Tatyana Stanovaya: «Siloviki Meat Mincing Machine: Who Will the FSB Steamroller Run Over”, Slon 27 Jul 16

Andrey Belyaninov, one of the behemoths of the Putin era, is about to tender his resignation. After the pictures shown by Gazeta.ru, keeping his post is a matter of hours or days (according to Dozhd, he had already written his request – several months ago). It is possible that Belyaninov will even end up behind bars – this should not be ruled out given the might of the blow dealt to the head of the Federal Customs Service by his colleagues from the FSB [Federal Security Service].
In recent months it is as if a steam roller has passed over the security agency bodies: some structures have been abolished, others have changed bosses, yet others are losing influential employees who have ended up in the dock. Is there any logic in all of this? What is the political meaning of what is occurring? Is Putin not losing control over his “warriors”?
According to the public information on the Belyaninov case, the FSB’s own security administration [USB] is again behind the operation. Over the past couple of years, this influential subdivision seems to have lost its balance. It is its head (who has now moved to the post of head of the FSB Economic Security Service), Sergey Korolev, who was in charge of all of the high-profile cases: of the governors of Sakhalin and Kirov Oblasts and the Republic of Komi, of the mayor of Vladivostok, the case of the businessman Mikhalchenko, and the arrests of the generals at the Russian Investigation Committee. The Federal Tax Service can now be added to this. A student with Putin at Leningrad State University (Bastrykin) is handing over his subordinates, someone who served with the president in the GDR (Belyaninov) is presented to the country as a pathetic thief – it seems that no proprieties are left any more.
It is possible that the FSB was also behind the replacement of FSO [Federal Protection Service] head Yevgeniy Murov: it was “chekists” [security service employees] who collected compromising information about the links between the once influential silovik and his son Andrey and companies belonging to the St Petersburg businessman Mikhalchenko who was arrested in a smuggling case. The security agency super-department – the Russian National Guard – is just being set up at the moment, but the FSB has meanwhile become the main “legislator of fashions”: virtually all the “prohibitive” laws since 2012 have been written in the offices of FSB lawyers. The service has also closed ranks internally: the USB and the SEB [Economic Security Service], which were at odds, have been placed under the unified control of Korolev who has already been mentioned. It seems that he is turning into the main candidate for the role of “Darth Vader” – that is what Igor Sechin, the overseer of Russian energy, was jokingly called when he was at the peak of his capabilities (and oil was at peak prices).
Just like Viktor Zolotov turned from Putin’s bodyguard into the country’s bodyguard (at the head of the Russian National Guard), the USB is gradually turning from the KGB’s own security service into Putin’s own security service. Stanislav Belkovskiy suggested on Ekho Moskvy that Putin had now started a purge of his entourage, through Korolev. “The president has started to be weighed down by his old associates – that is, the people who are on familiar terms with him and who he has known for 20-30 years, and who knew him when he was still a long way from being president of the Russian Federation,” he said, predicting a change in generations.
But it is unlikely that everything that has happened is a calculated strategy to clear the field of “the old men”. Yes, there are objective factors: the moral wear-and-tear can be seen of the first Putin generation of “sword-bearers” alongside a sharp intensification of the new generation’s fight for a place in the sun. Who can Putin rely upon? The moral wear-and-tear of his entourage of siloviki is linked to the difficulty of rotation: is it really possible to change those who have served side by side with you faithfully and loyally for decades? Nevertheless, Viktor Cherkesov and Viktor Ivanov have sunk into oblivion, Nikolay Patrushev has taken an advisory post, and Boris Gryzlov has been exiled to Minsk. The once frightening Yevgeniy Shkolov, Putin’s aide in the fight against corruption, has been crushed by the case against his protege, Denis Sugrobov. Yevgeniy Murov has “retired”. Almost all of them, with the exception of Patrushev who has grabbed hold of the Ukrainian geopolitical episode, have lost their posts and moved away from Putin.
However, the departure of the “old men” is probably not happening because Putin was concerned about the question of rotation. In actual fact, what we are seeing is a not very controlled and turbulent process, within the framework of which new, more modern, effective and ambitious generals are squeezing out the less competitive “pensioners”, who are still living according to the old principle of “loyalty in exchange for carte blanche”.
The new and old generations do not differ so much in age as in time of progression along the career ladder. But the main difference lies elsewhere: in contrast to the Patrushevs and Murovs, they cannot boast of personal closeness to Putin, that they once spent a lot of time together somewhere and resolved delicate issues side by side. The new head of the FSO is Dmitriy Kochnev, a 52-year-old who just recently was a colonel (he is now already a major-general). The new head of the president’s security service is also a colonel, and also like Kochnev, a former adjutant of the president. They are not heavyweights with whom it is possible to sit and remember the past. They are foot soldiers who have not yet become acquainted with the subtleties of all the political backstage maneuvering.
The same kind of officers in their heyday at the SKR [Russian Investigation Committee] – Nikandrov and Maksimenko who just yesterday appeared to be promising – are in the dock today. And this is additional confirmation that the new generation of “fighters” will no longer have such a mighty margin of error as the previous one did: the security agency sphere is gradually turning into a meat mincing machine, they are no longer a support but consumable items.
And the Belyaninov case may prove to be really special here. It signals that the departure from the Olympus may also be far from as grandiose as the pantheon thinks. Within Putin’s siloviki and apparently untouchable elite a split is occurring between those who remain among the personally close and trusted (Zolotov, Bortnikov and his team from the USB) and those who have fallen out of this circle. The siloviki elite has formed around two centers of influence: Zolotov-FSO, and the FSB, which has “consumed” the SKR. This is not a fragmentation of the siloviki, as Vedomosti writes, it is the emergence of a dominant player in the guise of the FSB, and an attempt at regrouping (the Russian National Guard) on other flanks. The search of Belyaninov’s home is a warning from the FSB’s USB: him today, you tomorrow. An application for an exclusive role as Putin’s cleaner.
The search of Belyaninov’s home is also a reminder that it is possible to be kicked out of the circle of Putin’s retainers, despite past closeness to the man at the top. And while these risks are affecting the behemoths today, the much less deserved persecutors of the Belyaninovs-Bastrykins-Murovs will be even more vulnerable tomorrow. Putin’s elite “dam” has burst, movement has started, the pillars are being washed away. The basis of all of this is Putin’s general loss of trust in his entourage, his belief in the mission of his regime, and his conviction that there should not be any pity in war. But it is in such an environment that the dissatisfied emerge – those who at a convenient political moment will decide like Putin: friendship is friendship, but the fate of the Motherland is separate. The threat to the regime in Russia lies not in revolution but in the emergence of a hidden opposition to the current president inside the elite.


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