Publication: Prism Volume: 7 Issue: 8

By Elena Dikun

Rumors have recently started flying around Moscow that by the end of the year Russian President Vladimir Putin, now fully comfortable in his role, intends at last to begin recruiting staff from a source close to his heart. Allegedly, representatives of the security services will be in key posts by the end of the year. The sense is that somebody is deliberately muddying the waters. But who?

It transpires that deliberate leaks are being engineered by the security services themselves. Officials in the FSB, SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) and MVD (Interior Ministry), who saw Putin’s arrival as a renaissance for the KGB, are highly aggrieved that their services have not yet been called upon and have drawn up their own plan for penetrating government structures and the president’s administration. This autumn they are planning to present their proposals in the form of a memorandum to the head of state.

To get the ball rolling, the “chekists” presented their plan of action to a narrow circle of journalists. Just recently Yury Ovchenko, an FSB staff officer and director of the institute for economic security, described how the security services were planning to help Putin reshape the country. First and foremost this would entail a transition “from an oligarchic system to a national system,” “eliminating the catastrophic consequences of the so-called reforms of 1992-99” and “reviewing the results of illegal privatization.” In order to change the political and economic situation, the president must bring in, as quickly as possible, people from the security structures, who “have huge administrative experience, know how to operate efficiently, and, crucially, have a sense of corporatism.”

The security services have already outlined which trustworthy people should be brought into which key posts. The government may be headed by a politician who has never worked in these structures, but who is receptive to their ideology. The most suitable figure is Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, who is “independent and capable of taking decisions.” In Ovchenko’s words Prusak has already indicated that he is willing to be promoted. The governor may as yet lack political experience, so for the time being–about six months–he may serve as Kasyanov’s deputy, with a view to subsequently taking over from him. Another candidate for the prime minister’s job is the president’s envoy to the Volga region, Sergei Kirienko. According to Ovchenko, Kirienko “has recently had a serious change of heart, is flexible and knows how to maneuver in tricky situations.”

This political prime minister should have an economics guru. This should be a chekist practician with a long history of involvement in economic problems. For example Deputy FSB Director Yury Zaostrovtsev, who showed his mettle in the battle with Media Most.

On the subject of the reforming wing of the government–Vice Premier Aleksei Kudrin and Economic Development Minister German Gref–Ovchenko said: “A new prime minister should also have new ministers. But these people are quite experienced, and if they adopt our principles, then why not?”

The security services are convinced that it will be possible to stop the leaking of capital to the West simply by bringing the Central Bank and the State Customs Committee under their control. “The management of these bodies should include people responsible for economic security, who possess detailed information on the resources which have already been exported, and who know how to talk to the oligarchs in a language they understand.” It is proposed to abolish the Property Ministry (Minimushchestvo) altogether, and carry out a wholesale review of the results of privatization–to redistribute what was acquired illegally, and punish those responsible. At the same time the “function of monitoring the results of privatization should be transferred to the Security Council, whose secretary should come from the FSB system.”

As for the president’s administration, the plan is to downgrade it to an ordinary office and divest it of all its political functions, which should be transferred to the State Council. Under this scenario, the old chief of staff will naturally leave the stage. Aleksandr Voloshin’s successor has already been identified: Current FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, who, incidentally, is aware of the plans and approves of them. Ovchenko has not revealed the names of those who support the security services, “for fear of doing them damage.” But he claims that the chekists have sympathizers among the governors, the president’s envoys and the business elite, although he has named only Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov.

The security services are prepared to view any party that recognizes “the need for change in the country” as their political allies. It would appear that the Communists have already indicated their willingness to cooperate. Notably, shortly before the security services’ plan was made public, the ideologue of the Left and editor of Zavtra newspaper Aleksandr Prokhanov declared that Putin should recruit the elite of the security services and the siloviki. True, Prokhanov deems the potential of the security services to be a spent force, but mobilizing these people would give the president the opportunity to pursue an independent policy.

The KGB are sure that the measures they propose will be highly popular with the public, but to what extent the media will support them is another matter. It is no coincidence that they propose to establish control over the main electronic media, and to make it illegal for private capital to own controlling interests in channels and newspapers with a circulation of over 200,000.

The security services expect the president to be crying out for them by the end of the year. Any emergency situation, such as a default or a Taliban incursion into Central Asia may speed things along.

There is one thing which is a mystery: Why have they revealed their hand? Publicizing the plan ahead of time exposes it to the risk of failure. The siloviki may feel that it is time for them to emerge from the underground and prepare public opinion for the forthcoming events ahead of time. Nor can it be ruled out that by making all this noise they hope to rush the president into ill-considered action. But there is another theory which cannot be dismissed, according to which the security services have risen to the bait prepared by the president’s chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, who persuaded them to go public. Certainly, the KGB plans make Voloshin and his team look like angels. Any right-thinking observer will judge that it’s better for the current incumbents of the Kremlin to stay put, rather than be replaced by the men in uniform.

Elena Dikun is a political columnist with Obshchaya Gazeta.