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 leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

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Josh Wilson

Josh has been with SRAS since 2003. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. He lived in Moscow from 2003-2022, where he ran Moscow operations for SRAS. At SRAS, Josh still assists in program development and leads our internship programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

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