Viktor Cherkesov on the Spy Wars

Below is an exclusive translation of the important open letter published in Kommersant by a high level security official exposing the bitter infighting amongst the Kremlin’s various factions. Cherkesov, who is believed to be an opponent of Igor Sechin, argues that too many former KGB officers have gotten involved in business.


“We must not allow warriors to turn into traders” On the “war of the groups” within the special services By Viktor Cherkesov , Kommersant, Oct. 9, 2007 Last week, there took place the detention, followed by the arrest as well, of high-ranking officials of the Federal service of narcocontrol (see Kommersant from 4, 5 and 6 October). An evaluation to these events, to the societal resonance brought about by them and the possible consequences – not only for his own agency, but also for all the Russian special services – is given by the head of the Federal service of the Russian Federation for control of the circulation of narcotics, VIKTOR CHERKESOV. The acute events that have unfolded now around a series of employees of the Federal service of narcocontrol can not and should not leave me indifferent. But something else worries to a much greater extent – the scale and the type of the discussion of what is taking place. There are too many reactions. They are too disturbing. And they confirm my worst fears. It is not the reactions themselves that worry, nor the acuity and the activeness of the discussion. On the contrary, we are grateful to everyone who so ardently reacted to what is taking place. What disquiets is the emergence of a new and unhealthy theme. The theme of a feud among the special services.


The events around the FSKN [Federal service for control of narcotics] will eventually get into some kind of track. I personally am convinced that the law and fairness will triumph, while the guilty will be punished. But the raised topic of the feud will already not be taken off the agenda. And this means that it needs to be reacted to without delay. Right now, while the trail is hot. Because, left without attention, it will become a virus destroying the public consciousness. This is why I am starting from the main theme. And particular subjects I will examine as they should be. As particularities. “We are the children of frightful years of Russia”, said a great Russian poet. Any generation is a child of its time. Our time just recently stopped being a dark time of troubles. Now it is necessary to scour it of the dark sediment. But this is exceedingly complex. If any of the officers of narcocontrol has succumbed to specific temptations of the criminal milieu – they ought to be punished. Even more sternly that an ordinary run-of-the-mill bad-apple government official. The narcomafia manages trillions of dollars and controls thousands of professional hit-men. The FSKN has united in its ranks those who are prepared to fight with the truly global “dark empire”. Impurity is absolutely unacceptable in our ranks. I have never put much stock into the falsely understood honor of the uniform. And least of all do I intend to do this now, when the struggle with corruption is turning into the highest human priority for everyone who is not indifferent to the fate of Russia. All who can help the organs of narcocontrol uncover and cleanse itself of the “werewolves in epaulets” will find in me an active and reliable ally. But everyone who will attempt to transform the noble cause of the struggle with corruption into a turbid and ambiguous quarrel will get a categorical rebuff. And not only because the duty of any manager is to chastise the guilty and protect the besmirched. But also because it is impossible to fight with international and domestic criminal structures in conditions when the warriors do not feel that they are protected. From everything! Including also from the practice when “dirty” narcoincomes are used against them in the regime of the so-called contract. There have already been such instances. Traitors who have been incriminated in corruption know that we are not acting on the basis of the famous principle of “a son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch”. But honest people, our comrades in arms, who have found themselves in trouble, must be confident that we will stick up for them to the end. The spirit of an army waging war is more important than all the rest. If such protection is not going to be provided for – the spirit will be broken. And, ipso facto, the war is lost. It may be, somebody needs just this? We are ready for war with corruption. We do battle with narcobusiness. And we are against another “war”. The one about which it has already been loudly spoken for the whole country to hear in connection with the excesses around the FSKN. But they, these excesses, are truly not devoid of strangeness. The war about which too many have now begun to speak with perplexity and anxiety – this is a feud within the so-called chekist community. While I do not claim the laurels for having discovered this lamentable theme, I nevertheless want to remind that I was the first to start discussing it already three years ago. The article was called “The KGB in fashion?” (published in the newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” on 29 December of the year 2004.—Kommersant) I proceeded from the premise that any painful problem must be discussed. That there is nothing worse than keeping silent in such questions. That the pus will accumulate nevertheless. And it is better to open the abscess right away than to wait for gangrene to set in. Being discussed in that time was the conflict between the “liberals” and the “chekists”. The “chekists” were being accused of a certain reactionary conservatism, a desire to restore Stalinism and the complete sovereignty of “the organs”. The truth about the real situation had disappeared from the discussion, and I had attempted to figure out just exactly what this same “chekism” is. The essence of my evaluations consisted of the following. The country at the beginning of the 1990s had lived through a full-scale catastrophe. It is known that after a catastrophe, a system sooner or later begins to gather anew around those of its parts that had known how to preserve certain systemic features. It is precisely in such a