Le Monde: How to Get to the Top in Russia

Another exclusive translation – In this Le Monde article, which came out earlier this month, we are told of how certain elements from the former KGB maneuvered their way into power and into almost every corner of society. It is an incisive piece of journalism, showing how the structures of the state’s security apparatus has moved into spaces normally reserved for civilians. The original article can be read here.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia – The ‘Bodies’ rule By Marie Jégo, Moscow Published January 4th, 2007, Le Monde Since his election in 2000, the Russian President has constantly reinforced the influence of the Special Forces to which he belonged. Their representatives have gone into politics, administration and business. Together they form a closed vertical system, says the analyst Macha Lipman. putin_profile.jpg Discredited 15 years ago, when the Soviet Union imploded, the ‘silovikis’, ‘men in uniforms’ who were formerly in the secret services of the political police or in the army, have massively come back in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Partially dismantled in 1992, during the ‘transition’ period, the KGB (the state security committee, special services of the Soviet period) has remained the most untouched institution of the late USSR. Today, members of the FSB (Federal Services of Security) following the head of the Kremlin – Putin was head of the FSB between 97-98 – have invaded, in 15 years, politics, the administration and more recently the business world. Since its creation in 1917, this political police, – called either Vetcheka, GPU, NKVD, MGB, KGB – has conducted investigations, condemned, deported, manipulated and used disinformation and murder as well. Nine decades later, its successor, the FSB, is present everywhere in today’s Russia. Moreover, “it is really part of the democratic bodies of power” explained Vladimir Putin in 2003. The Russian President, proud of his past as KGB Lieutenant-Colonel during the Cold War, has tried his best, since his election in 2000, to enhance the prestige of the Security Services: ordering a plaque in memory of Yuri Andropov, ex-director of the KGB who became, late in life, head of the USSR and also encouraging the commemoration of the Vetcheka, the historical ancestor of the political police. From now on, each year on December 20th, Russia celebrates the “Tchekist day”, the anniversary of the creation of the institution. On that occasion, the President has recalled the important role of “the workers of the security bodies” whose mission is “to protect the citizens, especially the young ones, from those who try to infect them with the virus of violence, intolerance and xenophobia”. And they must also keep a very close watch on those foreign spies who steal secrets “in sectors in which the country has significant competitive advantages”. The FSB is watching. In five years, this service has initiated legal actions against twenty Russian scientists: Igor Soutiaguine, sentenced to 15 years and Valentin Danilov sentenced to 14 years, who were both accused of passing on information described as ‘strategic’ to ‘foreign powers’. A few weeks before this declaration at the new headquarters of the GRU (Military Intelligence), a 350 millions dollars building in the suburbs of Moscow, Vladimir Putin came to cheer up the troops, inviting the military to undertake decisive actions to cut the foreign support channels to terrorists and get rid of them. Saying so, the Russian head of State, holding a gun, then trained himself to target-shooting with a few men. In 2006, the FSB has revived the tradition, that was given up in 1989, to give awards to artists who described the most objectively the activities of the groups. Yevgueni Mironov, the actor who starred in the movie “August 1944” was among the happy few to receive this award, on December 2Oth. He plays a Smerch officer (Smerch is an anagram for smiert schpionam which means: down with the spies), the military counter-espionage unit created by Stalin between 1943 and 1946, which was responsible for the disappearance of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (who helped save many Hungarian Jews during WWII and was reported missing when the soviet troops marched in Budapest in 1945). From now on, on TV, in novels, the popular hero is an agent. The FSB is not only influencing the culture, but it is also invading many other domains of society dealing with taxes on alcohol for example. On a broader level, FSB men are everywhere on each political level: among the presidential administration, in the government and in the regional / local governments as well. In most of the regions, the governors come from the army: Army General Boris Gromov in Moscow, Police General Vladimir Koulakov in Voronej, FSB General Viktor Maslov in Smolensk, Army General Gueorgui Chpak in Riazan, and the list is not finished… Most of the time, these officers/civil-servants remain members of the active reserve. As such, they still receive their pay. “The only difference between them and regular civil-servants is that they have an extra duty: writing reports every month for the FSB. They are the eyes of the master”, explains sociologist Olva Krychtanovskaïa in her book “Anatomy of the Russian elite”, published in 2004. According to her, more than three quarters of the members of the elite have all worked for some time in either KGB, FSB or GRU. Russia, following its tradition of “garrison-state”, is now more like a “militarcracy”. Above all, those men take more and more part in the business world: they belong to the boards of directors of major companies, introduced “on the Kremlin’s recommendation”, according to the sociologist. At Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly and also used by the Kremlin as an instrument in international politics, 17 ex FSB-KGB members are part of the decision-making authorities. On November 15th, Valeri Golubev, close to the President and like him, coming from the “bodies” was nominated Vice-President of Gazprom. His predecessor, Alexandre Riazanov, had the same pedigree. “Coming from KGB or knowing the President when he worked at St Petersburg city hall are two criteria that count”, confirms Alexeï Moukhine, who wrote several books on the ruling Russian elite. At the Duma (Lower Chamber of the Parliament), the FSB participates in the creation of certain laws like the one in progress which aims to block access to foreign companies to “strategic sectors” of the economy or the law reducing the activities of NGO’s. From a confidential source, Bill Browder, a British banker could not enter the Russian territory because of the FSB’s veto. The founder of the Hermitage Investment Fund (that invested more than 4 million dollars in Russia) has not been able to come to Moscow since then. Last, the FSB issues access permissions to restricted areas such as border zones, or strategic regions or with rich mineral resources. In 2003, the FSB took control of the border guard service. Since July 10th, it can take action “outside the territory of the Russian Federation” on a simple decision from the President. The law does not specify to what extent he will have to cooperate with the SRV – external intelligence services or the military (GRU), the only ones who are allowed to take action abroad, so far. Along with its other roles, the FSB has been put in charge of the “security of information and telecommunications in vital sectors”. Among which: the television. However, on the European Council’s recommendation, the ministry of justice has taken back the control on remand custody premises. In fact, the “bodies” have never been so powerful. During the Soviet era, the KGB has never been so directly represented in the centers of decision. Members of the FSB have appeared on the public scene with the advent of Vladimir Putin. But they came back into favour before his access to the presidency in 2000. From 1997, when Boris Yeltsin’s close advisers were looking for a successor, they turned to the “services” among which they selected four Prime Ministers: Sergueï Kirienko, Evgueni Primakov, Sergueï Stepachine, Vladimir Putin. The public opinion agreed with the idea. Tired of the damaging effects of the “capitalist theft” set up by the despised democrats, the public opinion favoured the “men in uniforms”. Three monetary reforms and a disastrous bank crisis, during the summer in 1998, finally convinced the public opinion to call back the tchekists who are considered as the most honest and devoted people serving of the State. It is in that context that Vladimir Putin, the first of them all, was identified as the logical choice. Many see in him the presumed heir of Iouri Andropov (1914-1984), ex director of the KGB who became 1st Secretary of the Communist Party in 1982 and who died before he could restore order and discipline in a drifting Soviet Union.