Russia plans effectively to revive the KGB under a massive shake-up of its security forces, a respected business daily has reported.
A State Security Ministry, or MGB, 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 expected to be in operation before the 2018 presidential elections, which could see Mr Putin secure a fourth term of office that would keep him in power until 2024.
Mr Putin served as a KGB officer in Soviet-era East Germany, and is also thought to have been responsible for keeping tabs on dissidents in his hometown of Leningrad, now St Petersburg.
He headed the FSB from July 1998 to August 1999, before becoming prime minister, and has often quipped that there is no such thing as a former KGB officer.
“The KGB was one of the strongest special services in the world – everyone recognised this,” Sergei Goncharov, who served in Russia’s now disbanded Alpha counter-terror unit in the 1990s, told state media. Mr Goncharov also said the creation of the MGB would provide Russia with a “strong fist” overseen by a unified leadership.
Kremlin critics were horrified by the possible rebirth of an organisation synonymous in Russia with political oppression. “It’s time to get out [of the country],” wrote Elshad Babaev, a Twitter user. “Anyone who can should take the opportunity.”
The KGB was just one of the many incarnations of the Soviet Union’s feared secret police service, which was founded in 1917 as the Cheka.
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.
The Kommersant report came less than 24 hours after Mr Putin’s ruling United Russia party strengthened its grip on the Duma, the lower house of parliament, taking three-quarters of its 450 seats, its largest ever majority.
The two anti-Putin parties on the ballot – Parnas and Yabloko – failed to overcome the 5 per cent threshold to enter parliament.
Dmitry Gudkov, the only liberal opposition politician to hold a seat before, was defeated by a United Russia candidate.
“The question now is … how to live with a one-party parliament,” he said.
The election was marred by allegations of vote-rigging and widespread apathy. The turnout in Moscow was just 35 per cent, the lowest since Mr Putin came to power in 2000.
“A record low turnout. Democrats get less than 3 per cent. The MGB is to be recreated. Welcome to the brave new world,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, the deputy leader of Parnas.