Baku, January 8 – Russia’s FSB has acknowledged that it caught fewer spies in 2007 than the year before, something it has not done during the presidency of Vladimir Putin and an admission two of Moscow’s top specialists on security services say represents “the most unexpected event of the past year.”
In an article for Yezhednevniy zhurnal posted on the Agentura.ru website, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan note that FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev has admitted that his agency caught 22 officers of foreign intelligence services and 71 of their agents in 2007 (http://www.agentura.ru/press/about/jointprojects/ej/itogi2007/).
That compares with his report a year ago that the Russian intelligence service had caught 27 foreign officers and 89 agents in 2006, the two experts said. And while Patrushev gave no details about either group, making both sets of numbers more “virtual” than real, acknowledging any decline at all is unprecedented in Putin’s Russia.
Such an admission, the two researchers say, is especially intriguing now given three other recent developments which might make it more difficult for the FSB to expand – or alternatively might be just the occasion for a new consolidation of Russia’s intelligence services under its aegis.
First, Patrushev’s echoing of Putin’s claim that Moscow has been victorious in the struggle against terrorism in the North Caucasus might lead others in the Russian government to conclude that it was time to reduce the size of the FSB’s budget and reach rather than expand them as the FSB has always tried to do.
Second, any admission of a shortcoming increases the risk that the FSB could lose out in funding battles with other intelligence services and force structures. Since Putin took power, the country’s special services as a group have received a relatively stable 10 percent of the state budget, but the share allocated to each has changed.
Funding for the interior ministry, the internal forces, the justice ministry, the procuracy and the prison system have increased dramatically – the budget for the procuracy has risen 800 percent since 2000 – apparently reflecting the Kremlin’s judgment, the analysts say, that these institutions are the “main prop” of the regime.
That conclusion, the two writers continue, is buttressed by the organizations to which the Kremlin has turned to in its actions against the country’s political opposition. Among these institutions are the Presidential Administration itself, the OMON, and the special forces of the interior ministry. The FSB, they note, is not found on this list.
And third, there is the continuing competition among the Russian intelligence services for control over activities abroad. Under Boris Yeltsin, only the military’s GRU and the SVR, which was the successor to the foreign intelligence operations of the KGB, were charged with conducting intelligence operations abroad.
But in 1999, the FSB created several subdivisions responsible for foreign intelligence, an indication that its leadership, including Putin, wanted to see it involved in foreign intelligence just as the KGB in which Putin had served in East Germany had been before the end of the Soviet Union.
For most of the last eight years, this ambiguous situation continued, Soldatov and Borogan say. But 2007 introduced a certain clarity. Last October, Putin named former prime minister Mikhail Fradkov to head of the SVR and charged him with defending “the economic interests of our companies abroad.”
Then, on December 4, the two analysts note, Putin announced that “the technical intelligence service ought to work more actively.” And at the same time, Yevgeniy Primakov, head of the Trade-Industrial Chamber, proposed that technical intelligence work for the state corporation Rostekhnologia.
Primakov “knows whereof he speaks,” Soldatov and Borogan point out, because from 1991 to 1996, he headed the SVR. And consequently, the SVR has been clearly assigned responsibility for protecting the interests of Russian arms trade abroad, something consistent with Fradkov’s earlier work in Soviet times.
That leaves open the issue of what the FSB is responsible for in the foreign field. On the one hand, it opens the way for that senior service to engage in more espionage activities. But on the other, it highlights the FSB’s involvement in one key area – the killing of Moscow’s enemies abroad.
The Litvinenko case in London attracted a great deal of attention, but many did not notice that the British did not react as harshly as many might have expected given the available evidence of FSB involvement. And perhaps more significant have been the killings and kidnappings of members of the Chechen diaspora in Azerbaijan since 2006.
Consequently, the two analysts conclude, the FSB could face some budget problems at home because of Patrushev’s admission. But because there are certain things only it can do abroad, the Kremlin shows little sign that it will lessen its support for and use of the FSB in 2008.