A SCANDAL IN THE PRESIDENTIAL HAREM

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Putin’s allies are behaving like jealous wives in a harem

If certain criminal cases involve personnel from the special services, the law enforcement agencies, and the Customs Service – then who but the president could resolve such a conflict? And who should be entrusted with operations support, if almost everyone is involved in the fight?


Vladimir Putin’s allies are behaving like jealous wives in a harem. Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN) Director Viktor Cherkesov – a St. Petersburg chekist (ex-KGB) and old aquaintance of Putin – managed to have the FSKN take over operation support for the Tri Kita furniture-smuggling case and the Chinese consumer goods smuggling case, in which many high-ranking state servants were mentioned – including some from the central staff of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Cherkesov reported directly to the president on the background details of widely-publicized criminal investigations, and thus increased his own influence. Direct authorization from the president to deal with criminal cases involving the special services: that is a very great resource. And reporting on events directly to the president is really good, since the interpretation of events largely depends on who’s telling the story.

Cherkesov’s reports to the president threatened to escalate into “a thousand and one nights” – and the other inhabitants of the harem, whose interests were adversely affected by these regular reports, grew concerned. There were rumors that Cherkesov was aspiring to head the Security Council. Moreover, as we reported earlier, some of Cherkesov’s former subordinates moved to key departments at the Interior Ministry. Meanwhile, the same heights were being contested by people loyal to Putin’s long-standing allies: Igor Sechin, deputy head of the presidential administration, and Senior Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev.

Understandably, the “old wives” weren’t exactly delighted by the president’s latest source of entertainment. So they dragged some dirty laundry into public view, and arrests followed: Lieutenant General Alexander Bulbov, head of the FSKN Operations Support Department, and three other FSKN personnel.

The problem is that the law says nothing about the president intervening in criminal cases, and neither does it say anything about the FSKN having the authority to use surveillance against the special services. But Cherkesov’s people, carried away by the idea that their reports were being transmitted directly to the president, went and tapped the phones of “special targets” – FSB personnel.

On the other hand, if certain criminal cases involve personnel from the special services, the law enforcement agencies, and the Customs Service – then who but the president could resolve such a conflict? And who should be entrusted with operations support, if almost everyone is involved in the fight?

A state security general who asked to remain anonymous told us: “In a system of relations that is not regulated by the law, but depends entirely on what is permitted by the supreme authority, people who have been given great powers are liable to develop the illusion that they’re special. Some of ‘the elect’ decided, for one reason or another, that it was all right for them to get involved in smuggling schemes. Others decided it was all right for them to act outside the law, informing the president. In the absence of any restrictions or clear regulations, there is no guarantee that both the first and second groups of ‘the elect’ won’t use the situation for personal gain.”

Cherkesov made a public statement (an article in Kommersant, No. 184, October 8) about the “chekist hook” and the caste that is destined to save our society and should therefore avoid destructive internal conflicts. Experts are saying this is evidence that Cherkesov has fallen victim to his own conviction that he’s one of “the elect.”

Former prosecutor general Yuri Skuratov disagrees: “I think Cherkesov is right, in some ways. A public explanation is a courageous and difficult step to take. According to my sources, his subordinates were acting within the framework of an assignment from the president, relating to the Tri Kita case, and I can understand the FSKN Director’s concern. Some of the charges against his subordinates seem dubious to me, along with the reasons for detaining them.” All the same, Skuratov believes that the broader picture involves a confrontation between more senior figures, and what’s at stake in this power-struggle is influence on the president.

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