FSB Director Patrushev will lead the anti-terrorism effort

President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree establishing the National Anti-Terrorist Committee and appointing FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev as its chairman. The new committee will have unprecedented powers, with its decisions being binding for all federal government bodies.

President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree establishing the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC) and appointing Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev as its chairman. The decree, published yesterday, states that the NAC will include the most senior officials from all security and law enforcement agencies, special services, key ministries, and both houses of parliament. The decree establishes a hierarchy of authority headed by the FSB Director, while simultaneously striking a blow at presidential envoy Dmitri Kozak.

President Putin’s decree on measures for countering terrorism gives the NAC and its chairman, Nikolai Patrushev, unprecedented powers: the NAC’s decisions are binding for all federal government bodies represented by its members, while in the regions, directives from anti-terrorist commissions and operations headquarters (part of the NAC structure) are binding even for local government bodies. The decree also states that in assessing “the effectiveness of actions taken by federal government bodies to counter terrorism,” the NAC is empowered to make decisions “concerning organization, coordination, and improvement” of those actions. Any questions that still lie beyond the NAC’s authority should be taken directly to the head of state and the federal government.

The NAC will “request and receive, in the time specified, any materials or information it requires” from federal or regional authorities, as well as “non-governmental associations and organizations.” Thus, NGOs are involuntarily drawn into the hierarchy of governance established by Putin and now headed by the FSB. What’s more, the FSB’s leading role is emphasized in almost all of the decree’s eleven articles. These include an article authorizing 300 extra staff for the FSB’s head office – equivalent to establishing another subdivision within the FSB, with as many staff as a department and unlimited abilities.

According to the decree, the NAC will have a subdivision: a federal operations headquarters, with its leader appointed by NAC Chairman Nikolai Patrushev. The heads of existing security and law enforcement agencies – including the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the Emergencies Ministry – will be subordinate to the operations headquarters leader appointed by the FSB Director. The regions will have regional commissions, chaired by regional leaders – but they won’t have the authority to appoint the leaders of regional operations headquarters; instead, those will be headed automatically by the chiefs of FSB regional directorates, with all the regional leadership at their disposal. The structure of the hierarchy looks like this: regional leaders and heads of regional anti-terrorist commissions become subordinate to the FSB Director; the leaders of regional operations headquarters are already his direct subordinates.

President Putin’s decree establishing the NAC fits in with what he said recently at an FSB collegium meeting (we covered that on February 8). Putin praised the FSB’s performance in 2005, noting yet again that fighting terrorism remains the priority objective for the FSB. The NAC decree positions the FSB as overseer of all government bodies without exception, for whom fighting terrorism is also a priority from now on.

In the meantime, the decree on measures for countering terrorism revokes three of President Putin’s directives regarding the commission for coordinating the activities of federal executive branch bodies in the Southern federal district. That commission, established in September 2004, straight after the Beslan school hostage siege, is currently chaired by Dmitri Kozak, presidential envoy for the Southern federal district. From now on, it will be known as the commission on improving the socio-economic situation in the Southern federal district. Kozak has been given two weeks to write a resolution on estabishing the new commission and present it for approval; its terms of reference will no longer include anything connected with anti-terrorist activity. The NAC decree emphasizes that the question of “improving management of counter-terrorist operations” in the North Caucasus” will be considered separately. Until it has been considered by President Putin, all the relevant powers are transferred to the operation headquarters for management of counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus, and the regional operation headquarters.

The shutdown of Kozak’s commission may be regarded as an assessment of his performance as presidential envoy. This has certainly been affected by the Beslan events. In particular, there is still no answer to the question of which security and law enforcement chiefs should be held responsible for the consequences of the Beslan siege. The investigation team sent out by the Prosecutor General’s Office couldn’t establish that either. This circumstance continues to generate debates about the tragic events in Beslan, their consequences, and who was to blame.

But the NAC decree rules out any possibility of such confusion arising in future: from now on, efficient leadership in crisis situations will be the responsibility of regional FSB chiefs, and ultimately FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev. Any complaints after the next major act of terrorism should be addressed to them, not to President Putin. The head of state is not accountable for terrorism, since he isn’t a member of the NAC.

It isn’t entirely clear how the NAC and its subordinate regional bodies will interact with the Federal Anti-Terrorist Commission and regional anti-terrorist commissions established by order of the federal government in November 1998. Most likely, those bodies will simply cease to exist; just as well, since regional administrations have almost forgotten them already. For example, when we approached the North Ossetian government yesterday, staff there couldn’t remember when the regional anti-terrorist commission had last met or what decisions it had made.

Meanwhile, one of presidential envoy Kozak’s staff told us yesterday that the NAC decree is a “gift” for Kozak, in return for “being too active.” The Southern federal district’s anti-terrorist commission was “very effective indeed,” said the source; it was “too active, and caused trouble.” With regret, the source noted: “The new presidential decree has destroyed the fruits of Kozak’s labor.”

Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy chairman of the Duma security committee, isn’t too thrilled about President Putin’s initiative either. He told us: “It turns the FSB into a state within a state, and that’s very dangerous. The fact that the interior minister will be subordinate to the FSB chief, and even to his deputy, indicates that the FSB is taking on the dominant role in state administration. This decree mixes up all kinds of state functions. Not even the federal government will have authority over the new body.”

Mikhail Grishankov, first deputy chairman of the Duma security committee, welcomes the NAC decree but warns against judging it too hastily, since one point in the decree states that it will only come into force after the parliament has passed the law on countering terrorism. “That bill is ready for the Duma’s consideration, and will soon be submitted for debate at a plenary session,” says Grishankov. “It includes an article on establishing a special structure that will assume responsibility for anti-terrorist tasks. I welcome the decree, partly because it states clearly who will be responsible for fighting terrorism: the FSB Director.”

Vladimir Novitsky, president of the Russian branch of the International Human Rights Society, maintains that “if the situation in Russia remains calm, the NAC will fade away of its own accord.” Novitsky points out that “it won’t be able to make decisions or enforce compliance with its decisions,” but expresses concern that under the guise of fighting terrorism, the NAC might actually launch a battle against entirely different phenomena – like non-governmental organizations, for example.

“Fighting terrorism by means of hierarchical structures like this committee is completely futile,” says Vladimir Rimsky, polling manager for the InDem Foundation. “If our authorities have indeed defined terrorism as a modern form of warfare, they ought to be seeking an appropriate response to it – rather than acting like generals who are always ready to fight the previous war.” In Rimsky’s opinion, bureaucratic logic dictates that the NAC has to choose between two courses of action: either making all citizens spy on each other and report to the authorities, or simulating intense activity while actually holding meaningless meetings. “Both alternatives are completely ineffective for the purpose of fighting terrorism,” says Rimsky. “The NAC will only attempt to respond to the consequences of terrorist attacks.”