Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Window on Eurasia: What a Public Advisory Committee Does for the FSB

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 16 – Like several other Russian ministries and agencies, the Federal Security Service has created a 15-member public advisory committee that the FSB says will enhance “society’s control over the activity of the security organs” and thereby protect “the constitutional rights and freedoms of Russian Federation citizens.”
But this new organization, which will convene for the first time tomorrow, is unlikely to play that role. Indeed, one commentator has suggested that Russian “society does not need such a council.” But Andrei Soldatov adds, the FSB will find its existence extremely useful in at least three ways (
First, the Moscow commentator says, the new body will allow the FSB to portray itself, however falsely, as fundamentally different from Soviet and Russian security agencies in the past, as an institution that is fully prepared to work with parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations and religious groups.
Second, he continues, the new group will provide yet another means for the FSB to coordinate, guide and even dominate groups that it has not yet succeeded in fully subordinating to itself and the regime and to do so under the more acceptable guise of cooperation and disclosure.
And third – and Soldatov suggests this may be the most important thing the FSB will get from forming this new body – the advisory committee will provide a forum in which what the FSB’s Nikolai Patrushev has called “the ‘new nobility’ of chekists” can express their views on a broader range of political issues than ever before.
Whether Soldatov’s analysis turns out to be correct, of course, remains to be seen, although recent trends in Russian statecraft make it likely. And while most Russian politicians were more optimistic (see a survey at, even many of them were skeptical.
Viktor Ozerov, the head of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, was one of the enthusiasts. He suggested that this council not only would promote “greater openness of military and force structures, about which Vladimir Putin has spoken, but also [contribute to] the development of civil society in the country.”
But Viktor Ilyukhin, the deputy chairman of the Duma’s Security Committee, was far less enthusiastic. He told the journalists that this new advisory committee is the latest “gift to the fashion” of creating such institutions and given the imperatives of secrecy in intelligence work, it would be little more than an empty “talk shop.”
As of now, the FSB has named 12 of the 15 members, and they include not only six parliamentarians but the rector of MGIMO (Moscow’s principle training center for future diplomats), a senior vice president of the Foreign Trade Bank, and the past of the Russian Orthodox Church that provides services for FSB headquarters, the Lubyanka.
None of these is likely to press the FSB very hard. Indeed, most work for institutions with which the FSB has long had close relations. And the three not yet named publicly may be retired FSB officers, something that will give the security service itself even greater control over any oversight (
And as could have been predicted in advance however ineffective this body may turn out to be, many left out are angry. A news report on the website today, for example, complained that no faith except Russian Orthodoxy was represented, something the site’s writers suggested was a huge mistake given the interests of the other groups.
But perhaps the clearest indication that the formation of this body is more decorative than real is the following: However much attention the FSB is supposed to be giving to its advisory body, the FSB’s own website ( has not yet posted anything about it.

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