What is the full form of the KGB


Many Stasi reports also contain the addressee "Friends" in their distribution list. This meant the KGB, which received a carbon copy. The Stasi was closely associated with the Soviet secret service from the start.

Stasi photo of a "Cheka" anniversary celebration at the end of 1977. The MfS adopted the Soviet term "Chekists" as its own identity. The secret service agents had to do "Chekist" work. (& copy BStU)

After the victory of the Soviet army over the German aggressor, the occupation of East Germany and the extensive destruction of the German state apparatus, the establishment of an occupation regime followed. The Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) was based on the Soviet military apparatus and intelligence structures of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) and, from 1946, the Ministry for State Security (MWD). In doing so, the occupying power had to avail itself of the support of parts of the German administration, which had previously been "cleared" of Nazi elements and supplemented with people who were considered unencumbered in this regard. This also applied to the police apparatus, which was to be almost completely rebuilt because of its involvement with the Nazi terror apparatus. Here, political reliability, best demonstrated by a communist past, was the primary selection criterion. Parts of this police apparatus, which from 1947 onwards were referred to as "K 5" departments, were directly subordinate to the Soviet secret service. Their primary task was to monitor all other parts of the state apparatus (public administration, judiciary, schools, universities, etc.), the re-emerging parties, the trade unions and other institutions, and to ensure their subordination to the Soviet rulers and their German informants. They received their instructions from the former.

SED pressed for its own secret police

After the collapse of the anti-Hitler coalition, the beginning of the Cold War and the founding of the Federal Republic, the Soviet government decided to establish an East German state: the GDR. The powers of the new state were not originally intended to include any secret service tasks; the Soviet services wanted to reserve these for themselves. The SED leadership had to intervene personally with Stalin in order to obtain permission to set up a Ministry for State Security in East Berlin in January 1950. The first minister was the former KPD functionary and later Soviet secret agent Wilhelm Zaisser (1893-1958). A Soviet "chief adviser" was put at his side; he and his staff were not mentioned by name in the minutes of the meeting, but anonymously referred to as "the responsible Soviet comrade advisers for the State Secretariat for State Security". In all departments of the new ministry, the Soviet instructors had the final say on important decisions. The structure and working methods of the new secret police were largely taken over from Moscow in the first few years.
Excerpt from the header of a meeting minutes of the SED department for security issues from 9.1.1954. The "responsible Soviet comrades, advisors to the State Secretariat for State Security" are also listed as present. (& copy Citizens Committee January 15th e.V.)

In the summer of 1953 - after Stalin's death on March 5 - there was a first turning point in the relationship between the two secret services. The head of the Soviet secret service, Interior Minister Lavrenti Berija (1899-1953), was overthrown on the grounds that he wanted to give up the GDR. He had campaigned for a milder "new course" to curb the number of refugees. In East Berlin it was now said that Wilhelm Zaisser had supported this project. That is why he, too, was relieved of his office, along with the reform-oriented editor-in-chief of the SED party newspaper Neues Deutschland, Rudolf Herrnstadt. If the SED leadership around Walter Ulbricht had hoped to get the GDR State Security under their control, they were disappointed: under pressure from Moscow, a former Soviet agent was appointed as his successor: Ernst Wollweber (1898 - 1967). During his tenure as Head of State Security from 1953 to 1957, the GDR secret police continued to be an instrument of the "Committee for State Security at the Council of Ministers of the USSR" (KGB), as the Soviet secret service had been called since 1954.

Several large arrest operations were carried out under Soviet direction from 1953 to 1955. They affected several hundred people arrested and charged in show trials of working for Western services. The Soviet services were primarily interested in using their comrades in the GDR for espionage against the Federal Republic. "Face the West" was the slogan.

