Publication: Prism Volume: 3 Issue: 2

Elections and the Russian Secret Services

By Vasily Andreev

Practically nowhere else would it be possible for the security services to take as active, and most importantly, as independent, a role in preparing for and conducting the elections for their country’s head of state, as they did in Russia during the spring and summer of 1996. This active role was defined by Boris Yeltsin himself, when, in August 1991, he subordinated the structures of the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Ministry of Defense operating in Russia directly to himself. That fall, after the defeat of the August coup, the central apparatuses of these ministries at the all-Union level were subordinated to Yeltsin and their regional branches were divided up among the independent states formed from the former union republics.

But after subordinating the force structures to himself immediately after the August putsch, Yeltsin still could not be sure of their loyalty. Most of the traditionally conservative officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB, the overwhelming majority of whom were members of the CPSU, did not approve of the policies of the new Russian leadership or the activities of the president himself. The same, but to a lesser degree, could be said of the leadership of the security services.

Therefore, the Russian leadership (by that time, Gorbachev was virtually powerless), in the summer of 1991, decided to break up the KGB. Several independent services, were created in place of the former monster, from its branches and directorates. The First Main Directorate (the directorate responsible for foreign intelligence — now the Foreign Intelligence Service [SVR]), the border troops (now the Federal Border Service [FPS]), the Protection Directorate (the former Ninth Directorate, now the Main Protection Directorate [GUO]), the Government Communications Directorate (the Eighth Directorate, now called the Federal Government Communications and Information Agency [FAPSI], and the famous "Alpha" antiterrorist unit (which was first made directly subordinate to the president, then to the GUO, and finally given back to the Lubyanka) were all removed from its jurisdiction. The KGB itself, greatly weakened, was re-formed into the Ministry of Security, and later, in 1994, into the Federal Counterintelligence Service [FSK], and still later, in the spring of 1995, renamed the Federal Security Service [FSB]. Of all the security services, only the General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate [GRU], the SVR, and FAPSI, remained untouched throughout Yeltsin’s first five years.

The events of October 1993 showed that the Russian force structures remained loyal to Yeltsin, or at least insofar as he saw it. Security Minister V. Barannikov went over to the opposition camp, and the leaders of the other force structures behaved quite passively, which was confirmed, in part, by "Alpha’s" initial refusal to storm the Russian White House in Moscow. (It was finally persuaded through the efforts of Yeltsin personally, and Generals M. Barsukov and A. Korzhakov.) According to some accounts, the head of the GRU, F. Ladygin, also managed to avoid sending the special operations forces under his command to the White House.

In the fall of 1993, Yeltsin took several decisive steps to strengthen the security services and his influence on them. He began to keep closer tabs on the selection and appointment of high ranking officials in these agencies. First, he replaced the "traitor" Barannikov with Nikolai Golushko, an insignificant and colorless figure. In the spring of 1994, Sergei Stepashin, a man completely loyal to the president, became the new head of the agency now renamed the FSK. After the Budennovsk events of the summer of 1995, he was replaced by Yeltsin’s protege Mikhail Barsukov, the former head of the GUO. And Anatoly Kulikov, the former commander of the internal troops, and a figure much stronger and more authoritative than his predecessor, replaced V. Yerin as minister of internal affairs.

These personnel changes in the leadership of the security services were in no way part of Boris Yeltsin’s normal personnel policy, through which, during his five years in office, virtually all his 1991 team were replaced, to meet the demands of the political situation or of his political opponents. The changes in the security services were made because the president wanted to guarantee the loyalty of the force structures by appointing people personally devoted to him to lead them. In November 1993, Yeltsin created the Presidential Security Service [SBP], headed by Aleksandr Korzhakov. The SBP was taken away from the GUO (and in 1995, the GUO, on the contrary, was put under Korzhakov’s department), and given the status and powers of a security service in its own right. It became the president’s "personal" security service and, de-facto, the country’s main security service. The Decree on the SBP, which has never been published in its entirety, makes it subordinate to no one but the president himself. Its personnel is vetted carefully. It includes not only specialists in protecting top-ranking officials, but also people with the most wide-ranging profiles. The special operations forces of the SBP can compete with the best special operations units in the Russian army and the other security services, and the SBP’s analytical structures, which were run by Korzhakov’s former deputy, G. Rogozin, are justly considered the best in the Russian Federation. It was the SBP’s analysts who, at the beginning of 1995, calculated the various possible scenarios for the presidential elections. The structure, the size, and the budget of the SBP, and that of the GUO as well, remain secret.

One may say that there is virtually no basis in law for the Russian security services. Only two services exist on the basis of legislation — the SVR (the Law on Foreign Intelligence) and the FSB (the Law on the Federal Security Service). The others are based on normative acts which do not have the force of law. This applies to FAPSI, the GUO, the SBP, and the GRU. And the normative acts applying to these structures have never been published in their entirety.