sense that “chekism” can be accepted for consideration. The cohesionless, heterogeneous, internally contradictory and far from monolithic community of people who had chosen protection of state security in the capacity of a profession in the Soviet epoch turned out in the social respect to be the most consolidated. Or, if we are to speak more precisely, the least cohesionless. All of the catastrophic effects were required in order for it to be able to tighten itself up. Some quickly fell by the wayside, left the professional community. Some betrayed. Some went over to the other side as fast as they could. But some part of the community nevertheless managed to hold on. I will not discuss anew what kind of part this is and why it managed to survive. Least of all do I intend to idealize what has happened. What happened, happened. Recovery after a near-fatal blow has nothing in common with romanticism. Falling into an abyss, post-Soviet society latched on to this same “chekist” hook. And held on to it. But there were some who wanted for it to crash into the sea bed and get smashed to pieces. And those who were waiting for this were horribly offended. And began to express outrage, talking about the nasty features of the “chekist” hook, which society had managed to latch on to. Unconditionally, I do not consider that the criticism of the “chekist flaws” was absolutely groundless. First, only angels are without blemish. Second, the real laws of our profession give rise to a multitude of costs. Only children of elementary and secondary school age can blindly sing the praises of such a craft. Third, a catastrophe really is a catastrophe. And yet, when it comes right down to it, we really did help to keep the country from a final downfall. In this is one of the meanings of the epoch of Putin, in this is the historical merit of the president of Russia. And this places a huge responsibility on our professional community, one that has nothing whatsoever in common with conceited self-righteousness. It was not we who formed the social corporativeness that has survived the collapse of the country. It evolved spontaneously in the bowels of the collapse itself and of the chaos brought about by it. And it created some kind of minimal order out of the chaos. It arose – what next? Here, in my view, there are three scenarios. The first and the most favorable: surmounting corporatism, clambering upwards, transforming into a normal civil society. The faster a full-fledged civil society forms itself in Russia, the better it will be for all. Including for my professional colleagues. One must not – foolishly and without any prospects – latch on to corporate acquisitions. It is comical after all that has happened to stand up in a pose and speak of oneself as “the salt of the earth”, as “the elite of the elites”. Personally I will never exchange my rights as a citizen for some kind of “elite preferences”. And I firmly know – I am not the only one. The second scenario, already not the best, but “compatible with life”, consists, probably, of completing construction of the corporation and providing with its help for long-term stability and gradual escape from deep socio-cultural depression. I understand full well that in this scenario there are huge risks. Including the danger of transforming a great country into a quagmire on the model of the worst Latin American dictatorships with their social closedness and neo-feudalism. But this is not a foregone conclusion. Besides negative, corporatism can also be positive. The third scenario, not compatible with life, consists of repeating all the catastrophic mistakes that had led to the collapse of the USSR. Starting to blindly criticize the “chekist” hook and, in the end, having broken it, dragging society down into a new socio-political crisis. I realize just how many-faced are the forces for whom this scenario seems good. This is our enemies, who simply need for us, as a country, to fall off the face of the earth. And as a people – to be erased from history. This is also some kind of systemic competitors, who are hoping that, having torn down the Russian system yet again, they will conquer control over it and will get the economic and other opportunities that flow from this. This is also moral people, who consider themselves as having the right to criticize the present in the same way as they once criticized the past. Such people honestly and passionately point to certain imperfections of the system. Unfortunately forgetting yet again that these imperfections have grown in many ways precisely from their criticism of the former system. Having specified the three scenarios, I will perforce focus on the second. Not because it is the best one. But because the worst one is just way too unacceptable. A closed society is always worse than an open one. And everyone who tries to imagine these my reflections as propagandizing a closed society is deeply mistaken, believe me. But even within closed societies there is a certain gradation. They can be relatively healthy and capable of accumulating potential for transition to openness. Or they can be sources of systemic self-destruction. Or, as a minimum, social and political mutation. In order for any corporation (including a chekist one) to be healthy, it must be a keeper of norms. It is preferable that these norms be not only internal, but also nationwide. But first and foremost, they must be norms. If norms disappear and arbitrariness sets in, the corporation falls apart. Already now, experts and journalists are speaking of a “war of the groups” within the special services. There can be no victors in this war. Such a war of “everyone against everyone” will end in the complete disintegration of the corporation. The hook will rot away, will crumble away once and for all from internal rust. The entire social construction will start to fall apart. Someone will say: “We saved the country from chekism!” In actuality, they will not have saved the country, they will have ruined it. Publishing my article then, I wanted for my opinion to attract public attention. But, of course, I was also addressing that corporation, a part of which I am for many years. To my professional estate, to my comrades and colleagues. Someone later jeered: “To the chekist caste”. I fundamentally