Greater focus on repression

In principle, SED chief Ulbricht had no objection to this, but he was of the opinion that the GDR State Security should concentrate more on internal repression in order to prevent a renewed uprising like the one on June 17, 1953. The head of the Stasi seemed too indulgent to the Soviets in this regard.
Excerpt from the memorandum from the SED's security department on 9 January 1954 about the meeting between the Soviet "Comrade Chief Advisor" and SED chief Walter Ulricht, Stasi State Secretary Ernst Wollweber and Interior Minister Maron. The "chief advisor" complains about too few "informers", that is, informers in the service of the GDR People's Police. (& copy Citizens Committee January 15th e.V.)

In addition, there was a direct power struggle with Ernst Wollweber at the beginning of 1957, because Walter Ulbricht insisted that his deputy Erich Mielke should take instructions directly from him. With the help of the Soviet chief adviser Pitovranov, Wollweber managed to ward off this attack for a short time, but from then on his disempowerment was only a question of a suitable opportunity, especially after Pitowranov had been recalled to Moscow. The opportunity arose when the Soviet party leader Nikita Khrushchev reorganized relations with the Eastern European satellite states. In autumn 1957 Wollweber was dismissed and replaced by Ulbricht confidante Erich Mielke (1907 - 2000).

At the turn of the year 1958/59, the KGB reduced its number of advisors from 76 to 32 and limited their competencies essentially to those of liaison officers. Twenty years later, the same number appears in a "Cooperation Protocol". However, significantly more KGB officers were present in the MfS because the "liaison officers" still had assistants and technical staff (interpreters, secretaries, drivers, etc.). In addition, there was the KGB residency in Berlin-Karlshorst with between 800 and 1,200 employees. It was subordinate to the 1st main administration (espionage) of the KGB. And there were smaller residencies in the districts (like the one in Dresden, where Vladimir Putin worked). All of them were mainly active in the "Federal Republic of Germany operational area".

Influential liaison officers

Back to the KGB liaison officers at the MfS: The legal basis for their assignment was contracts of October 1959 and December 1973 respectively. In the agreement signed on October 30, 1959 "About the Group of the Committee for State Security at the Council of Ministers of the USSR for coordination and liaison with the MfS of the GDR "was named as a goal: the joint" fight against the rooting-out work of "western" secret services, espionage and propaganda centers and anti-Soviet emigrant organizations directed against the Soviet Union and the GDR ". The competencies of the liaison officers were defined quite comprehensively. The staff of the MfS were obliged to "immediately hand over all information about the enemy's intentions and actions to the Soviet officers. The liaison officers are given the opportunity to study the operational tasks that concern the actions to be carried out together, as well as will [them ] informed of all information that characterizes the general and operational situation in the GDR, West Germany and in other capitalist countries. "

Contract signing with the "big brother": Yuri W. Andropow (left), chairman of the KGB, with Erich Mielke on December 6, 1973. (& copy BStU, MfS, ZAIG / Fo / 740, Fig. 82)
The "agreement on cooperation between the Ministry for State Security of the German Democratic Republic and the Committee for State Security at the Council of Ministers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" of December 6, 1973 was not quite as extensive on this point. There was only talk of cooperation, information exchange and mutual support in a more general way. Nothing has been changed in terms of the basic goals.

In addition to the basic agreements, there were agreements on cooperation between individual departments of the MfS and the KGB, in which cooperation for specific defense or espionage projects was specified. In order to deepen the cooperation, regular "working meetings" of the main departments and bilateral and multilateral conferences at ministry level took place (e.g. on questions of "enlightenment" and the fight against "political-ideological diversion"). The information relations between the two services focused primarily on the cooperation between the espionage department of the MfS, the HVA, and the I. Headquarters of the KGB, which is also responsible for espionage. Above all, the GDR side provided: Almost all information for the SED leadership was also sent to Moscow, often even the input information from Western agents, which nobody else in the MfS except the responsible HVA officers could see. Qualified IMs were also passed on.

On November 6, 1987, the Deputy Enlightenment of the Leipzig District Administration of the MfS reported to the HV A headquarters in Berlin about the handover of two IMs "on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution". (& copy Citizens Committee January 15th e.V.)

