The Cold War Anew?: Russia Revives the KGB in the Form of the MGB


News out of Russia seems to be getting more and more dire by the day, as hard line members have seemingly gained control over the Duma, the lower house of parliament, taking three-quarters of its 450 seats, its largest ever majority. And, according to the UK Telegraph, Russia plans to shake-up its security forces, reviving an old organization that conjures up the darkest days of the Cold War.

“[The] MGB (Ministry of State Security), would be created from the current Federal Security Service (FSB), and would incorporate the foreign intelligence service (SVR) and the state guard service (FSO), under the plans.

It would be handed all-encompassing powers once possessed by the KGB, the Kommersant newspaper said, citing security service sources.

Like the much-feared KGB, it would also oversee the prosecutions of Kremlin critics, a task currently undertaken by the Investigative Committee, headed by Alexander Bastrykin, a former university classmate of President Putin. The Kremlin has not commented.

The MGB is not a new designation. It was the name of the state security apparatus for eight years during Joseph Stalin’s bloody rule. It was renamed the KGB after Stalin’s death, and disbanded in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when its powers were distributed among a number of  newly-created security services.” This all comes less than 24 hours after taking a majority stake of the Duma.

The history of the MGB is as feared as its role in the former Soviet Union. The MGB was just one of many incarnations of the Soviet State Security apparatus. Since the revolution, the Bolsheviks relied on a strong political police or security force to support and control their regime. During the Russian Civil War, the Cheka were in power, relinquishing it to the less violent State Political Directorate (GPU) in 1922 after the fighting was over. The GPU was then renamed The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) in 1934. From the mid-1930s and until the creation of the KGB, this “Organ of State Security” was re-organized and renamed multiple times depending on the needs and fears of the leadership. In 1941, the state-security function was separated from the NKVD and became the People’s Commissariat for State Security (NKGB), only to be reintegrated a few months later during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. In 1943, the NKGB was once again made into an independent organization in response to the Soviet occupation of parts of Eastern Europe. SMERSH—anecdotally derived from a phrase translated as “Death to Spies”—which was designed to be a counter-intelligence unit within the Red Army to ensure the loyalty of the army personnel. Following the end of the war, both the NKVD and the NKGB were converted to ministries and redubbed the Ministry for Internal Affairs (MVD) and the Ministry for State Security (MGB). The MGB and MVD merged again in 1953, orchestrated by Lavrenty Beria, who was then arrested and executed. The KGB took on the mantle of the NKGB/ MGB and, in 1954, broke off from the reformed MVD.

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