Active measures (Russian: активные мероприятия, romanized: aktivnye meropriyatiya) is a term for the actions of political warfare conducted by the Soviet and Russian security services (Cheka, OGPU, NKVD, KGB, FSB) to influence the course of world events, in addition to collecting intelligence and producing "politically correct" assessment of it. Active measures range "from media manipulations to special actions involving various degrees of violence". Beginning in the 1920s, they were used both abroad and domestically. They included disinformation, propaganda, counterfeiting official documents, assassinations, and political repression, such as penetration into churches, and persecution of political dissidents.
Active measures included the establishment and support of international front organizations (e.g. the World Peace Council); foreign communist, socialist and opposition parties; wars of national liberation in the Third World; and underground, revolutionary, insurgency, criminal, and terrorist groups. The intelligence agencies of Eastern Bloc states also contributed to the program, providing operatives and intelligence for assassinations and other types of covert operations.
Retired KGB Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin, former Director of Foreign Intelligence for the KGB, described active measures as "the heart and soul of Soviet intelligence": "Not intelligence collection, but subversion: active measures to weaken the West, to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs."
Active measures was a system of special courses taught in the Andropov Institute of the KGB situated at SVR headquarters in Yasenevo, near Moscow. The head of the "active measures department" was Yuri Modin, former controller of the Cambridge Five spy ring.
Active measures have continued in the post-Soviet era in Russia. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the US policy response to Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Victoria Nuland, former US Ambassador to NATO referred to herself as "a regular target of Russian active measures."
According to Stanislav Lunev, GRU alone spent more than $1 billion for the peace movements against the Vietnam War, which was a "hugely successful campaign and well worth the cost". Lunev claimed that "the GRU and the KGB helped to fund just about every antiwar movement and organization in America and abroad".
The World Peace Council was established on the orders of the Communist Party of the USSR in the late 1940s and for over forty years carried out campaigns against western, mainly American, military action. Many organisations controlled or influenced by Communists affiliated themselves with it. According to Oleg Kalugin,
... the Soviet intelligence [was] really unparalleled. ... The [KGB] programs—which would run all sorts of congresses, peace congresses, youth congresses, festivals, women's movements, trade union movements, campaigns against U.S. missiles in Europe, campaigns against neutron weapons, allegations that AIDS ... was invented by the CIA ... all sorts of forgeries and faked material—[were] targeted at politicians, the academic community, at [the] public at large. ...
It has been widely claimed that the Soviet Union organised and financed western peace movements; for example, ex-KGB agent Sergei Tretyakov claimed that in the early 1980s the KGB wanted to prevent the United States from deploying nuclear missiles and that they used the Soviet Peace Committee to organize and finance peace demonstrations in western Europe. (Western intelligence agencies, however, have found no evidence of this.) Tretyakov made a further uncorroborated claim that "The KGB was responsible for creating the entire nuclear winter story to stop the Pershing II missiles," and that they fed misinformation to western peace groups and thereby influenced a key scientific paper on the topic by western scientists.
After World War II Soviet security organizations played a key role in installing puppet Communist governments in Eastern Europe, the People's Republic of China, North Korea, and later Afghanistan. Their strategy included mass political repressions and establishment of subordinate secret services in all occupied countries
Some of the active measures were undertaken by the Soviet secret services against their own governments or Communist rulers. Russian historians Anton Antonov-Ovseenko and Edvard Radzinsky suggested that Joseph Stalin was killed by associates of NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria, based on the interviews of a former Stalin body guard and circumstantial evidence. According to Yevgeniya Albats allegations, Chief of the KGB Vladimir Semichastny was among the plotters against Nikita Khrushchev in 1964. KGB chairman Yuri Andropov reportedly struggled for power with Leonid Brezhnev. The Soviet coup attempt of 1991 against Mikhail Gorbachev was organized by KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov. Gen. Viktor Barannikov, then the former State Security head, became one of the leaders of the uprising against Boris Yeltsin during the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993.
The current Russian intelligence service, SVR, allegedly works to undermine governments of former Soviet satellite states like Poland, the Baltic states and Georgia. During the 2006 Georgian-Russian espionage controversy several Russian GRU case officers were accused by Georgian authorities of preparations to commit sabotage and terrorist acts.
