Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 144

Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko surprised everyone yesterday by praising the achievements of General Nikolai Kovalev, ousted over the weekend by President Yeltsin from his post as chief of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The way Kirienko told it, Kovalev had been dismissed to make way for former Yeltsin aide Vladimir Putin merely in order to allow the FSB to refocus its activities. Kirienko said the FSB must in the future concentrate more on ensuring Russia’s economic security. “Naturally,” Kirienko said, “that involves combating the intelligence activity of other states. It also involves countering the illegal export of capital and technology, fighting terrorism and the drugs mafia, as well as all the other tasks currently being tackled by the FSB.” (Itar-Tass, July 27)

An unidentified senior government official told Itar-Tass that Putin’s appointment meant that the FSB was being upgraded. “The fact that the FSB will now be headed by a man who earlier held the post of first deputy head of the presidential administration is a reflection of the FSB’s new status,” the source claimed, saying that “the service has not been led at such a level since the days of Yuri Andropov” (who headed the KGB from 1969 till 1982). The source compared Putin’s appointment with that last spring of Sergei Stepashin as Minister of the Interior. Stepashin had wide experience in a number of interrelated spheres, including the government, the security services and the presidential administration, the source said. “Both appointments indicate that government intends in future to follow a more coordinated policy in the security sphere,” the source said. (Itar-Tass, July 27)

This still does not explain why Kovalev was sacked when he was. Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov declared yesterday that Kovalev’s ouster proved that the FSB had a hand in the July 23 assassination attempt against Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. (RTR, July 27) Tempting though this explanation may be, the fact that Igor Korotchenko of Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on July 22 that Kovalev was denying rumors of his impending dismissal (a full day, that is, before the assassination attempt on Maskhadov) suggests that the attempt was probably not the cause Kovalev’s downfall.