Tatyana Stanovaya, “Belyaninov’€™s Dismissal as a Signal of Generational Change in President Putin’€™s Entourage”, Politkom.ru 01 Aug 16

The home and offices of Federal Customs Service Chief Andrey Belyaninov were raided on 26 July. Gazeta.ru published photographs showing how large sums of money taken from shoeboxes had been neatly arranged in one of the rooms in Belyaninov’s house. On 28 July Russian Premier Dmitriy Medvedev signed an order dismissing the head of the Federal Customs Service. Vladimir Bulavin, the presidential viceroy in the Northwestern Federal District, has been appointed the new director.
According to information from the Investigations Committee of Russia, Belyaninov is currently being treated as a witness in a case relating to the smuggling of premium liquor as part of which Dmitriy Mikhalchenko, the head of the Forum group of companies, was arrested in April. The case is being handled by the Russian FSB [Federal Security Service] Internal Security Administration. Belyaninov himself has expressed a wish to continue his civil service career, and Dmitriy Peskov said that right now he sees no obstacle to this.
The raids of Federal Customs Service Chief Belyaninov were an exceptional event: Never before in Putin’s Russia have there been such tough and demonstrative actions against one of the president’s associates — associates who have remained in post, furthermore. The investigative actions against Anatoliy Serdyukov in 2012 did not affect him personally but related to his subordinates and mistress.
One of the main political questions today is why actions by the FSB Internal Security Administration have now being given the go-ahead. An RBK source linked to this to the elections: FSB staffers have been given carte blanche to combat corruption ahead of the elections. This struggle is taking place at all levels simultaneously — from the FSB itself to regional leaders. Yet another task facing the siloviki is to take control of those areas that were previously the domain of the previous leadership of the Economic Security Department, an RBK source in the FSB claims. Finally, in his words, FSB staffers have to show everybody the «rules of the game» that will operate at least until the presidential election. Another source said that following the election we can expect a shakeup of the regime, and the siloviki are trying to prove that they are needed.
However we should hardly link this specifically to the elections: The viewpoint expressed to RBK by its source from the FSB is manifestly of an image-enhancing nature. It is currently convenient for the FSB to present itself as an exclusive force capable of helping the head of state to impose order and to offset, to the extent possible, the negative electoral consequences of the crisis with a successful anticorruption campaign. But probably the real reasons for what is happening are nevertheless linked to other, deeper and longer-term trends.
We are seeing the obsolescence of Vladimir Putin’s closest circle, the Putin elite that came in with him in the early 2000s and ended up at the very summit of power. They are old comrades and associates with whom Putin is closely acquainted but who he has somewhat moved away from during his years in office. A cooling and distancing has even been felt in his relations with Vladimir Yakunin, with whom Putin allegedly rowed at one of the recent meetings that preceded his dismissal, and with Igor Sechin, to whom Putin pointed out the importance of taking account of state interests (this related to the president’s disagreement with Rosneft’s proposals on tax manipulation). Putin himself has started to distance himself from his entourage, a process in which the geopolitical crisis (not counting the attempts to intercede for those affected by the sanctions) has been a contributory factor: The scale of the problems that the president can see before him, the distinct «evangelical» nature of his rhetoric of recent years, and his going down in history with the return of Crimea — all of this has definitely contributed to a lessening of the role of people from the close entourage and of their needs in the president’s new system of priorities.
A whole number of political appointees who are close to Putin are «leaving» (through dismissal or voluntarily), largely because of a change in the president’s personal attitude toward them and also in connection with poor performance and or an inability to compete in the conditions of the crisis years, [shortcomings] which have become more obvious. It is probable that this is why Putin refused to appoint the candidates recommended to him by Murov as head of the Federal Protection Service, recruiting young colonels for the posts of director of the Federal Protection Service and the Presidential Security Service. Ineffectiveness in the global politico-administrative sense was one of the reasons for the disbandment of the Federal Narcotics Control Service, the approval for the arrests of people from Aleksandr Bastrykin’s closest entourage, and now also the Belyaninov raids. Despite their personal loyalty, all of these figures were causing reputational problems for the state and producing a mass of incriminating material. It cannot be ruled out that the quantity of incriminating material had reached critical mass, which was the real reason for the carte blanche that the FSB Internal Security Administration has received — the only structure within the regime that is relatively distant from key figures in Putin’s entourage and has retained in the president’s eyes (possibly because of this) a clean reputation, which is now being supported by appropriate leaks in the media.
This new trend makes it possible to talk about the start of a generational change, where the president’s personally close team is being squeezed out by equally devoted but much lower-maintenance «workhorses» with whom Putin does not have shared years of joint work in the past. Putin is more comfortable with them: It is easier to call them to account and criticize them. The representatives of this new generation originate from the Federal Protection Service and the FSB — the structures that Putin trusts the most. And this is already leading to a new wave of people from the security agencies spreading right through the state «vertical axis of power,» which means that the we can also expect silovik ideology to have a much more distinct impact on the policy of the state as a whole.

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