The Post-Soviet Archives

Organization, Access, and Declassification

by Theodore W. Karasik


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This report describes and analyzes the structures, access, and declassification procedures within the post-Soviet archives. Although there are numerous holdings within former Soviet territory which collected and housed materials between 1917 and 1991, only those associated with the top leadership bodies (the CPSU Politburo, Secretariat, and Central Committee); the diplomatic, security, and intelligence services (the NKVD, KGB, and GRU); and the former Soviet military are examined. These include the Center for the Preservation of Contemporary Documents, Russian Center of Conservation and Study of Records for Modern History, Russian State Archives, the Russian Foreign Policy Archives, the Imperial Russian Foreign Policy Archives, the Russian Presidential Archives, the KGB Archives, the GRU Archives, and the CIS Military Archives. Overall, declassification will remain a key obstacle to any quick access to records in the post-Soviet archives. Throughout the archival system, managers and archivists complain bitterly about the lack of funds and manpower needed to peel away years of secrecy. One manager stated that it will take a decade before any materials can be released based on current funding levels. Thus many archives turn to Western interests for future funding opportunities to declassify materials quicker. Pressure must be applied to other Russian institutions to allow a quickening of declassification. KGB, GRU, and CIS military archives must be opened to Western specialists through negotiation with these institutions and not through the Russian government organs. However, secrecy on certain issues should be respected since materials can be damaging to both Russian and U.S. interests. The author gathered most of the information found within this document through interviews with Russian archival officials during a visit to Moscow between May 23 through May 31, 1992.

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