Cherkesov Unveils a Whale of a Fight among Kremlin Elite

cherkesov_putin1010.gifA critical article published in yesterday’s Kommersant by Viktor Cherkesov, head of Russia’s Drug Enforcement Agency, is making some waves, exposing like never before the hostilities and turf wars between different state security factions which threaten to collapse Putin’s supposed stability. Once again at the center of all the turmoil, Putin’s chief of staff and head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, the man believed by many to have engineered the state theft of Yukos.

Cherkesov is believed to have gone public with this manifesto following a series of tit-for-tat arrests, culminating last week with the detention of his second-in-command, General Alexander Bulbov. Bulbov was one of the chief officers overseeing an investigation into a huge fraud case at the Moscow furniture store “Tri Kita” (Tree Whales), a scheme which allegedly involved several high ranking members of the FSB. Sechin and others are apparently fed up with Cherkesov’s ambition, and oppose his efforts to create a consolidated “Investigative Committee” that would “deprive the interior ministry of its investigative machinery and would leave only counter-intelligence and anti-terrorist functions for FSB.” Cherkesov also took aim at his fellow Chekists who had become overly enthusiastic with their new business privileges: “You cannot try to be a trader and a warrior at the same time. It does not work.” Calling for restraint, Cherkesov’s open letter declared that “A ‘war of all on all’ will result in a complete disintegration of the network … We must prevent a scandal and all-out fighting.” Here are some initial reactions that I have collected. AP:

Commentators described the infighting as a struggle for control over money flows and markets. “They stood together as long as they were robbing others of their assets,” a commentator, Alexander Golts, wrote in the online Yezhednevny Zhurnal. “But after dividing the spoils, they realized that they can only expand their wealth by robbing one another.” Andrei Illarionov, Putin’s former economic adviser, compared the infighting to battles between feudal lords and warned that it could foment instability and “palace coups.” “Russia’s law enforcement agencies are going through a quick degradation,” he said.

Los Angeles Times:

“I don’t know what happened at the very top of the country to provoke this volcanic eruption, but it must have been something like a nuclear explosion deep in the basements of the Kremlin,” said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Institute for Applied Politics, a Moscow think tank. “Passions must really be boiling up inside Putin’s great team to compel Cherkesov to speak up publicly like that,” she said. “Cherkesov really did a disservice to Putin because he proved by his article that there is a serious war being waged between various Kremlin clans and groups.”

Wall Street Journal:

“The wars between the elites have come to the surface,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a Moscow political analyst. “Not everyone is convinced that Putin can stay in power.”