Russia is one of many countries in the world that exercises a high degree of government surveillance over its citizens. Western obsessions with the KGB (and the tsarist secret police in an earlier era) have exaggerated the myth of the watchful Russian state. Despite this notorious reputation, Russia scores very low in terms of the proliferation and especially efficiency of surveillance technologies when compared with other developed countries.
   The Soviet Union was infamous for its elaborate system of surveillance and espionage, which was frequently portrayed in the Western press and romanticized by Hollywood filmmakers. The regime did maintain a massive spy network at home and abroad. Attempts at information control often smacked of the absurd, including the registering of all typewriters with the security services to ensure that authors of “forbidden” writings could be tracked down and incarcerated. Upon his ascent to power, Mikhail Gorbachev condemned the established practices of spying and reporting that had proliferated in all spheres of Soviet society. The new climate of transparency (glasnost) made many aspects of the Soviet surveillance system redundant, especially in such nonmilitary areas as museums and archives. The late 1980s and 1990s saw a radical transformation of the system of surveillance, its purposes, and the means of conduct.
   In contemporary Russia, surveillance is used for military purposes (particularly in counterterrorism) and espionage, as well as for data protection in banking and for safety reasons in public transport. The presence of uniformed police and plainclothes security personnel in Russian public places is dramatically higher than in other European countries, and even most of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia uses its satellite system to monitor activities in outer space, as well as targets on the surface of the planet, including both moving and static objects. The 2008 South Ossetian War demonstrated certain flaws in Russia’s reconnaissance drones and resulted in the country—one of the world leaders in military exports—having to purchase surveillance technologies from other countries, including Israel.
   While in the European Union, especially in Great Britain, video surveillance is widely used for traffic management, in Russia traffic authorities still rely on individual observers. The need to incorporate new surveillance technologies was recently highlighted by Dmitry Medvyedev as part of his fight against a high death toll on Russian roads. Though trains are the most popular means of transportation in the country, they are not equipped with CCTV; instead, on long-haul trains, police are used to safeguard passengers (the Moscow metro and other underground systems do employ CCTV). CCTV and other surveillance technologies are widely used in banking and other financial industries as well as in retail and service outlets.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

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