Bottom Line: The Kremlin employs an array of often overlapping and competitive security and intelligence services to create multiple sources of intelligence, encourage risk-taking and keep a wary eye on each other. This has enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin to consolidate power by playing agencies off of each other to avoid uninvited power grabs. But these redundancies can also create inefficiencies that Russia can’t afford as its economy continues to falter.
Background: The Soviet Union primarily relied on two intelligence services. The Committee for State Security (KGB) was tasked with foreign political and economic espionage, covert action – known as active measures – and domestic security, while the Main Intelligence Director (GRU) under the General Staff is responsible for military intelligence. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia broke the KGB largely into four services – the Federal Security Service (FSB), Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Federal Protection Service (FSO), and the Interior Ministry (MVD) – while cutting the GRU’s workforce significantly.
- The most influential agency remains the FSB, whose remit includes everything from domestic security to external activities such as foreign collection, cyber operations, criminal cultivation and active measures such as information operations and even assassination. For example, following the November 2006 assassination of Russian defector and former FSB officer, Alexander Litvinenko, in London, a British public inquiry concluded in January 2016 that the operation was the work of the FSB, and likely approved directly by Putin. As a former KGB officer and later FSB director, Putin largely looks to the service as his most trusted arm both at home and abroad.