The KGB might be best known for its cloak-and-dagger espionage overseas, but a growing service of the Soviet Committee for State Security is to defend the country’s flora and fauna, officials said Wednesday.
With the Soviet public increasingly active in fighting pollution, the KGB is taking an aggressive role in the battle, said Maj. Gen. Alexander N. Karbainov, head of the community liaison office.
“This is one of our lines of work,” Karbainov said. “The word security has a very broad meaning. We don’t just fight espionage, terrorism, drug dealing and organized crime. We also fight ecological crime.”
Gen. Vladimir Podelyakin, the KGB chief in Ufa, capital of Bashkiria Autonomous Republic in Russia’s Ural Mountains, is leading a drive to clean up the toxic wastes from the republic’s oil-producing enterprises, the official news agency Tass reported Tuesday. Podelyakin called on the local Parliament to declare environmental disaster zones in all of the republic’s five districts.
“According to KGB experts, if urgent measures are not taken immediately, flora and fauna in Bashkiria would be doomed,” Tass reported.
Millions of tons of toxic wastes have been dumped in the republic and most are lethal, the KGB said. The air has been polluted with massive discharges of waste gases.
Ufa’s water was poisoned last spring with phenol from petrochemical plants in the area. Phenol, a strong, corrosive poison, becomes carbolic acid when diluted in water.
More than 600 people were killed in 1989 in Bashkiria when a gas pipeline exploded as two trains were passing.
Vladimir D. Krifosheyev, Podelyakin’s deputy, said the department is paying more attention to the environment because people are increasingly alarmed about harm to water, air and land in the region and to themselves.
“We have a very complicated ecological situation here,” Krifosheyev said in a telephone interview from Ufa. “But it’s nothing new. It’s just that the people know more about the dangers--and they are very upset about it.”
Krifosheyev added that the KGB is not an unlikely group to fight pollution.
“We at the KGB breathe the air too,” he said. “We have families and we suffer from exposure to the pollution like everyone else.”
The KGB’s role as a pollution fighter seems to be part of a reorientation of the organization, which was known for decades for its espionage, for torturing and imprisoning dissidents and for killing millions at the bidding of dictator Josef Stalin.
The KGB now pursues organized crime and drug traffickers and fights terrorism at home and abroad. Its former anti-dissident unit has become a department for the protection of the constitution. But it also has controversial new responsibilities such as enforcing economic regulations.
To improve its image, the KGB invites journalists into the long-secret halls of its Lubyanka headquarters, chooses a “Miss KGB” and, with its new public relations office, spotlights current activities.