Another KGB residency at the Soviet Armed Forces group in Potsdam under the leadership of Head Office III (military defense) at Moscow headquarters was responsible for the military sector. There was also a residency of the Military Intelligence Service (GRU) in Wünsdorf. In addition, until the autumn of 1989 there were direct liaisons from the Russian Embassy and the KGB in the SED Politburo, most recently including the Politburo members Willi Stoph and Werner Krolikowski as direct contacts in Moscow.

"Joint registration system"

The MfS itself was represented by "operational groups" in the other socialist countries, including Moscow. These operational groups worked together on a contractual basis with the respective partner service. It was mainly about monitoring one's own citizens who were in friendly foreign countries and about securing one's own messages and spying on foreign messages. In times of political instability - for example in Czechoslovakia after 1968 and in Poland in the 1980s - information from the "brother country" was also collected and made available to the SED apparatus. At the end of the 1970s, the cooperation was placed on a higher technical level when the "System for the joint collection of information about the enemy" (SOUD) was set up under the direction of the KGB. This IT system was used to exchange personal information about foreign agents, diplomats, correspondents, real and alleged terrorists and "hostile-negative" Western citizens who maintained contact with the opposition in the Soviet domain.

Soviet secret service guests visit Stasi generals in East Berlin. (& copy BStU / Kulick)

In the late 1980s, cooperation suffered considerably from the Soviet reform policy. As far as can be seen, the KGB officers left no doubt about their loyalty to the new Soviet leadership, although on some occasions they did give MfS colleagues to understand that domestic liberalization was going too far for them. But there is no evidence that they encouraged their comrades from the MfS to adopt a more repressive policy in the crucial months. Rather the opposite.

Individual departments of the KGB and Stasi still concluded 5-year plans for joint projects. So in 1986 the main department XX. She was responsible for securing the state apparatus, the churches and the cultural sector and worked on the so-called underground.

Removed traces

After their final withdrawal in 1992, the Soviet intelligence officers left hardly any traces in the GDR: "Karlshorst" was handed over swept clean - like the offices of the liaison officers in the ministry and in the district administrations for state security. Much of it was turned to ashes in the winter of 1989/90 on a Soviet military training area with the help of a flamethrower. This is what the former deputy head of the KGB residency in East Berlin, Iwan Kuzmin, reported in the FAZ on September 30, 1994, without specifying the location (source: Kuzmin; "Even the most capable Chekists didn't know what to do next. Like the KGB residency in East Berlin experienced and suffered the collapse of the GDR five years ago "). At that time, however, there was no need for a large relocation of files in the direction of Moscow, because the relevant information had flowed continuously over the years.
In the sign of the Soviet withdrawal. The Soviet "tank memorial" behind the former wall at the Dreilinden / Drewitz border crossing in Berlin on October 4, 1990, one day after reunification. After 1990, the retreating Soviet army took back the historic tank, which is said to have been the first to cross the city limits of Berlin on April 24, 1945. (& copy wir-waren-so-frei.de / Rainer Schmidt)

In 1999 the magazine FOCUS (issue 5/99, online) researched a particularly valuable set of copies that the Soviet side did not receive until mid-December 1989. When the dissolution of the Stasi was foreseeable, the then Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Rainer Hemmann gave his liaison officer Colonel Alexander Prinzipalow a black leather messenger bag in a villa in Berlin-Karlshorst, according to Hemmann's knowledge, it contained the completely filmed agent file of the GDR - Foreign intelligence by HV A. Dissatisfied Russian secret service employees would have sold a copy of it to a CIA intermediary named James Atwood in Moscow in mid-1992. In this way, the file came back to the West - possibly with fatal consequences for two people involved in the deal. At the age of only 52 and 49, Atwoods' two contacts, the Russian secret service officers Alexander Sjubenko and Alexander Prinzipalow, died mysteriously of heart attacks in their cars in 1995 and 1997, respectively.

