Thursday, February 4, 2010

Window on Eurasia: FSB’s Privileged Position in Russian State Could Be at Risk

Paul Goble

Savannah, February 4 – Three events this week suggest that the special privileged status the FSB has enjoyed in the Russian government for the last decade may be at greater risk than ever before, a development at the very least that presages some kind of reordering of at least part of the Russian political system.
The first of these events concerns the successful legal suit concerning a pension that an FSB officer brought to the European Court of Human Rights. As Andrey Soldatov, the distinguished head of the portal pointed out, that case points to a disturbing trend: “the moral dissolution of the leadership of the FSB” (
What makes this case important is not its details but rather the failure of the FSB itself to keep such problems under wraps and thus to call into question the arrangements put in place by Vladimir Putin a decade ago based on the proposition that the FSB was “the only structure which could become the iron hand of the state in new economic conditions.”
Now, however, as the wages and privileges of FSB generals at the center have come to vastly exceed those of FSB officers there and in the provinces, the qualities the FSB advertised itself as having have begun to wear thin. Loyalty to the state presumably remains, but its vaunted incorruptibility, Soldatov suggests, has more or less disappeared.
In part because it has no other option, the Kremlin has been prepared “to close its eyes” to the corruption as long as it has loyalty. But now that corruption is becoming ever more public, not only in the media and the Russian courts, but in what has become the court of last resort for Russians, the European Court of Human Rights!
The second event involves a spy scandal in Ukraine, one that appears to reflect less the skill of the Ukrainian special services than the bungling of the FSB. SBU director Valentin Nalibaychenko said that five FSB officers had been arrested for spying, arrests that the FSB has confirmed (
Because no one will be surprised that the Russian intelligence services are operating in Ukraine as they are in other former Soviet republics and indeed elsewhere, the usual rule that capturing a spy highlights a failure of the domestic intelligence because it highlights the penetration of another service does not apply with the same force in Ukraine.
Instead, the timing of these arrests, while certainly in the interest of the SBU and the Ukrainian government, is not in Moscow’s interests as it underscores the ways in which Moscow intends to engage in extra-legal activities to control Ukraine and thus does nothing to help the pro-Russian candidate in the upcoming second round of the presidential elections there.
Consequently, this revelation, which might have worked in Moscow’s favor had it come at a different time, now constitutes a major embarrassment, all the more so since the Western media is likely to pick up the Ukrainian reporting and speculate on what Moscow intends to do in what it insists on calling its “near abroad.”
The third event, which both is a product of the problems reflected in the first two and is likely to become the cause of more changes in the future, was the release yesterday of a report by the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development calling for the recombination of the Russian security services (
Because Dmitry Medvedev is head of the advisory council of this institution and because developments in Moscow now are viewed through the prism of his relationship with Putin, most analysis of this report and its various proposals are likely to be considered only in terms of high politics.
But there is another and more immediate consequence of this report -- albeit one not unconnected. Such a report, especially coming after the FSB’s other problems, and it is this: Such a proposal provides legitimacy both for more protests by FSB officers and for more proposals for reforming if not replacing the latest successor to the Cheka of Soviet times.
And to the extent that happens, the proposals themselves will not only provide a great deal of information about how the Russian security services operate but also give an opportunity to other parts of the Russian powers that be, including the military, and to members of the expert community to comment on that and on the future of the Russian political system.

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