disagree, but I will note that even a caste is not arbitrariness. It is its own norms and its own rules. A caste gets destroyed from within when warriors start to become traders. No matter what the chekists might want to be – a force that leads the country out to new wide-open horizons, or a system that provides for some kind of variant of social stabilization through closedness, we must safeguard norms in our milieu. And those who discover that his true vocation is business must leave and go into another milieu. Not attempting to remain concurrently both a trader and a warrior. It doesn’t work that way. It’s either-or. You can not call for overcoming this same war of “everybody against everybody” and at the same time be a participant in it. And therein is the essence… The excess with the arrests of the employees of narcocontrol has brought about a flurry of publications and reactions, in which only one thing is discussed – that same “war”, its development and connection with the general political process. Suspiciousness is very strong in our society today. But I hope that it will not yet transform into maniacality. And this mass of competent and independent publications will not be interpreted as the intrigues of the FSKN. He who does not believe in our ethical restraints, let him at least soberly assess our capabilities. No, this is not about us. We are behaving ourselves with the utmost restraint. We will deal with what is taking place on the merits. And separate the wheat from the chaff. The traitors, who disgrace us, from our slandered comrades. The truth from false accusations. For now the picture of the latest dramatic events appears extremely ambiguous. There are many questions. Why is one of the arrested FSKN employees alleged to have committed a crime while at his post in a period when he not only was not at this post, but the agency with respect to which this post was established did not even exist in nature? Does not the existence in one and the same document in the given criminal case of an assertion of the intent of the suspect to abscond from the investigation and the court beyond the border and of a detailed description of this same person’s telephone conversation with wife in the moment when a search was already being commenced in their Moscow apartment, while he was still found far beyond the border with a foreign-travel passport in hand, look contradictory? By what else, if not by an attempt to compromise the evidence gathered in the case of the “Three whales”, can the fact of the carrying out of a search in the apartment of an investigator, whose only service occupation in the past few years was participation in the work of the brigade of the Procuracy-General of Russia under the leadership of V. Loskutov, be explained? With what aim are “black marks” with promises of new arrests of FSKN employees being sent out and even their surnames named through a state information agency and the internet? Let us leave aside questions of morality, let us think a moment about the absurdity of a professionally inexplicable “leak” of plans with respect to the detaining of potentially dangerous criminals. Why have the arrested employees of narcocontrol been aggregated from the number of those who on a legal basis, upon the instructions of the Procuracy-General participated in an inquiry into resonant criminal cases about the so-called “Three whales” and “Chinese” contraband? Are they guilty of having inquired, that is carrying out their duty? And when the need arises for new inquiries, what are the new executors going to have to do? Fight crime or waste time doing nothing, understanding how an appropriate performance of service duties might turn out for them? For me personally, having 15-years of experience in investigative work, there is yet another difficult question with respect to what is taking place. If the country truly does need an independent investigative committee, then this investigative committee can be successful only under three fundamental conditions. First, independence. Second, independence. And, third, independence. Alas, the October events have laid bare quite the opposite. And I would say, with overabundant mercilessness. Here, I suppose, is all with respect to those particularities to which public attention is attracted. Speaking from the conscience, I would like to switch it over to something else. As concerns current events, I am confident, everything will be fine. The main thing is that there not be a tilting, from which the line towards cleansing of corruption will be turned by the fuss of inter-clan conflicts. Because the struggle with corruption is not campaignism and is not pre-election PR. The fate of the Russian state depends in many ways on its outcome. But in a no lesser degree this future is determining today the state of affairs within our corporate milieu. We must not allow a scandal and a fight. We must not transform norms into arbitrariness. We must not allow warriors to become traders. As a member of the corporation, it is dear to me as such. I think also to everyone who has truly placed himself to such a profession [sic]. Having become focused only on itself and having rejected rules, our community will not simply fall apart, but will change the nature of society. After this it will be difficult to explain to people why they must submit to and treat with reverence those who do not observe norms and are wrapped up in feuding. Today our corporation is important not in an of itself. It must withstand and survive the burdens of the transition period. After that it can transform itself into a locomotive and lead society into a new quality. And after that – switch from being a corporation into a normal professional group, no different, in essence, from others. As long as the stability of society to a significant degree relies on this force, the question of its quality is a question of the fate of the country. The cost of the question is thereby too high. And that is why either hiding the problem or transforming it into a great squabble are absolutely unacceptable. Such a process within the Soviet nomenklatura has already turned into a social and geopolitical catastrophe. Viktor Cherkesov, director of the Federal service of the Russian Federation for control of the circulation of narcotics