Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 143

President Boris Yeltsin has sacked the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the domestic successor of the Soviet KGB. The FSB is responsible for counterintelligence and domestic security including monitoring extremism. (NTV, July 25)

No immediate reason was given for the dismissal of FSB Director General Nikolai Kovalev, who is being replaced by a high-ranking Yeltsin aide and one-time spy, Vladimir Putin. (Reuter, July 25) There had, however, been rumors that Kovalev, a career counterintelligence officer, was about to lose his post. Kovalev had been in the job two years–a long time by comparison with most of his predecessors. He achieved this feat by keeping aloof from Kremlin intrigues. In the long run, this may have spelled his downfall. Nezavisimaya gazeta speculated last week that Kovalev had irritated the Kremlin by refusing to collect compromising material on potential presidential rivals such as Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. The Kremlin might also, the newspaper said, have worried that Kovalev might prove a damaging witness if parliament’s attempts to impeach President Yeltsin bear fruit in the autumn. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 22)

Kovalev had attempted to broaden the FSB’s contacts with foreign intelligence services. He was the first FSB director to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he spoke on the threat of international terrorism. Last year, he set up a telephone hotline for Russians to call to confess working for foreign intelligence services and claimed it had been a great success.

Putin, born in 1952, has worked as first deputy head of Yeltsin’s administration since May this year. After graduating as a lawyer in St. Petersburg in 1975, Putin worked for the KGB’s foreign intelligence branch. He speaks fluent German after long spells as a spy in Germany, according to his official biography, which does not say whether he served in East or West Germany, or both. In the early 1990s, he was an aide to Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak. (NTV, Reuter, July 25)