Link tip: The Education and Research Department of the BStU in cooperation with the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington has put a detailed website online with documents relating to the collaboration between the KGB and the Stasi.

Pride instead of guilt - The processing of the KGB as an instrument for generating fear and securing power in the Soviet Union.

In Russia it was only temporarily possible to ask questions about dictatorship research and the processing of the security services as instruments of the constant pressure of power and opinion of the CPSU system. This happened as a result of the "glasnost policy" under Mikhail Gorbachev from 1985 and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, combined with the abolition of the power monopoly of the previously all-powerful CPSU and its ban on August 23, 1991.

Until then, at most "individual errors" by the security organs were discussed in public, but these were only related to the 1930s. With little self-criticism, the KGB leadership published a quite remarkable document in May 1989 with the title: "Overview of the results of the investigation of the attitudes of Soviet citizens to certain aspects of the activities of the security organs". This was an assessment of their own image in the eyes of the population (to be found at www.kgbdocuments.eu). As a result, some "worrying tendencies" were identified, but "constant respect" for the secret service was also emphasized. Terror as an essential feature of the KGB's activities was denied and rejected; a dissolution, such as that of the Stasi, was not discussed. According to the document, 90% of the population even wanted "an expansion of the KGB's tasks under the condition of democratization".

According to the KGB paper, citizens were hoping for his help in solving ecological problems and in combating crime, alcoholism and drug addiction. The word "fear" was never used in the document. Conversely, the conclusion drawn from the optimistic claim that two-thirds of intellectuals, 90% of white-collar workers and more than 90% of workers viewed the KGB as very positive. At the end of Soviet history, Russia's citizens should accept the importance and necessity of the KGB work.

Bursting crystal image

In the course of "Perestroika", however, the truth and reality of mass terror and the persecution of opposition members were so shockingly demonstrated that the purposefully propagated crystal image of the Chekists with "the warm heart, cold head and clean hands" quickly and thoroughly burst.Pollsters came to a completely different conclusion - in 1991 around 76% of the population rated KGB activity as negative. This was the result of a survey by WZIOM, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion - this institution and the Russian Levada Center are considered to be the most reliable sociological services in Russia. The KGB people, previously ennobled as "knights", were now branded as a kind of devil, their profession was frowned upon - and after the involvement of KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov in the attempted coup against state power in August 1991, the State Security Committee (1954 -1991) dissolved by order of the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin (November 1991). Instead, a Ministry of Security was established in January 1992 and subordinated to the President, and it was subsequently split up into six independent security offices. On April 12, 1995, the unified Federal Security Service (FSB) emerged from it.

“Never again,” Yeltsin said in December 1997, “would the security services serve as bloodhounds for party or state leaders. They will never decide what and how the people may think and say. They will never persecute people for their convictions. "After this postulate, it was time to reform the entire system of security organs. The" Chekists "appeared disoriented and society split into three almost equally strong opinion groups: for the first The KGB was an “instrument of state terror,” for the second a “guarantor of stability in the USSR.” The third group saw the KGB as responsible for mass crimes in the Soviet Union only until World War II, after which it was on the stabilization of the country been out (WZIOM, sociological surveys 1995), a view shared and formative by many to this day.

The last publicly available survey (Lewada Center, 2008) made this division of the public into three groups clear:
  • for group one (approx. 45%) a positive assessment prevailed ("the main goal of the KGB has always been to defend the interests of the state", "only experts work there, none of them are stupid", "the KGB waged an uncompromising fight against corruption "etc.);
  • for group two (approx. 30%) a constant negative assessment prevailed ("main source of terror and fears", "the goal of this organization was always persecution and denunciations, purges and shootings" etc.);
  • the third group (approx. 15%) did not take a clear position.
  • The assessments were made regardless of age, occupation or level of education, rather family history and political orientation play the main roles.
Up until around 2005-2008, the processing of the security services remained an issue - as a value of the young democracy. In the course of this period, the tremendous feelings of fear of the KGB / FSB expressed by group two partially disappeared. Both organizations were not perceived as being of the same nature in public opinion. On the trust scale of state institutions, the secret services now ranked more in the middle, in any case higher than the police or many other organs of power. 33% of the citizens surveyed showed "full confidence" in the security organs, 38% only had "partial" confidence and 14-15% of those surveyed stated that they had no confidence at all in the KGB, FSB or other such services (Lewada Center , 2012). 15% of the respondents left this question unanswered. So Russia's citizens remained rather cautious about the state security organs.