In "Trust Operation" (1921–1926), the State Political Directorate (OGPU) set up a fake anti-Bolshevik underground organization, "Monarchist Union of Central Russia". The main success of this operation was luring Boris Savinkov and Sidney Reilly into the Soviet Union, where they were arrested and executed.
During the Basmachi Revolt (started 1916) in Central Asia, special military detachments masqueraded as Basmachi forces and received support from British and Turkish intelligence services. The operations of these detachments facilitated the collapse of the Basmachi movement and led to the assassination of Enver Pasha.
Following World War II, various partisan organisations in the Baltic States, Poland and Western Ukraine (including some previous collaborators of Germany) fought for independence of their countries against Soviet forces. Many NKVD agents were sent to join and penetrate the independence movements. Puppet rebel forces were also created by the NKVD and permitted to attack local Soviet authorities to gain credibility and exfiltrate senior NKVD agents to the West.
The highest-ranking Soviet Bloc intelligence defector, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa claimed to have had a conversation with Nicolae Ceauşescu, who told him about "ten international leaders the Kremlin killed or tried to kill": László Rajk and Imre Nagy from Hungary; Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu and Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej from Romania; Rudolf Slánský and Jan Masaryk from Czechoslovakia; the Shah of Iran; Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, President of Pakistan; Palmiro Togliatti from Italy; John F. Kennedy; and Mao Zedong. Pacepa provided some other claims, such as a plot to kill Mao Zedong with the help of Lin Biao organized by the KGB and alleged that "among the leaders of Moscow’s satellite intelligence services there was unanimous agreement that the KGB had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy."
The second President of Afghanistan, Hafizullah Amin, was killed by KGB Alpha Group in Operation Storm-333. Presidents of the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria organized by Chechen separatists including Dzhokhar Dudaev, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, Aslan Maskhadov, and Abdul-Khalim Saidullaev were killed by FSB and affiliated forces.
There were also allegations that the KGB was behind the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in 1981. The Italian Mitrokhin Commission, headed by senator Paolo Guzzanti (Forza Italia), worked on the Mitrokhin Archives from 2003 to March 2006. The Italian Mitrokhin commission received criticism during and after its existence. It was closed in March 2006 without any proof brought to its various controversial allegations, including the claim that Romano Prodi, former and current Prime minister of Italy and former President of the European Commission, was the "KGB's man in Europe." One of Guzzanti's informers, Mario Scaramella, was arrested for defamation and arms trading at the end of 2006.
Soviet secret services have been described as "the primary instructors of guerrillas worldwide". According to Ion Mihai Pacepa, KGB General Aleksandr Sakharovsky once said: "In today’s world, when nuclear arms have made military force obsolete, terrorism should become our main weapon." He also claimed that "Airplane hijacking is my own invention". In 1969 alone 82 planes were hijacked worldwide by the KGB-financed PLO.
Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa described operation "SIG" (“Zionist Governments”) that was devised in 1972, to turn the whole Islamic world against Israel and the United States. KGB chairman Yury Andropov explained to Pacepa that
a billion adversaries could inflict far greater damage on America than could a few millions. We needed to instill a Nazi-style hatred for the Jews throughout the Islamic world, and to turn this weapon of the emotions into a terrorist bloodbath against Israel and its main supporter, the United States
The following liberation organizations have been allegedly established or supported by the KGB: Red Army Faction, PLO, National Liberation Army of Bolivia (created in 1964 with help from Ernesto Che Guevara); the National Liberation Army of Colombia (created in 1965 with help from Cuba), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1969, and the Secret Army for Liberation of Armenia in 1975.
Russia's alleged disinformation campaign, its involvement in the UK's withdrawal from the EU and the alleged interference in the election of Donald Trump as US President, and its alleged support of far-right movements in the West has been compared to the Soviet Union's active measures in that it aims to "disrupt and discredit Western democracies".
After the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Kremlin-controlled media spread disinformation about Ukraine’s government. In July 2014 Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers. Kremlin-controlled media and online trolls spread disinformation, claiming Ukraine rebels had shot down the airplane.