Fragments from a War Diary, Part #90
The Russian intelligence services are notorious for using some of the most underhand, violent and manipulative methods in the world to achieve their imagined national security goals. The way they are structured is complex, but the FSB, the Russian federal security bureau of which Russian President Vladimir Putin was once the head, is the predominant institution in modern Russia and it works both in Russian territory, in occupied Ukraine and elsewhere across the globe. The techniques adopted are as broad as brazen murder; arrest and disappearance (the FSB have the legal power of arrest and they often serve as internal special forces units, carrying out heavily armed raids and supplanting the role of the Police); manipulation of the court system by applying pressure on Judges; psychological operations; electronic communications interference; and acquiring dossiers of compromising material on people (so-called Kompromat) which they then threaten to expose if the person is not pliant with their wishes. These dossiers may contain information about sexual misdemeanours; past drug use; past criminal records (hidden); derogatory information on the internet; incidents of domestic violence; and so on and so forth.
The methods by which Russian intelligence operate are often subtle. In some cases the FSB raids a property in full body armour with the letters “FSB” written on their jackets; these are their overt operations. However in other cases they infiltrate government institutions either in Russia or in neighbouring countries, where they may or may not quietly let it be known who they are and what their role is: to supervise, monitor, report back and apply some sort of blackmail, threats or sanctions upon people who do not act in the ways that they prescribe as appropriate. They also infiltrate other private organisations; a number of Russian companies that appear to be private have FSB officials working within them that may be reporting back on what those companies are doing. That is why you should not use the Russian instant message and VOIP telephony provider Telegram: Telegram is based in Moscow and its offices are contaminated with FSB officials who, if they wish, can ask the Telegram staff to provide them with information about your communications. I find it astonishing that so many people in Ukraine continue to use Telegram when this feature of the App is well known and is publicly available on the internet.
Ukraine is undergoing an episode of transformation and its own internal security service, the SBU, at one point was infiltrated by FSB agents and other types of mole working in the Russian intelligence services. Indeed this continued throughout post-independence Ukraine really until 2019 when the new pro-Western Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, much to his credit, started to purge the SBU of such people and several senior figures in the SBU were removed and replaced with staff without historical connections to the FSB in Moscow and without dossiers of compromising information collected by the FSB on them that could be used to manipulate them. This old-fashioned style of government and social control through FSB dossier of course has a long history in the Soviet Union. Stalin was the master of it; by the time he died an astonishing 1 in every 2 people in the Soviet Union had an NKVD (FSB / KGB predecessor organisation) dossier on them.
What do you do when you are approached by a person who says that they have information on you and they are threatening to expose it? The person who does this may not look like an FSB official at all. I have had it happen to me on several occasions. They may be your friends. They may not even know they are an agent of the FSB. They may have their own compromising information on them, and they are being threatened with that in some insidious way or other in order to be persuaded to threaten you with your own dossier. There is only one way of dealing with threats of Kompromat, and everyone skilled in the business knows it. You face it down, if necessary self-exposing. Once the exposure has taken place, the threats are no longer viable because you have exposed the information yourself. Or - and only if it is false - you flatly deny it and you make your denials vocal so that again people are aware of the the materials and they are aware of your denials of it.
This sort of system of government is thankfully one that Ukraine has rapidly been learning to renounce since the accession to office of President Zelenskiy and also since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022 caused the Ukrainian people to renounce all things Russian and in particular their insidious style of government by internal security agent. It is no proper role of government to go around coercing citizens in public or in private life by threatening to exposes embarrassing features of their past: something that in fact we all have. This is an outrageous and appalling way of trying to exert social control and it is the antithesis of liberty, the value that in the West we hold so dear. One of the principal reasons that Russia is not a free society is that this style of government, in which fear of arbitrary power exerted by the security and intelligence services, is so prevalent and in the modern age of electronic communications, it is ever easier for governments to amass derogatory information about people, store it, and then use it to threaten them. If you find that this is happening to you, then it is a fair bet that somewhere behind it lies some part of the apparatus of the Russian security state.
Having rejected this psychology of government by collection of compromising materials and threats of arbitrary exercise of state power, Ukrainians can work towards western political ideals of liberty of the person, true democracy in which you vote according to your conscience and not as a shadowy government official might suggest, rule of law in which Judges make decisions according to the law and the merits of the case rather than as a result of sinister telephone calls, and freedom of speech in which you can express such opinions as you like and feel free to condemn (or praise) the actions of others without fear of reproach. These are the political values towards which Ukraine is now heading on her irreversible road towards Euro-Atlantic integration. Slava Ukraini.