Fear stoked up against the West causes a change in image

Changes became noticeable after 2010. State propaganda and the strong influence on the media gradually aroused the feeling of being besieged by unfriendly states. After the expansion of NATO and the "colorful revolutions", like in Ukraine, this was pushed. Pride instead of guilt - this awareness was brought up in order to stabilize Russia internally as a major power.

From the point of view of the perpetrators at the time, the meaning of the former mass terror, which is difficult to understand today, was that in Soviet society there was no separation between internal and external enemies: anyone with a different mind was considered to be commissioned and paid by foreign countries, which is why they were classified as "enemy agents" an obstacle on the way to socialist unity. A dangerous mixture of such a defensive attitude, shaped by the enemy image, and nationalistic macho feelings became more prevalent in society again after the year 2000. Opinion polls confirmed a steady growth in fears and beliefs that Russia "has powerful enemies who can wage war against us" (45% - 1998, 60% - 1999, 78% - 2010, 82% - 2014, Levada Center) . In this way the security services regained a stronger role, and the longing for successful spies returned. To strengthen the national identity, not only the glorification of the history of the Great Patriotic War, but also the heroic deeds of the Chekists served.

Excerpt from KGB information from the 1950s about Germany and the border with the GDR. (& copy BStU)

In the past decade, state propaganda has managed to separate the history of the Soviet and Russian security organs (only about 13% of respondents claim that the methods and goals of the FSB and KGB are closely related) and significantly increase the prestige of these services increase. This tendency developed in correlation with the revival of the "glorious pages" of Soviet history and with a renunciation of the further processing of the power system of totalitarianism.

Together with the increased feeling of being threatened internally from abroad, even the higher wages of the security guards were seen as justified and enhancing their reputation, they earn two to three times as much as army soldiers or civilians. The work of the "organs" is seen by many as a guarantee of stability in a complicated economic situation. The hope of an uncompromising fight against widespread corruption also plays a certain role.

Transfer of the archives reversed

The respondents show no keen interest in the history of the security services in the USSR. The days of committed discussions are over, the question of the KGB's past has become marginal in public life. The year 1992 plays a special role here: the MSB management at the time succeeded in undoing the planned transfer of most of the KGB archives to the state archival service. The reason was simple: many of the KGB documents are still of acute operational importance today. And so the history of the KGB and its close links with the Stasi remained in the hands of the Chekists, largely inaccessible to scientists or the public. In modern, still different textbooks for history one finds almost exclusively a chronicle of the history of the USSR and Stalin's mass repressions, but the year of the dissolution of the KGB and more in-depth considerations of its work are missing.

One conclusion that can be stated is that the processing of the KGB history is not the focus of public interest in Russia, it is rather marginal and there is little fear of its successors. The prestige of the secret services has even increased since 2000, because the West is again suggesting an increasing threat to Russian society. Even so, the FSB has not yet felt any solid support from society or any legal or public support to significantly expand its powers and competencies within the country. On the contrary. Meanwhile, more and more Russians are watching with suspicion how their state deals with opposition members and targeted disinformation campaigns by the secret service, which paint an increasingly gloomy picture of foreigners and opposition members. Like a creeping relapse into an old time.

The author Dr. Tatiana Timofeeva is a German-speaking lecturer at the Chair of Contemporary History at the Faculty of History at Lomonossov University, Moscow, and an expert in dealing with dictatorship.