In This Review
Secret Empire: The KGB in Russia Today

Secret Empire: The KGB in Russia Today

By J. Michael Waller

Westview Press, 1994, 390 pp.

This is a valuable book. Set aside Waller's breathless discovery that Gorbachev was a committed communist, who sought to preserve the system while reforming it, making him no enemy of the old KGB; his book explores in great detail the failed effort to remake the massive bureaucracies of the security police in both the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras. Not that some brave souls did not try. One of the most useful aspects of the book is Waller's careful examination of Vadim Bakatin's serious attempts to reform the KGB in the last months of the Soviet Union after the botched August 1991 putsch. (He was its last Soviet director.) They failed generously, and Waller shows why.

Under Yeltsin, as Waller well demonstrates, the new KGB and its now separated foreign intelligence arm are not new at all. Far from transformed or restaffed, they remain essentially as before and available to a strong-arm leader. The problem is not merely the incredible powers of regeneration within these agencies, but, as Waller acknowledges, without much exploring the point, the lack of will and resources on the outside. One would have to be a little naive to expect the police to have undergone cleansing and reshaping when no other structures of power have. (That the party, one of these structures, is but a shadow of its former self owes nothing to reform--only to its collapse.) Even less should the recasting of the KGB be expected, when leading politicians are no longer so sure they want it to happen.