The nervous security agencies are fighting each other

Even if Vladimir Putin really does become prime minister, the law says that all security and law enforcement agencies will report to the new president. The prime minister, even if it’s Putin, won’t be able to influence the siloviki.

The impending administration changeover is making a substantial number of bureaucrats and official more and more nervous – including the siloviki (security and law enforcement people). Whichever way you look at it, even if Vladimir Putin really does become prime minister, the law says that all security and law enforcement agencies will report to the new president. The prime minister, even if it’s Putin, won’t be able to influence the siloviki.

Throughout his two terms in office, President Putin has maintained a balance among all the security and law enforcement agencies. This has been done by means of two methods.

First: appointments, dismissals, and reshuffles. People from the Federal Security Service (FSB) have been transferred to the Interior Ministry or the Federal Narcotics Control Service, and vice versa. The presidential administration’s personnel directorate, headed by Viktor Ivanov, plays a key role here. All appointments, promotions, and special awards go through Ivanov.

Reshuffles have kept the balance stable, despite occasional friction between the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Second: a strict distribution of functions among the special services. As a result, their personnel haven’t been getting in each other’s way. The FSB operates within Russia, and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) operates abroad.

But another process emerged sponetaneously: the role of the siloviki in business started growing noticeably. Frequent conflicts started arising between the interests of the siloviki and the interests of financial groups. And this process took place outside the president’s sphere of influence – far behind the scenes.

As Putin’s second term draws to a close, the problem has risen to the surface. Uncertainty about what tomorrow may bring has prompted the mid-level siloviki to resolve their disputes by means of conflicts. This is precisely why the past two or three months have seen an increasing amount of compromising “leaks” via the Internet, newspapers, and other media. Matters have reached the point of “significant” arrests.

We can only guess at the scale of this phenomenon, but the situation has apparently grown hot enough to warrant a public statement in the Kommersant newspaper from one of the most senior officials: Viktor Cherkesov, head of the Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN). His article included the following lines: “Anyone who discovers that business is his true calling should resign from the special services and move to a different environment. He shouldn’t attempt to be a merchant and a warrior at the same time. It can’t be done. It’s an either-or situation. You can’t call for an end to this ‘all against all’ war while simultaneously participating in it.”

This article was published a few days after a number of FSKN officers were arrested. Moreover, it is well-known among the siloviki that Cherkesov has been considered for the role of heading a potential Russian version of the FBI: a Unified Investigation Committee. Thus, the arrest of his subordinates is a serious blow to Cherkesov’s reputation. His chances of promotion have been reduced. Rumor has it that President Putin will go ahead with the Unified Investigation Committee plan. It might be his final chord, and corrupt officials are terribly scared of it – with good reason. Many officials have ceased to conceal their illegal gains, and even show them off.

Meanwhile, President Putin’s main concern is restraining inflation in the lead-up to the Duma election. He doesn’t have time for quarrels among the siloviki. So they have moved to the horizontal level.

Reportedly, the leading area of activity is wiretapping and tracing people’s bank accounts abroad. Consequently, the danger for Russia in the lead-up to elections is that all political forces wish to take advantage of such secrets in order to provoke yet another corruption scandal – for their own benefit, of course.

The “warriors-turned-merchants” have been greatly disconcerted by Viktor Zubkov’s appointment as prime minister. He’s a civilian, and rumor has it that he has compromising evidence on all kinds of crooks. What if he becomes president and starts expropriating the assets of certain “warriors,” not being from a siloviki background himself?

In this generally fearful climate, it’s heartening to see political heavyweight Mikhail Fradkov appointed to head the SVR. With Fradkov at the helm, this very important special service won’t be drawn into any scandals. The SVR is vital for Russia, given the impending problems in the former Soviet Union, the Iran crisis, and much more.

A final note: the factional warfare within the special services, as described by Cherkesov in his Kommersant article, is primarily advantageous for organized crime. All sides in this war will have to approach the criminal underworld for assistance.