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Russia Profile
April 30, 2008
Camping With Siloviki
How Will Dmitry Medvedev Deal with the Security Services?

By Sergei Tereshenkov

The choice of Dmitry Medvedev to be Vladimir Putins successor and his victory in the presidential election could be seen as a setback for the siloviki, the cadre of Russian security service alumni and rivals of liberalism. But Medvedev, the purportedly liberal-minded civilik, now faces a difficult task. He must prevent a possible counter-attack from the siloviki and present himself as a strong national leader. At the same time, Medvedevs struggle for a liberal way will test his ability to hold the line on his liberal credentials.

From the start, Medvedev has been handicapped by the fact that Putin, at the height of his popularity, will continue to wield power as prime minister. By all accounts, Putin will not seek to play a more important role than his successor in these new circumstanceshe has repeatedly demonstrated his full support for Medvedev and lack of any presidential ambitions at his new post. But this power-sharing agreement could work to Medvedevs advantage, since broad support for Putin within the security services should keep challenges to Medvedevs authority at bay, at least in the beginning.

During his time as president, Putin showed himself to be an experienced bureaucrat, balancing the weight of the power ministries through regular reshuffles of personnel and the appointment of civilians to key silovik positions.

Examples that stand out are appointments of Sergei Ivanov and Anatoly Serdyukov to the position of defense minister, and that of Mikhail Fradkov to lead the foreign intelligence service. Army officials were enraged when intelligence officer Sergei Ivanov was appointed defense minister in 2001, but his replacement in 2007 by Anatoly Serdyukov, a true civilian who came from the federal revenue service, was even more shocking.

After Sergei Ivanov was promoted to the post of first deputy prime minister in February 2007, there was speculation that Ivanov would be the next president, but in this situation, Medvedevs advantage was that he was completely outside the infighting of the security services.

The example of Cherkesovs hook

The most resilient hostility of all has been between the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, and the FSKN, Russias Federal Drug Control Service. Both agencies are run by intelligence officers, close colleagues and friends of PutinNikolai Patrushev and Viktor Cherkesov, respectively.

In the first act of this confrontation drama, four employees of the FSB were arrested, including Col. Yury Gaidukov who worked in the Defense Ministry. In a retaliatory strike, the FSB accused Alexander Bulbov, an ally of Cherkesov, of taking bribes.

Cherkesov replied with an open letter in Kommersant, advocating unity among security officers. His piece reiterated a position he took in 2004that Russia owed its survival in the 1990s not to the liberals, but to the security services, which provided a hook that held the country up through that difficult period.

In his recent piece, Cherkesov continued this analogy. He called for an end to the infighting, lest this war lead to a full collapse of the intelligence community. Despite this, Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the investigation committee of the General Prosecutor Office and a university classmate of Putins, made it clear that he would not take into account the positions and workplaces of those accused of crimes and corruption.

In his interview with the Financial Times in March, Medvedev repeated the words of both Patrushev and Cherkesov. The security services were not created in order to fight against each other but to follow their constitutional obligation to defend the social order. If were talking about violations committed by an employee of the security services, then these are to be investigated and the corresponding punishment is to be meted out in the same way as for any illegal activity committed by any other public servant.

Medvedev, a lawyer by training, called the struggle for influence in the siloviki camp a normal development in Russia.

Bastrykin seemed to react immediately to Medvedevs statement. He fired Dmitry Dovgy, who was leading cases against Bulbov as well as Sergei Storchak, the deputy minister of finance, and three of his employees. The four of them were later accused of corruption. Although this could be taken as a sign of a new war on corruption, the recent firings could also be seen as a sign to Medvedev that the struggle within the security services is far from over.

Officials in the Interior Ministry have little reason to feel any more secure with the beginning of a Medvedev administration at the end of March than officials in the Defense Ministry or security services. Alexander Chekalin, first deputy minister of internal affairs, was replaced by a significantly weaker figure Mikhail Sukhodolsky. A number of military personnel have requested that they be allowed to resign, including General Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of General Staff.

Business or politics?

Although Medvedev has a difficult task ahead determining how to handle the siloviki, it would be a great mistake to rely only on his ties to Putin or Sergei Ivanov. Medvedev has had a long time to collect ties of his own, dating back to his time as head of the presidential administration.

When he was appointed first deputy prime minister, he often presided over government meetings in place of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Medvedev has extensive experience dealing both with the siloviki, who answer to the president, and those who report to the prime minister. This experience with different types of power structures will be useful for the future president.

Furthermore, Russia watchers shouldnt allow themselves to be misled by Medvedevs reputation. The sigh of relief that seemed to come up from the global establishment when Putin named the liberal as his successor should be tempered by a recognition that in this particular case, Medvedev was considered a liberal when compared to Sergei Ivanov.

Medvedev is also famous for his strict and categorical statements in support of Russias sovereign democracy. In response to a change of leadership at television channel NTV, Medvedev said, Some representatives of big business see their role in the social development of Russia quite strangelyby means of building a system of opposition to the power. This is a counterproductive way.

When Putin abolished the direct election of governors, Medevedev commented, This is vital for the preservation of effective nationhood within the existing borders. If we fail to consolidate the elites, Russia as a unified state could disappear.

At the same time, Medvedev has made comments that indicate liberal leanings. He recognized that the dismantling of Yukos could have a negative effect on Russias ability to attract business and, as chairman of the board at Gazprom, Medvedev has seen first-hand the influence of business on politics, and vice versa. He probably understands this relationship better than his predecessors or competitors. This could influence the pending tax fraud cases of TNK-BP, Eldorado and Arbat-Prestige.

As long as Medvedev stands for a decrease in the fight for wealth inside the halls of power, he wont be able to ignore these cases. Additionally, almost every important political figure in Russia today also has a high-profile position in the business community. Igor Sechin is chairman of the board of Rosneft and Viktor Ivanov holds the same position at Aeroflot.

The influence of state enterprises like Gazprom or Rosneft has grown alongside the heft of state corporations, where men from the power ministries also control significant resources. On one hand, such corporations have helped various sectors of the Russian economy recover from the 1990s and respond to the challenges of the changing world. Some examples are ship-building, nuclear energy, aviation, communal housing and nanotechnology. On the other hand, they turn into an additional arena of struggle for wealth and control.

Recent events surrounding the Airunion association of air carriers, a competitor of Aeroflot, indicate as much. Airunion is likely to come under control of Sergei Chemezov, a former intelligence officer and colleague of Putin from his time in East Germany. Chemezov is currently the head of Rostechnology, which also includes the Rosoboronexport structure, an intermediary for import and export of military production.

Regarding state-owned businesses, Medvedevs message is quite simple. In his interview with the Financial Times, he said, They have been created for a certain period of activity only and after this they should either be privatized or liquidated.

This would be one way to keep officials from the power ministries from fighting over wealth, but whether Medvedev really wants to bring this conflict out into the open remains unclear. He has hinted that he may even strengthen the position of power ministries by supporting the idea of consolidating Russias many investigative services into an FBI-like structure. The only truly clear thing at this point is that everything is in the hands of the new president, except that which is in the hands of the elites around him.

Sergei Tereshenkov holds a masters degree in political science from the University of Munich.