Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 89

As President-elect Vladimir Putin’s May 7 inauguration approaches, Kommersant, one of the newspapers in Boris Berezovsky’s media empire, has published a series of articles alleging that plans are afoot to give Kremlin administration almost authoritarian powers and to give the Federal Security Service (FSB) and other special services a key role in the administration’s activities.

The newspaper quoted from an apparently leaked document on plans to reform the presidential administration. It proposed the creation of a “political department of the RF [Russian Federation] president,” the goal of which would be “not only to predict and create the ‘necessary’ political situations in Russia, but also to really control the political and social processes in the RF, and also in the countries of the near abroad.” The document refers to the “strategic necessity of including the FSB and other special services in the activities of the political department of the RF president.” It also says the presidential administration should carry out both “open” and “closed” work. “Closed” work would include exerting “influence” or even “pressure” on all political parties and movements, regional leaders and legislators, candidates for all political posts, journalists and election commissions. The special services would promulgate “spetzinformatsia”–special information–aimed at supporting the president and discrediting his opponents.

The plan calls for the creation of a presidential “political council,” which would have a “wide network” of regional representatives and, according to Kommersant, function almost as an alternative to the State Duma. The council’s aim would be to gradually push the Duma off the political stage, leaving it as simply a lawmaking body. Kommersant linked this to the proposal recently made by Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev that the parliament–including both the Duma and the Federation Council, the upper chamber composed of regional leaders–be moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Kommersant said these proposals are aimed at marginalizing the legislative branch’s political influence (Kommersant, May 3-5; Moscow Times, May 4).

It is hard to know whether the document cited by Kommersant is a forgery (this is doubtful), a plan which has not received Kremlin approval or a real indication of what Putin plans to do. A Kremlin spokeswoman said that the document had “no relation whatsoever to the presidential administration” and that the plan is not being discussed,” while admitting that it could be one of the dozens of proposals drawn up by the Center for Strategic Research, Putin’s think-tank (Moscow Times, May 5).

Whatever the case, the Kommersant articles would seem to reflect the fears that its owner, Boris Berezovsky, has about the possibility that Putin will expand the role of the special services. Back in 1998, for example, Berezovsky charged that the FSB had plotted to murder him and carried out murders, kidnappings and extortion. One FSB officer, Aleksandr Litvinenko, alleged that he had been given the order to kill Berezovsky. Some media at the time quoted unnamed FSB sources as suggesting that Litvinenko himself had headed a renegade group of FSB officers which had been engaged in criminal activities. Putin, who then headed the FSB, reacted to Berezovsky’s charges by saying the FSB would cooperate with the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office, which was investigating the alleged assassination plot, but would not participate in “political games.” Putin also said that if the charges turned out to be false, its legal department would sue those who made them (see the Monitor, November 18, 1998). The investigation into the alleged assassination plot was dropped in March of this year.