U.S. hires KGB-linked company to guard embassy
MOSCOW — When President Vladimir Putin in July ordered U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia to slash their staff by 755 employees, the State Department said it would need time to assess the “impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it.”
Part of that response has now become clear: To make up for the loss of security guards axed in the Russian-mandated staff cuts, Washington has hired a private Russian company that grew out of a security business co-founded by Putin’s former KGB boss, an 82-year-old veteran spy who spent 25 years planting agents in Western security services and hunting down their operatives.
Under a $2.8 million no-bid contract awarded by the Office of Acquisitions in Washington, security guards at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and at consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok will be provided by Elite Security Holdings, a company closely linked to the former top KGB figure, Viktor Budanov, a retired general who became head of Soviet counterintelligence.
A State Department official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with the department’s rules, said that Elite Security and individuals associated with it had been “vetted” with “relevant national and local agencies” and would not increase the threat risk.
Russian company records show that Budanov is a former minority owner of at least three of Elite’s branches. Records indicate that he no longer holds any ownership stake, but Kommersant, a Russian business newspaper, has reported that the company’s head office in Moscow is run by his son, Dimitri.
Marines will continue to guard U.S. diplomatic missions, but tasks previously handled by local guards hired directly by the embassy in Moscow, like screening visitors, will be taken over by Elite Security.
Local guards are mostly restricted to the perimeter of diplomatic compounds and do not generally have access to secure areas.
“This is very good for us,” said Mikhail Lyubimov, a former KGB spy who knew Budanov from their time together in the Soviet intelligence service. “If I were the chief there, I would never do this for a very clear reason,” he said, adding that the Russian Embassy in Washington would not put security in the hands of a U.S. company known to have ties to the CIA.