In addition to this, there is also a law on "operational search activity," but it only defines how such measures are to be conducted and lists the services which have the right to engage in such activity.

The Russian security services are not held accountable, either to the parliament, or to the government, or to the presidential administration. The attempts of Viktor Chernomyrdin and Sergei Filatov, the former chief of the president’s administration, to put the security services under their own control led only to a confrontation between them and the leaders of the force structures. The same conflict took place between the leaders of the force structures and Yuri Luzhkov, when he tried to put the Moscow branches of the security services under the control of the mayor’s office.

Jumping ahead, we will show that the tension between [former] Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed and the new chief of presidential administration, Anatoly Chubais, was not just a fight for access to the president, but also an expression of this same tendency — the desire of (above all) executive branch structures to bring the Russian security services under their own influence and control, and the active resistance of the latter to such plans.

It is the job of the Security Council to coordinate the activities of the security services. But throughout its existence, the Security Council has been virtually powerless, and in essence, is just a consultative organ underneath the president. That is what the Security Council was, both under Yuri Skokov and under Oleg Lobov. Under Lebed, its role increased slightly, not because its functions and powers were increased, but because a "charismatic leader" had been appointed as secretary.

The assistant to the president for national security affairs has neither any official powers nor any mechanism of control over the activities of the security services. It is, in essence, a "decorative" position. When Lebed held the position, its role increased slightly, again, not because its powers were increased, but because it was Lebed who held the position.

The Russian president’s policy towards the security services described above, and the situation that has taken shape in these services as a result, have had a dual effect. On one hand, thanks to the disintegration of the formerly super-powerful KGB, Yeltsin has "insured himself" against competition from the leader of a single, united security service (i.e., he has ruled out an "Andropov" scenario, such as happened in 1980-1982, when the energetic Yuri Andropov was a powerful competitor to the aging members of the Politburo and to Brezhnev himself, and managed to come to power in the end, as a result of complex intrigues). On the other hand, the president, and the government and parliament as well, are forced to deal with a community of security services (the FSB, the SVR, FAPSI, the SBP and GUO, and the GRU), which has its own interests in the country’s political life. The absence of a clear legal base, and of any control from the legislative and executive branches and public opinion, ensured that the security services would have their attention fixed exclusively on the president and the political interests of their leaders in the presidential elections.

All of the leaders of the security services had a vital interest in Boris Yeltsin’s reelection. First of all, his reelection would guarantee that the presidency would continue to be strong, which in turn, would guarantee that the security services would be able to maintain their own independence. If Gennady Zyuganov had come to power, the power ministries would have been put under strict parliamentary control. Yeltsin’s main competitor would have been forced to meet the demands of the powerful Communist Duma fraction, which has never renounced the idea of establishing parliamentary control over the security services.

Second, many of the leaders of the Russian intelligence and security services were Yeltsin’s direct proteges.

Thus, one may draw the conclusion that Yeltsin’s reelection to a second term was seen as permitting the Russian security services to preserve their independence and their leaders to keep their jobs.

Therefore, the Russian force structures quickly got involved in the presidential race. Their involvement began around January 1996, when Yeltsin gave the go-ahead to create a presidential campaign staff, and thereby indicated his intention to fight for reelection.

The first, and one of the main jobs given to the security services was to guarantee the security of the election campaign and the elections themselves. In January, FAPSI director Aleksandr Starovoitov received an order directly from the president to check the condition of the secure communications systems, the government communications lines, and the electronic vote counting systems, to make sure that they would not go down during the campaign.

The director of the FSB, M. Barsukov, was entrusted (again, by Yeltsin personally) with guaranteeing the security of the elections in general.

On the eve of the official announcement that he would run for reelection, Boris Yeltsin, wishing once again to be sure of the loyalty of the leaders of his security services, made a number of benevolent gestures towards them. On January 5th, 1995, the president received FAPSI director A. Starovoitov who, according to some reports, Yeltsin had not seen in more than a year. Moreover, he approved of the actions of the Russian security services in Pervomaiskoye (that January). The president "excused" the actions of the head of the Federal Border Service, Andrei Nikolaev, on whom the initial blame had been placed for the penetration of Chechen fighters into Dagestan, and refused to accept Nikolaev’s resignation. Yeltsin also stood behind the actions of M. Barsukov, who had incompetently led the storm of Pervomaiskoye.

