What is the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)?

The Federal Security Service is the Russian intelligence organization in charge of protecting the country and its borders from external threats. Dig further into the subject.

What is the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)?
Flag of the Russian Federal Security Service. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Federal Security Service is Russia's intelligence service. Its job is to protect the country and its borders from threats. It was created in 1995 as a successor to the Soviet KGB, and Putin used it to keep power.

The main intelligence agency of the Russian Federation is the Federal Security Service (FSB). As part of the Russian intelligence service, its job is to protect the country and its borders from danger. To do this, it uses espionage, surveillance, counterintelligence, and information warfare at home and abroad, all in line with the Kremlin's plans.

From post-Soviet Russia to Putin's Russia

In 1995, the Russian Federal Security Service was set up by President Boris Yeltsin. This group took over from the Federal Counterintelligence Service, which was the successor to the Soviet KGB's counterintelligence and political control department. Between 1998 and 1999, Vladimir Putin was in charge of the FSB. In 2003, when he reformed the security agencies, he added border guards and government communications to the FSB.

The FSB is in charge of keeping Russia safe by working on espionage and counterespionage, national security and border control, surveillance and cyber security, and anti-terrorist operations with foreign services. Its work also includes trying to stop a pro-Western revolution like the "color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine in 2003 and 2004.

In 2006, a law was approved that the FSB could go after "extremists" and "terrorists" even if they were outside of Russia. Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-agent who didn't like Putin, was poisoned to death in London a few weeks later. Since then, the FSB has been linked to the fake suicides of many of Putin's disgraced old friends, important oligarchs, and other Kremlin opponents. Alexei Navalny, a member of the opposition, was poisoned in 2020. This brought attention to the agency and how it helped the Russian president stay in power.

Putin's inner circle

Under Putin's leadership, the Russian intelligence services, especially the Federal Security Service, have been brought back to life. The Russian president has given them more political power and freedom, and he has put the siloviki, who used to be security agents, in charge of the Kremlin. These groups often have economic power as well, which they can use to help Putin's geopolitical plan by co-financing and directing important projects.

In his 20 years as president, the Russian leader has reshuffled the top levels of government and state institutions, like the Security Council, with people he trusts. The Kremlin also benefits from having former KGB agents run the country because they know how the government works and are disciplined and mentally trained. Alexander Bortnikov, who is in charge of the FSB right now, is one of them.

Disputes and failures of FSB in Ukraine

The KGB was succeeded by four main intelligence and security services. However, their responsibilities are not clearly defined, have varied, and often overlapped, fostering their rivalry for opportunities and economic benefits. For example, the Federal Security Service and the Central Intelligence Department (GRU) of the Armed Forces operate in the Baltic countries.

This kind of parallel work doesn't always work. In 2014, for example, several Russian agencies were working in Ukraine, but they didn't see the fall of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych or the Euromaidan protests coming. Putin blamed the Foreign Intelligence Service, which gave the FSB a chance to say that it should be in charge of all future intelligence work in that country.

Some of the failed invasion of Ukraine has also been blamed on Russian intelligence. It has worked for years to get into its institutions and change public opinion by spying on social networks and the internet or stealing information, just like it does in other countries so that it doesn't leave Moscow's sphere of influence.

The Operational Intelligence Department, which is now the FSB brigade in Ukraine, was supposed to make sure that the Kyiv government fell and that a pro-Russian government was put in place, but it didn't do either of those things. Intelligence from Ukraine and the West says that it either didn't realize how strong the resistance was or was unable or unwilling to tell the Kremlin. Putin also told the FSB to do more to protect the Kerch bridge in Crimea, which was attacked and called a terrorist attack by Moscow.

Source: EOM, Author: Carlota García, Gijón, 1998. Graduate in International Studies and Master in Geopolitics and Strategic Studies. Interested in conflict analysis, geopolitics, security, and international relations.