Russian secret police declassify century-old documents but then block access to them

Admiral Alexander Kolchak, the head of the anti-Bolshevik White forces in 1918-1920 during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922). It is believed to be his last photo taken before his execution by the Bolsheviks in February 1920. (Wikimedia Commons)

Admiral Alexander Kolchak, the head of the anti-Bolshevik White forces in 1918-1920 during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922). It is believed to be his last photo taken before his execution by the Bolsheviks in February 1920. (Wikimedia Commons) 

International, Op-ed

In a move that perfectly embodies the “hybrid” way the Putin regime does things, the FSB has announced that it is declassifying documents concerning the trial and execution of Admiral Kolchak, the anti-Bolshevik leader in Siberia in 1919-1920, but will not allow anyone in the public to have access to them.

The declassification of these documents will no doubt be invoked by Putin’s supporters in Russia and abroad as evidence of a new openness by the Russian security services, but the simultaneous decision to block access to these unclassified documents ill ensure that in fact nothing has really changed, although the latter point is not one Moscow will be making.

Kommersant reported this development today, and opposition sites picked up on it, suggesting that it is the latest example of how the Putin regime can be counted on to act (e.g., echo.msk.ru and graniru.org).

Admiral Kolchak decorating White troops, 1919. (Wikimedia Commons)

Admiral Kolchak decorating White troops, 1919. (Wikimedia Commons)

But the upshot of the FSB’s action may be exactly the reverse of what it hopes for: more interest in Kolchak and his rehabilitation (rusk.ru and beloedelo.com) and more questions among Russians about how long they will have to wait to learn the truth about their own past.

As one Russian specialist on Soviet history puts it, “How long must we wait until we can be acquainted with [documents concerning Kolchak and other victims of Soviet power]? Another hundred years? Or even 300?” Such questions by their very nature are subversive of the values Putin wants to promote.

And that makes the FSB’s actions truly counterproductive. If the organs and the Kremlin behind them didn’t want to release anything, they should have left things as they were, with the documents beyond reach because of classification. But in the pursuit of positive reviews from some, they have generated more negative ones by far more people.

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Edited by: A. N.

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