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New round of “Game of Thrones” in the Russian Special Services

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Zolotov. Photo: TASS
New round of “Game of Thrones” in the Russian Special Services
Article by: Kseniya Kirillova
Translated by: Michael Davidson

Quite a bit has been written about the opposition to Putin’s recently created National Guard under the leadership of General Viktor Zolotov, former commanding officer of Interior Ministry troops. Political analyst Andrey Piontkovsky gave the best analysis of the conflict, pointing out that the creation of the new structure signals that the President of Russia lost confidence in his one-time closest ally – the Federal Security Service (FSB).

“The appointment of Zolotov represents a very serious challenge to the institution that gave birth to Putin, his alma mater – the [FSB, which is] successor to the KGB.  It’s no secret that following the murder of Nemtsov the FSB was in open conflict with Putin when its investigation led to the questioning of [Putin’s henchman in Chechnya] Kadyrov. They correctly followed the trail from the actual murderers, who turned out to be officers in Kadyrov’s security forces, to their bosses – Gantemirov, Delimkhanov, and Kadyrov himself.  Putin objected strongly. The investigation was halted at his insistence. In the end, a chauffeur named Mukhdinov was declared to have been behind the murder, and head of the press service of the Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin all but openly blamed the US Department of State.  At that point, the FSB took the unprecedented step of publishing an article in ‘Novaya Gazeta’ – ‘Who Killed Nemtsov,’ and Yashin’s denunciation of Zolotov,” writes Piontkovsky.

In his opinion, Putin reacted to the direct accusation of Zolotov in two ways.  First, he re-appointed Kadyrov as acting president of Chechnya and wished him success in the September elections, and second, he appointed his former bodyguard, Zolotov, to head a huge, new special service and transferred to him elements formerly belonging to the MVD and FSB.

The next step taken by the head of the National Guard was perfectly logical.  According to recent reports, Viktor Zolotov has ordered that all personnel is checked for conflicts of interest.  Already, lists of National Guard members who have relatives in other law enforcement, supervisory, and regulatory agencies are being compiled.  In particular, personnel officers of the new service must immediately determine which troops have family members who work in other organizations: MVD, FSB, prosecutors, and the National Guard itself.  All relatives are to be included, both of the service member and his/her spouse, children, siblings, and their spouses, as well.

Officially, these measures are explained as intended to identify “negligent workers, nepotism and corruption,” but in the light of available information such precautions only confirm that Vladimir Putin wants a structure loyal only to him that is absolutely independent of the FSB, and seeks to protect it from any penetration or influence from the Chekists who have fallen out of favor.

Still another important step was to broaden the powers of the National Guard.  As reported by RBC, from the start it was assumed that Zolotov’s organization would become a sort of Ivan the Terrible’s “Oprichnina,” dedicated exclusively to riot control and the prevention and eradication of mass disorder (i.e. protest demonstrations). However, judging from the President’s decree, the National Guard will uphold civil order, combat terrorism and extremism, participate in the territorial defense of the country, guard important government installations and special shipments, assist the FSB at the border, and also monitor compliance with the law in the arms trade and private security.

Given this, even Putin’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov, doesn’t deny that the powers of the National Guard intersect those of the MVD and FSB, and this possibly requires changing the existing laws. Actually, the activities meant by “combat terrorism and extremism,” until the creation of “Zolotov’s army” were activities contested between the FSB and MVD.  In fact, a Center for Combatting Extremism known as Center “E,” was created in the Militia (now the Police) in 2008 to replace the disbanded Office for Crime Prevention (UBOP).  The primary function of this center was to combat dissidents and participants of protest actions.

Judging from criminal cases opened against “likes” and re-posts in social networks that have grown in Russia in recent years, mostly against housewives and single mothers, the primary instigator of such trials was the FSB, which is responsible for protecting the constitutional order and fight against terrorism.  How the persecution of housewives affects the fight against terrorism is a separate subject, but it’s obvious that there have been at least two very active players in the area of political repression.  And now it looks like the National Guard will be an addition to them.  The sad experience of its predecessors shows that once again the political opposition will be chosen to represent “terrorists and extremists.”

In this case, the FSB loses not only the Kremlin’s trust but also its reputation as the main organ of repression in the country.  Moreover, in the words of the Deputy Chairman of the Duma Security Committee, Aleksandr Khinshtayn, the National Guard will be involved in the fight against organized crime which, as already stated, ended in 2008, i.e. from the moment of the creation of Center “E.” For this, the National Guard will require its own domestic intelligence capability – something included in the Internal Troops incorporated into the Guard.

The competitive dismantling of the Russian security services adds drama to the effective demolishment of the Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics (FSKN) and the Federal Migration Service, which were subordinated to the MVD.  In response to this, offended members of the FSKN have already launched a media campaign in which they show that the reason for the creation of the National Guard is the destruction of the current Director of the FSKN, Viktor Ivanov, who happens to be one of the individuals figuring in the “case of the Russian mafia in Spain.”

“Firstly, it’s now clear that the FSKN is not being abolished; it’s being smashed.  Employment is not guaranteed for any member. The common belief is that anyone associated with Ivanov Sr. will become unemployed.  Secondly, Ivanov’s name appears nowhere as Deputy Minister,” complained the allies of the FSKN Director, leaking what they know about the National Guard to the press.  Apparently, being “released with no guarantee of employment” does not appeal to the valiant souls of the anti-narcotics personnel.

It seems that the conflict that started as a skirmish between Zolotov/Kadyrov and the FSB threatens to morph into a turf war of everybody against everybody else.  One should not forget the continuing war in the Donbas [in Ukraine] in which inter-agency showdowns periodically crop up between the FSB, GRU, and local mercenaries.  It’s possible that as the economic crisis grows, the battle for scarce resources between the different agencies will become even sharper.

Translated by: Michael Davidson
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