And for their part, the leadership of the security services became significantly more active. This applies most of all to the FSB, whose agents, in April of that year alone, arrested Glebov, one of the highest ranking officers in the Tax Police, Shavaev, the president of the Economic Security Academy, and a high-ranking FAPSI general, whose name was not given (all three were accused of corruption). A British spy in the Russian Foreign Ministry was arrested. Several Western businessmen, whose activity in Russia was declared to be illegal, were expelled from the country. Such a number of "big cases" in just one month was previously uncharacteristic of Barsukov’s department.

This especially applies to abuses on the part of individual officials in implementing privatization. At the beginning of March 1996, the acting director of the Chelyabinsk Oblast Property Fund, L. Vlasov, and that fund’s former director, I. Belikhov, were arrested. They were charged with illegally misappropriating funds from the state budget and with abusing their office. The documents accusing them were given to the president by agents of the Presidential Security Service and the Federal Security Service, and the prosecutor general of the Russian Federation, Yuri Skuratov, took direct charge of the case. Later, in April, they began to investigate two deputy chairmen of the State Property Commission — A. Kokh and P. Mostovoi — who were also accused of corruption and of abusing their positions.

At the present time, all these cases have died down, (for the most part, because of the normal bureaucratic red tape), but at that time, in April, agents of the security services, by opening an investigation into abuses connected with privatization, helped Yeltsin’s rating to shoot up significantly in the polls. The issue of illegalities connected with the privatization of state property was one of the Communists’ main issues in the election. By allowing these cases to be investigated, Yeltsin virtually deprived Zyuganov of this important electoral "trump card."

The Russian security services became more active that spring in Chechnya as well. They finally succeeded in tracking down and eliminating Dudaev, who had previously proven to be elusive. Agents of the Foreign Intelligence Service managed to find the channels through which certain Muslim countries had given aid to the Chechen separatists, and agents of military intelligence [the GRU] increased their control over the movement of separatist formations.

In essence, the increased activity of the Russian security services, like that of the executive branch as a whole, was designed to improve the president’s political and electoral image. And there is every reason to believe that the security services accomplished their mission.

On the eve of the elections, the Russian security services were given a number of confidential missions as well. First among them was to work out scenarios, according to which the State Duma would be either dissolved or its work suspended, and the presidential elections canceled.

For the last five years, the Russian security services had been actively gathering dossiers on all of the country’s highest-ranking officials and influential political figures. In the spring of 1996, reports began to appear, for the most part, in the opposition press, that compromising information from the security services’ dossiers could be used against Boris Yeltsin’s political opponents in the election campaign. The Russian organs of state security really did have enough compromising materials on the country’s top politicians. But to use this kind of compromising information, a political decision at the highest level was required and no such decision was made before the elections.

It has already been said above that experts from the security services had examined the possibility of postponing or canceling the presidential elections. It is important to note here that, from the very start of the elections, or even before they started, many high-ranking security service officials had advocated canceling the elections altogether.

When Korzhakov, in an interview with a British newspaper in April, raised the possibility of postponing the elections, he was expressing the opinion of the leaders of the security services at the highest and the middle level, who feared that if Yeltsin were defeated, new security service leaders would be appointed, and that as a consequence, there would be mass changes in the leadership.

The most significant event between the first and second rounds of the elections was the firing of SBP leader A. Korzhakov and FSB leader M. Barsukov. The ostensible reason was the detention on June 19 of S. Lisovsky, a member of Yeltsin’s campaign team, and Anatoly Chubais’ assistant A. Evstafiev, who had tried to take more than $500,000 out of Government House in Moscow. There is no need to examine this incident in detail, but it must be pointed out that it only served as a pretext for the firing of the two generals and First Vice Premier Oleg Soskovets, who had nothing to do with the incident at Government House.

It would be incorrect to see the firing of leaders of these two security services as a Yeltsin’s belated reaction to their statements, private and public, on the need to postpone or cancel the elections. The reason for the firings of Korzhakov, Barsukov, and Soskovets was purely political. All three had strained relations with many high-ranking officials, with Viktor Chernomyrdin and Yuri Luzhkov in particular; they were unpopular, among Yeltsin’s supporters, orthodox "democrats," the opposition, and the broad masses of the population. In firing these people, Yeltsin made his next bold political step, which allowed him, on one hand, to prevent a possible split between him, the prime minister, and the Moscow mayor, and on the other, to raise his popularity still further on the eve of the decisive vote on July 3.

The Russian security services and their leadership were able to accomplish the tasks they were given within the framework of Boris Yeltsin’s reelection campaign. They were able to guarantee the security of the elections, and worked out plans, even if they turned out to be unneeded and unused, to control the situation in the country if an emergency had arisen in the course of the preparation for the elections or the elections themselves. And most importantly, the increased activity of the security services, which was a part of the increased activity of the executive branch as a whole and the president himself, enabled Boris Yeltsin to increase his popularity and helped him win over additional votes.

Translated by Mark Eckert