Saturday 17 August 2019

Obituary: Philipp Bobkov

Senior KGB officer who remained unapologetic about his career, stamping out dissent in the former Soviet Union

Many medals: Philipp Bobkov
Many medals: Philipp Bobkov

Philipp Bobkov, who has died aged 93, was a former director of the KGB's Fifth Directorate - the political police department responsible for suppression of internal dissent in the former Soviet Union - and a key player in the organisation in the 1970s and 1980s.

He began his career in the KGB in 1945 under Stalin's henchman Lavrentiy Beria and remained unapologetic about his role in persecuting political dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s, explaining in 1996 that "these were people who were trying to overthrow our system. They were non-violent, it is true, but they were dangerous to society. I did not make the laws, but I did my patriotic duty".

In 1983 Bobkov was instrumental in the creation of the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public, which was designed, by the dramatic escalation of "anti-Zionist" activities, to crack down on dissidents, many of whom were Jewish, and halt or discredit the mass emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel.

Many dissidents ended up in Soviet psychiatric institutions, and in minutes of meetings between the East German Stasi and the KGB released in the early 1990s, Bobkov was quoted as claiming that half of those arrested as dissidents were mentally ill. In the summer of 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, he told the Stasi director Erich Mielke that the revolt against the regime was the work of the mentally ill. Mielke begged to differ, describing the dissidents as "antisocialist" but clearly not mad.

Philipp Denisovich Bobkov, who died on June 17, was born on December 1, 1925, in Chervona Kamenka, a town in Ukraine. His father was a land surveyor. In October 1941, just before the arrival of the Germans, the family moved to the industrial city of Perm, where father and son became workers at a coal gasification plant.

In 1942, father and son joined Stalin's Siberian Rifle Corps Volunteers, and during fighting in Smolensk and Belarus, Philipp was wounded and decorated several times for bravery. His father was fatally wounded during the summer offensive of 1944.

In 1945, Philipp Bobkov entered the Leningrad counter-intelligence school, after which he was sent to Moscow and posted to the Lubyanka. He rose rapidly up the KGB hierarchy and in 1967, under Yuri Andropov, was appointed deputy and then head of the newly created Fifth Directorate. From 1985 he was First Deputy Chairman of the KGB and in 1987 achieved the rank of four-star general.

In 1977, three members of an Armenian nationalist organisation were executed after a KGB investigation following a series of terrorist bombings in Moscow. Some dissidents believed the bombings were the work of Andropov and Bobkov. Bobkov was proud of his role in "resolving" ethnic conflicts that broke out in the Soviet peripheries as the empire began to crumble, though there were claims that the KGB fomented the unrest to justify its own importance.

According to testimony to the US Congress by the former CIA agent, Richard Palmer, as the Soviet Union fell apart Bobkov was instrumental in the creation of commercial firms and banks to be managed by KGB officers and their "trusted contacts". In 1991, he allegedly supervised the transfer of Communist Party money to foreign banks prior to the abortive coup attempt by hardline Communists.

In 1991, Bobkov became head of a private security agency which in 1994 was accused of attempting to assassinate the oligarch, Boris Berezovsky. Bobkov and his wife Ludmila had one son.

© Telegraph

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