Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 13

Yeltsin’s new man at the FSB is a pawn in a larger political struggle

by Victor Yasmann

On July 22, Boris Yeltsin summoned the leading generals of theFederal Security Service (FSB) to Barvikha where he is recoveringfrom a heart attack. The Russian president then introduced tothe counterintelligence leadership their new chief, Col. Gen.Mikhail Barsukov, who up to that point had been the head of thesecurity agency which Yeltsin trusted most, the Main Administrationfor Protection of Russian Federation (GUO). For Barsukov, thisshift represents a demotion. But by appointing Barsukov, Yeltsincompletes the turnover of the leadership in his security communitywhich arose out of the Chechen war and was sparked by the Budennovskhostage crisis. Moreover, this move tightens his control overthe various successor agencies of the KGB in anticipation of theelection campaign, which is likely to see a regrouping of politicalforces in Moscow.

When Barsukov arrived in the Kremlin in the late 1970s, hebecame part of the Kremlin Guards Regiment, which was subordinateto the KGB’s Ninth Chief Directorate. From that time forward,Barsukov was responsible for the physical security of the mostsenior Communist party and government officials. In December1991, Barsukov became commandant of the Kremlin after he agreedto help Yeltsin send a reluctant Mikhail Gorbachev into retirement. And his star rose still further when Yeltsin had him create theGUO in 1992. This organization had no well defined responsibilities,but its main functions clearly were to watch the other securityagencies and to protect the Russian president. Its motto is "TheSecurity of the State Means PRIMARILY The Security of the Chiefof the State." Aleksandr Korzhakov, an officer drawn fromthe same KGB directorate and Yeltsin’s personal bodyguard, becameBarsukov’s deputy. Then, in 1994, the two men divided their duties,with Korzhakov concentrating on Yeltsin’s physical security andBarsukov providing for Yeltsin’s political security.

Barsukov profited from the fact that Aleksandr Korzhakov becamethe target of media attention. Because few people paid attentionto Barsukov, he was able to steadily build up the power of hisorganization as Yeltsin’s watchdog over real and potential opponentsof the president. Yeltsin himself was visibly impressed by Barsukov’swillingness and ability to create a security service loyal tohim, and him alone, and clearly hopes that Barsukov will adoptthe same approach as he takes the helm of the FSB. Yeltsin hasgood reason to want that to happen. The FSB remains the principalKGB successor service and is the country’s largest counterintelligencebody. Under its previous director, Sergei Stepashin, the FSBlost not only its prestige, but much of its operational capabilities. But without his own man there, Yeltsin could find this body,even in its current weakened position, used against him by hispolitical opponents

For all these reasons, Yeltsin not only sent to the FSB his confidantBarsukov, but also increased the status of the agency by creatingtwo more first deputy positions, thus increasing the leadershipstratum to a size not seen since Soviet times. In these positions,Yeltsin appointed two secret police veterans: Col. Gen. ViktorZorin and Anatoly Trofimov. The head of the FSB counterintelligencedepartment, Zorin gained his current reputation by helping Yeltsinoutsmart Supreme Soviet leaders Ruslan Khasbulatov and AleksandrRutskoi during the October 1993 crisis. Because Barsukov had contactswith both the Supreme Soviet and the president, he promised tohelp Rutskoi but then at the decisive moment went to Yeltsin’sside. The hardline communists have never forgiven Zorin for this,and in January 1995 Pravda accused Zorin of "hightreason." The paper said that Zorin got drunk in the Germanembassy, and showed too obvious an interest in the places wherethe KGB had planted bugs. As a result, the Germans were quicklyable to remove them. But for Yeltsin, Zorin remains a man hecan trust.

Anatoly Trofimov’s appointment represents a clear defeat forthe so-called "Moscow financial group," which is reportedlyled by former KGB army general Philipp Bobkov, and which is supportedby Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and the Most bank. A career officerof the KGB, Lt. Gen. Trofimov has spent most of his life fightingcorruption in general, and embezzlement in particular. By 1993he had risen to the post of chief of the security ministry’s AdministrationFor Combat Against Corruption and Economic Crimes. When Yeltsindissolved the security ministry in December 1993, Trofimov’s departmentshared the fate of the entire agency. The disbanding of Trofimov’sdepartment was Yeltsin’s special gift to Luzhkov and the "Moscowfinancial group" for their decisive support of Yeltsin duringhis armed confrontation with the Supreme Soviet in October 1993.Trofimov and his men were the ones who collected data on corruptionamong the government officials, and particularly the banks andauthorities in the city of Moscow. Some of these materials hadbeen used by former vice president Aleksandr Rutskoi during hisanti-corruption drive in summer of 1993. In addition, Trofimovhad drafted legislation on corruption and the civil service, whichdefined corruption and thus drew attacks from the "Moscowfinancial group" controlled mass media.

With Trofimov apparently gone, the "Moscow group" celebratedits victory, but Trofimov soon returned to the scene when, duringyet another Moscow intrigue, the ambitions of the "Moscowgroup" clashed with the interests of Yeltsin himself. InDecember 1994, Mikhail Barsukov’s GUO raided the Most bank, aprincipal element of the "Moscow financial group," humiliatedthat bank’s private security service, and eventually forced Mostpresident Vladimir Gusinsky to flee abroad. As a result of thisincident, the "Moscow group" lost an important ally:the chief of Moscow FSB Evgueny Savostyanov was replaced by Trofimovhimself. Now that Barsukov is in charge at the FSB, Trofimov willhave an even greater chance to settle accounts with the "Moscowfinancial group" and with others who opposed him in the past. Such a campaign may already be under way. Last week, officersof FSB arrested two senior MVD officers–Col. Yevgeny Roitman,the chief of the Tver administration for fighting organized crime,and Maj. Gen. Aleksandr Bondarenko, the chief of the Vladivostoktax police–and charged them with corruption.

The recent appointments at the FSB provide yet another indicationthat even in post-Soviet Russia, the security services remainat the center of political intrigue and are part of a continuouspower struggle among various portions of the Moscow and Russianelite.
Victor Yasmann is a Senior Analyst for the Jamestown Foundation.