At the beginning of their career as operative policemen in the last-century 70s, neither he nor his friends could ever think that the time would come when they would again hear the sound of machine guns, and death notices would fly into the homes of Russian families.
My conversation partner is State Duma Deputy Army General Nikolay Kovalev ̀. He made a career from an operative policeman in the district department of the USSR KGB for the city of Moscow and Moscow Oblast over to the director of the Federal Security Service of Russia. He was responsible for coordinating extremism and terrorism issues. He was awarded orders and medals. Yet, as he puts it himself, an operative policeman is still living inside him, and he always recalls with pleasure this work of his.
Our conversation appears to be in line with the newspaper concept: we are talking about shield and sword.
- Do you believe that terrorism is an eternal phenomenon?
- I think the entire human history is the history of terrorism. I would even refer the Killing of Abel by Cain to this category... The appearance of the state as an institution has triggered a whole chain of terrorist acts. Struggle for the Crown, struggle against the Crown... Struggle for and against power... The impossibility to solve the problem by political means spurred people on to various misdoings. Poison or dagger was used to settle the problem or conflict...
- It sounds like a vicious circle, does it not?
- Terrorism is an old-world serious disease of the humanity. Just think about the murder of Grand Duke Ferdinand by a Serbian student. One shot of the madman led to millions of people killed in the First World War that followed.
Before the revolution in Russia, terrorism was both a means to express protest and to struggle for the power. Today, a terrorist act is not only a means of terrifying people but a sort of revenge for something that has been done earlier.
- Some people think that explosions today aim at influencing political processes in the country.
- Once, I took part in a radio program, and my opponent was, so to speak, "raising the bar" proclaiming that the terrorist acts in Russia were directed against Putin and Medvedev... Yet I believe that is not quite true... On the contrary, the actions that are committed in the country mobilize the authorities and make them "tighten the screws". As a result, people who intended to cripple the state do harm mainly to their surviving henchmen. Although the criminals plan to terrify people, I can by no means accept the opinion that the target behind the tragic events was to shatter the ruling tandem. What was the outcome? Many militant groupings were practically wiped off the face of the earth.
- Some liberal political figures laid the blame for the indicated events on the Federal Security Service.
- Do you mean Mr. Berezovsky? He can lay the blame for Pompeii tragedy on the FSS as well... People like him have lost any trace of logic. Their hatred to Russia made them suffocate in their own gall.
What political goals can be achieved by exploding a bomb in the subway? Tightening the screws? The country's authorities have enough power.
-When did you personally face terrorism?
- In 1977... Remember the explosions in the metro? It was an outrageous offence for that time! I was working as an operative policeman of the Pervomaisky District Department of the KGB for Moscow and Moscow Oblast, and we were instructed to collect all material evidence. The debris landed over a huge area. It was a white winter. We collected snow and ice, melted them, and sieved what was left... Over sixteen tons of snow and ice. We collected a lot of things... Using cast iron debris and enamel pieces, the KGB forensic experts managed to almost fully reconstruct the explosive device. Today, you can see it in the FSS Museum.
- This must have been very meticulous work!
- Like any other task we had. Thousands of operative groups were established countrywide each of which had their own task to perform.
It was a real school for all KGB employees. We mastered so many practical skills, search methods, non-standard solutions which we would not have come across under other circumstances. In the end, the criminals were found, put to trial and executed...
- When you worked as an operative policeman, what kinds of terrorism existed? The readers would like to know what was typical of the 70-90s.
- At that time, when our society was cut off from the world, and citizens would not travel abroad, we most often faced aircraft seizures. Today it is a rare case yet then... However, most of the aircraft terrorist acts were prevented at the preparation stage. Just for the reference: the USSR aviation history knows about 200 aircraft seizures and attempted aircraft seizures. Over 500 (!) seizures were prevented at the conceptualization stage.
- What do you think about the reforms of the law-enforcement system?
- Special services and the law-enforcement system in the operative field are essentially very conservative. It may take years to set up an operative position.
People often express their surprise: how it can be? The reform has been conducted yet no results are to be seen! I adhere to the evolutional development. We change goals, government, we outline the forms and methods of our work, we increase the transparency of the system, and we enhance the public control over it. Moreover, we recruit reserve staff, restore our tutoring system and the employment guarantee system, set up a multi-stage selection and control by the supervisory authorities (including the control over expenditures and income), and introduce a systematic reporting to the citizens... Believe me, a smart one will understand and deal with it. A fool will just run away.
- But let us go back terrorism...
- It is better to never go back to terrorism. But anticipating your question, I may state that over the past decade, the situation has been stabilized.
- What are the reasons for that?
- They lie on the surface. The state has been strengthened. It has started enjoying the public trust despite the protest meetings. The people have grown tired, and realized that terrorist address their own issues through inhumane actions. Therefore, practically no one supports them any more. The West has cut its funding: they do not want to throw their money down the drain. Special Forces have been enhanced, positions are being restored, and the material and technical facilities have been improved. The law-enforcement officers have started acting more confidently and decisively.
- What about the challenges?
- They are the eternal ones: lack of people and money. Yet I think we will cope with it soon. It is the law of the unity and struggle of opposites: where there people, there is money. Where there is money, there will be people.
- What would you change in your life if you could?
- The past allows for no changes. Our life is like the novel by Ray Bradbury: using the time machine, the protagonist flew back over centuries to the time of dinosaurs, killed a tiny fly there, and came back to find a totalitarian regime.
Newspaper "The Shield and Sword"