Democracy. Russia. CIS.

What the Shcherbakov story tells us about contemporary Russia.

Posted by democratist on November 13, 2010

13th November 2010,

One of the many insightful literary themes to be found in the novels of John Le Carré is the notion that the espionage apparatus and modus operandi of the intelligence services of different countries reflects their national character. 

Thus the British upper-middle classes, with their public school gift for deception, even among their closest friends, are represented by the Bill Haydon/Philby character in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, American post-9/11  aggression and hubris is given an ample airing in A Most Wanted Man, and efficient, ideologically driven Soviet ruthlessness exemplified in the figure of Karla in Smiley’s People.

But if Le Carré is really onto something, then what do the recent revelations of the defection of Colonel Alexander Vasilyevich Shcherbakov and their aftermath tell us about the state of Russia, and the Russian intelligence “organs” over the last decade under Vladimir Putin?

Evidently, the picture they paint is not a flattering one; it would appear that, through Shcherbakov’s defection, the FBI had been onto the “illegals” for some years, and allowed them to remain in place as they slowly built up a picture of their activities and methods, while none of the “illegals,” (supposedly the “best of the best”) cottoned on to the fact that they were being observed.

Which demonstrates just how inept and corrupt the SVR has become since 2000: Far from being the shining example of Soviet self-sacrifice that so captivated the young Vladimir Putin (capable of cultivating an Ames or a Hanssen), under his watch the SVR has declined to the point that is apparently easily infiltrated, while the kind of personnel security safeguards that should have raised the alarm some years ago (e.g. the fact that Shcherbakov’s daughter was living in the US) have not been functioning effectively, because they are easily subverted due to contemporary Russia’s all-pervading culture of corruption.

But this is hardly surprising; it has already become clear that the senior ranks of the SVR (such as Vasily Kushenko, Anna Chapman’s father) had been enrolling their own children as a way of giving them access to cash and connections, rather than for anything to do with serving the motherland, so why would anyone care if the head of the “illegals” section dedicated to spying on the US (surely one of the most sensitive posts in the Russian intelligence community) would have sent his own daughter to live…in the US?

2 Responses to “What the Shcherbakov story tells us about contemporary Russia.”

  1. […] Comments (RSS) « What the Shcherbakov story tells us about contemporary Russia. […]

  2. […] cables again highlight so much of what we at Democratist have been saying about corruption at all levels in Russia since we set up shop in May, and are likely to have a negative impact on the much […]

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