Russian MiniLessons: Органы = Security Forces (FSB and Spies)

Accused Russian spy Anna Chapman played into stereotypes of Russian spies after being deported to Russia and, for a time, was a minor celebrity who hosted TV shows in Russia.

The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

Органы were very powerful in the Soviet Union. They conducted activities both in Russia and abroad. Previously, the КГБ (Комитет государственной безопасности) had several управлений, and Первое управление was in charge of внешняя разведка. Later this department was reorganized as Служба внешней разведки.

Spying generally worked something like this: an aгент or штатный сотрудник органов would recruit some осведомителей to collect necessary information. The agent would often работает под прикрытием of some organization such as a diplomatic mission or company. If he был раскрыт by the enemy’s контрразведка, this meant that the agent провалился or терпел провал. Sometimes the agent then switched sides and работал под контролем to дезинформировать his former bosses and spy for the former enemy. Sometimes he or she would become a двойной агент and work for both sides. This could be lucrative position, but with the risk that either side might discover the arrangement and punish the agent for being a предатель.

There were агенты-женщины in the KGB. However, the special services are reluctant to uncover the names of these ladies even nowadays. For example, there are no photos of female agents in the special services museum located in Lubyanka, the former KGB building. Female agent were often referred to as “ласточки” and their operations were often called “медовые ловушки”. The agent became a mistress of a prominent person (either Soviet or a foreign man) and extracted secrets from him. Similar tactics were used by male agents who would seduce and even marry female secretaries working in government offices in order to obtain sensitive information.

Spies are perhaps most famous for their ликвидационные операции abroad. It is officially recognized that Soviet security services arranged the murder of Leo Trotsky, and Russian Special Services claim that the last liquidating operation abroad was conducted on October 15, 1959, when the leader of radical Ukrainian nationalists Stepan Bandera was killed by an agent in Munich. However, there is now much debate in the West over the recent death of Alexander Litvinenko and whether he too may have been “liquidated.”

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About the Author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life,, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an MA from St. Petersburg State in International Relations. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource. He additionally helps coordinate activities for our students in Moscow.

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Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson is the Assistant Director for The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS) and Communications Director for Alinga Consulting Group. In those capacities, he has been managing publications and informative websites covering geopolitics, history, business, economy, and politics in Eurasia since 2003. He is based in Moscow, Russia. For SRAS, he also assists in program development and leads the Home and Abroad and Challenge Grant scholarship writing programs.

Program attended: All Programs

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