Soon Fradkov will be listening to entirely different translations “When a person insists on doing things in a way so that no one can understand anything until the last minute – why spend time on imitating analysis?” – Fyodor Lukyanov Lukyanov’s recent characterization of the enigma of Putinist Russia seems especially resonant today following the news of former prime minister Mikhail Fradkov’s appointment as head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (Служба Внешней Разведки) – the Kremlin’s new spy czar. Fradkov, who spent the majority of his career as a trade specialist on the fringe of the president’s inner circle (until his appointment as PM), will be taking over the position formerly held by Sergei Lebedev, who will now head the executive committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States. What is puzzling about Fradkov’s appointment is that it conflicts with the “official” story. Were we not told that he was sacked from his last job due to his incompetence, or at least a failure to fulfill his duties? Isn’t being made head of the SVR one of the most important security positions that exists? Although his term as premier was certainly marked by numerous crises which he could do very little about (the Yukos affair, crackdown on opposition, and rising corruption, to name a few), I for one was surprised to see the terms of this dismissal – although rather unexceptional in any regard, Fradkov was generally seen as loyal, capable, and most important, pliable. Here is an excerpt from his resignation speech, and Putin’s reaction:
Fradkov: I think that the right course of action would be for me to take the initiative and ask to step down from the office of prime minister in order to give you full freedom in your decisions on the shape and organisation of the power structure in connection with the upcoming political events. Putin: Of course, with such a large amount of work, some mistakes and glitches have been unavoidable. I have seen how close to heart you take these moments and I think that you and all of our colleagues have tried to rectify these mistakes as quickly and effectively as possible.
That doesn’t seem like the strongest vote of confidence for your new spy czar, who will oversee an area very close to the president’s heart (at least according to the Americans, who often whine that Russia is ramping up their espionage activities to Cold War levels). However on this one I will take the advice of Mr. Lukyanov. This tiresome game of political musical chairs in Russia is causing predictive exhaustion among Kremlinologists – perhaps we will all just have to try a little harder. [By the way, for those interested in Russian espionage, I remind you of a fantastic Grigory Pasko interview with a former KGB agent who was specialized in surveillance operations.]