Staunton, January 7 – In a shift with potentially far-reaching consequences, Russia’s intelligence services over the last year have been less concerned with “the number of victims” of terrorist attacks than with warding off any activity that could be “a threat to political stability, according to two leading Moscow specialists on these services.
In a review of the activities of these bodies during 2010 that was published yesterday in “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan of the Agentura.ru portal note that both the Russian special services and the militants who oppose them increased their activities “many times over” (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=10678).
One cannot fail to note, they say, “the growth in the activity of the FSB in the North Caucasus” during 2010, especially given that agency’s earlier efforts to “avoid responsibility for the struggle against terrorism” in order to ensure that the Russian interior ministry would be held responsible for any shortcomings.
The FSB was involved in a number of high profile captures and killings of militant leaders and did not disclaim its involvement as it often had earlier. “It is not excluded,” Soldatov and Borogan say that the growth in the FSB’s activity in the North Caucasus was a response” to an apparent decision of the militants to target not just militiamen but FSB officers.
But the two independent experts note that “despite the liquidation of the leaders of the militants, the number of terrorist acts in the North Caucasus rose many times over, [even according to official sources, which they cite,] a clear indication that reliance on the resolution of the problem by force has not justified itself.”
“The events of this year also destroyed the myth that the policies of [Chechen President] Ramzan Kadyrov are effective against the militants,” the two say. Besides other smaller attacks across his republic during 2010, the militants were able to launch an attack on his home village and on the parliament, serious and symbolic actions.
And 2010 featured another change in militant strategy. Increasingly, Soldatov and Borogan say, “the armed underground as the special services call it” is focusing on infrastructure such as railroads and dams, attacks that the special services have not been able to prevent despite and ones that “demonstrate the failure of state policy in the struggle with terrorism.”
That is certainly the way “independent experts and citizens” view the situation, the two says, “but for the Kremlin, these terrorist acts [against basic infrastructure] did not become the occasion for criticism of the special services.” And the reason for that is not far to seek, Soldatov and Borogan continue.
“According to the current conception of the struggle with terrorism,” they say, “what is critical is not the number of victims but the level of threat [such actions may have] to political stability.” That means, Soldatov and Borogan say, that the special services are far more worried about attacks that threaten existing political arrangements than those involving many deaths.
Last year, the two point out, the FSB “also obtained greater authority [relative to the MVD} in the so-called struggle with extremism” by successfully lobbying for a new law which allows its officers to issue warnings to citizens about “the impermissibility of actions which create conditions for the commission of a crime.”
In the second part of their article, Soldatov and Borogan discuss what they say is “a potentially dangerous tendency” in which the actions of the Russian special services are viewed differently within the country than they are by people living beyond its borders, a divergence which can lead to “the loss of orientation” among the latter.
The clearest example of that trend, they suggest, involves “the scandal around the Russian illegals in the United States.” While many in the West viewed this case “as a defeat for Russian intelligence, “without the country this failure was presented almost as a triumph of the SVR.”
Thus, “the presence of illegals supports the myth that Russia is despite everything still a superpower which is competing with the US as an equal.” Moreover, because all blame was placed on two defectors, this case helped revive “the Soviet tradition of shifting [all] responsibility for mistakes onto enemies.”
But there was more dangerous fallout from this affair, the two analysts suggest. On the one hand, it highlighted “how important [such] Soviet mythology” is for “the only special service of Russia which was never reformed.” The SVR is simply the renamed First Chief Directorate of the Soviet-era KGB.
And on the other, the case worked to the benefit of the FSB not only by suggesting that it should assume control of the SVR but also by allowing it to reinforce its version of the case of Igor Sutyagin, an investigator accused of espionage, when Moscow and Washington agreed to exchange him for the Russian illegals.