or somewhere else.”
            Then, the organizers could have restored order in that place, and the rest would have come to heel. This could all have been done within the law and very simply. But those who attempted the coup failed to understand what was possible.
            Vorotnikov’s remarks, of course, are of more than historical interest, given the rise of KGB officers like Putin. They call into question the image of the Soviet organs the Kremlin leader has sought to portray as the most serious opponents of the chaos and disintegration that Putin blames on Mikhail Gorbachev.
            For anyone in a position to know to assert that the KGB itself was part of the problem undermines such claims and suggests that the organs were as much affected by the forces that affected other Soviet institutions as any other groups.

Window on Eurasia — New Series