Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 18

Russia’s justice minister said yesterday that President Boris Yeltsin had placed the country’s border guards under the control of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). (AP, January 27) If true, the move would greatly expand the powers of the FSB, which is responsible for domestic counter-intelligence and is the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB. The KGB was broken up into a number of smaller organizations following the demise of the USSR to dilute its political power and to ensure, in principle at least, democratic control over its activities. Rumors had been rife for nearly a week that the merger of the two services was imminent. On January 23, an unnamed source from Russia’s Defense Council said that Yeltsin had ordered the drafting of a decree to this effect. (Russian TV, January 23) Russian reformers are likely to criticize the move as a threat to the country’s fledgling democratic system.

The merger would seem to confirm that Russia’s federal border service has been the big loser in a consolidation of the country’s "power structures" connected with the Kremlin’s military reform efforts. Russian Defense Ministry leaders had long argued that the country’s various security forces, including the border guards, were duplicating many of the regular army’s functions. As a cost-cutting measure — and as a corollary to deep personnel cuts being implemented in the army — they had proposed reductions in these forces and their subordination to the Defense Ministry.

The generals did not get all they wanted. However, it was announced in December that Yeltsin had approved a plan calling for the border service to give up its heavy weaponry and many of its combat helicopters and ships. (See Monitor, December 12) The downgrading of the border guards was punctuated on December 19 when Yeltsin accepted the resignation of then border guards director General Andrei Nikolaev. The ambitious Nikolaev was accused of Bonapartism and an inability to get along with other members of the government. (Itar-Tass, December 20. See also, Monitor, December 22)

It is unclear whether the details of the border guards’ merger with the FSB have been finalized. A Russian newspaper did report yesterday that the plan was discussed on January 20 at the most recent meeting of Russia’s Defense Council. According to the newspaper, the new consolidated agency will be called the National Security Ministry. The border guards, the newspaper said, are to have their own senior deputy minister, who will be subordinated to the National Security Minister. (Izvestia, January 27) As for Nikolaev, it was reported yesterday that he has registered as a candidate for the State Duma, and hopes to run for the Moscow seat vacated last fall by Irina Khakamada. (Russian agencies, January 27) She accepted a post as head of the State Committee on Support and Development of Small Businesses.

Kulikov Softens His Tone on Chechnya.